The NGC Universal ID is a four digit alphanumeric that groups coins based on a unique combination of date, mintmark, denomination and striking process (MS, PF, or SP). These IDs are a simple organization of all coins prior to variety attribution and grading.
The 1895-O Morgan silver dollar is one of the prime condition rarities in the series. Only a few other dates are similarly rare in higher grades, including issues such as the 1884-S, 1886-O, 1892-S, 1893-S, and 1901 dollars. Although examples of all those dates, including the 1895-O, are frequently available in all circulated grades through AU58, any full Mint State piece is elusive, and Choice or Gem quality coins are extremely rare.
The original mintage totaled just 450,000 coins, all struck between January and May 1895. Mint records show that 200,000 were minted in January, 100,000 in February, 100,000 in April, and 50,000 in May. It appears that many were released into circulation. In A Guide Book of Morgan Silver Dollars, Dave Bowers suggests that about 100,000 were released into circulation near the time of issue. It is believed that the others went into storage, only to be melted years later.
A key to the rarity of this issue in Mint State grades is the status of the 1895-O as the single business strike issue that was not represented in any bag-quantity silver dollar release from the Treasury. Bowers repeats commentary about small quantities being released from the Treasury prior to the 1960s: 'I have heard suggestions that from several dozen to a couple hundred Mint State coins came out of the Treasury Building in the early 1950s, but how they would grade today is anybody's guess. Uncirculated coins of years ago are often classified as AU today. I have found no account or even a rumor of any being a part of the 1862 through 1964 Treasury release.'
Another key to rarity is the typical quality of examples at the time they were struck. 'To say that their workmanship was shoddy would be an understatement, from a numismatic viewpoint, it was terrible,' states Bowers in Silver Dollars and Trade Dollars of the United States, A Complete Encyclopedia. Mint workers in New Orleans had little reason to create an attractive product. They knew that their coins would end up in storage, as had examples for many years prior to that time. The goal was to produce the largest quantity of coins in the shortest possible time. Die spacing was slightly greater than normal, intended to preserve die life, eliminating die breaks and erosion. With five die pairs available, each individual die only lasted for 90,000 coins, so the little extra space between die faces failed to accomplish the goal. Only an extremely short time in circulation, usually insufficient to actually show wear on a sharp coin, was apt to make a poorly struck coin look like it was just an AU example.
It may be the case that all of the MS64 or finer grade coins were acquired at or near the time of issue in 1895 by coin collectors, and have been carefully preserved since that time. J.M. Clapp acquired the Eliasberg specimen directly from the New Orleans Mint for face value in October 1895. The entry in the Clapp Notebook reads: 'U.S. Mint, Oct 95, 1.00.' In fact, Clapp acquired every one of his Morgan dollars dated between 1894 and 1904 from the Mint at the time of issue. He paid $1.25 each for the Philadelphia Mint proofs, and $1.00 each for every New Orleans and San Francisco issue. In 1942, Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr. acquired the entire collection from the Clapp estate, and held the coins until his own death in 1976. Twenty years later, all of those 'two owner' coins finally reached the numismatic marketplace.
Description and Analysis courtesy of Heritage Auctions and may not be republished without written permission.
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