Jim Bisognani: The Morgan Dollar Madness!

Posted on 5/13/2021

A fond recollection of an 1893 Morgan Dollar gives way to anticipation of the 2021 centennial issues.

We are nearing the halfway point of 2021, and the numismatic world remains a hotbed of activity. I have lived through what I would proclaim as “market madness” — or perhaps a more emphatic “coin craze.” Yet this current one we are enjoying rivals them all for the scope and power.

As a youngster, I can vividly recall building my modest yet diverse US collection. Through my formative years, the mid-1970s was my true indoctrination into the hobby. My collection was nothing great, but a majority of my coins were nicer-looking Mint State-type coins and a few had better dates. The centerpiece was a 1911 $5 Indian Head gold coin. I was proud of what I had put together and took great joy in carefully selecting coins that were problem-free and attractive.

Before third-party certification, collectors and most dealers were left to their own devices to determine grades. This is where the experience factor was all-important. This experience would be especially true a few years later.

1911 Indian Head Gold $5 obverse and reverse from NGC Coin Explorer

My first valuable lesson

I remember I had saved a few hundred dollars from doing odd jobs in the summer of 1976 and had set my sights on acquiring a semi-key Morgan Dollar. After lengthy consumption of sundry and flowery descriptions, I had picked out an 1892-O from an advertisement in Coin World. The seller was Record Coin Shop (John Love) from Cut Bank, Montana, and $225 was the price for the “Choice BU” coin.

When the coin arrived, I was initially pleased, yet I noticed that the reverse center, especially the eagle’s breast feathers, was nearly flat. Although this is typical for the issue, I being green in this area didn’t realize this important factoid. So, I decided I would call the dealer and ask if he had a better one in stock.

1892-O Morgan Dollar obverse and reverse from NGC Coin Explorer

I still recall the conversation with Mr. Love as he advised that the coin in my possession was indeed the best 1892-O he had in inventory. John then went on to describe what I should expect as for strike and surface for the 1892-O. I appreciated his sage advice and decided that I wanted to get a more sharply struck Morgan for my collection.

Then, I asked about a Choice Uncirculated 1893-P he had advertised. John said that he had a bit of good news as he had just gotten in a Gem 1893, which he would be happy to exchange for the 1892-O.

Mr. Love assured me that although his price for the Choice Uncirculated 1893 was $210, this 1893-P was superior to that coin in the ad. I agreed and when I received the 1893-P Morgan, I was totally in awe. The cheek on Ms. Liberty was smooth and creamy, the strike was strong and there was nary a blemish anywhere! The coin was a full Gem and then some!

Knowing when to sell

Flash forward a few years. I was at home and it was after my first numismatic job had ended in the late spring of 1978. The business I was working for was sold, and I was back to being a regular collector again. However, late afternoon in May, one of my ex-bosses came over to my house (for those who know me, it was nearly 43 years to the day this article posts).

My ex-boss, also a Jim, was driving back to his home/office in Connecticut and had just come by to say hi and see how I was doing. As we talked, I decided it to pull out my collection for “Big Jim” to eyeball. “Jim, do you want to see my collection?” I said. To which he promptly retorted with an emphatic, “Hey, you know I love coins. Maybe I can buy some of your coins.”

I went to retrieve my modest numismatic treasures. Earlier that year, I acquired a nice wooden-framed showcase with a glass top to display my collection. I had sanded and stained the wood and carefully placed a creamy felt liner on the bottom for a classy effect. Judiciously, I lined up my coins according to their respective denominations.

Each coin, all in vinyl flips, had a neatly typed description on the insert. Nice job, I would say. As I brought my display, Big Jim was quite impressed and carefully took it all in. After a few minutes, he asked, “How much for everything?” I was taken back by that. Here was someone, in my parents’ living room, that wanted to buy my entire collection.

Now, except of a few rolled wheats cents and sundry world coins, that was my entire collection he was looking at purchasing. I was flattered, yet I had not planned on selling virtually everything. I thought: What was my collection worth? The market was roaring in 1978. As I had not any intention of selling everything, I quickly ran my numbers in my mind for each and inflated them. Heck, my most expensive coin was the 1893-P Morgan Dollar I had paid $225 for a few years back.

1893-P Morgan Dollar obverse and reverse from NGC Coin Explorer

After a brief mental conference with myself, I shot back $25,000. I figured that would silence Big Jim. Instead, Jim excitedly responded, “For $25,000, I can buy all these coins?” Gulp! I realized he was serious, so I quickly countered “I hadn’t thought on selling everything.” My ex-boss said, “Well I would like to buy some of your great coins.”

So, I scanned over my assembly — all dressed in vinyl flips and lined up like soldiers for an inspection. After a moment of quiet consternation, I settled on a handful I would sacrifice. One was the 1893-P Morgan Dollar for $5,000, and I had paid $225 for it just two years earlier! When all was said and done, I was happy to have in my possession a check for nearly $10,000!

As Jim said his goodbyes, I quickly transitioned on how and where to allocate these funds. Yet, I have wondered where that fabulous 1893-P Morgan ended up. I hope that, in the ensuing years, someone had it graded.

By my keen recollection, the coin must be a Full Gem+ and then some. According to the NGC Census, a half dozen 1893-P Morgans are graded MS 65+ and another six have been awarded MS 66. Personally, I think my old coin was better than a MS 66. Perhaps someday, I will be reacquainted with it again.

A great companion piece

One thing for sure: The rash of excitement surrounding the centennial issues commemorating the last Morgan and first Peace Dollars this year are driving the Morgan and Peace Dollar market to new heights. May 24 is when the ordering window opens on the US Mint’s website and when the privy “CC” Carson City mintmark and New Orleans “O” Privy 2021 Dollars go live.

Per the Mint’s website, there is a 10-coin household limit for each variety. The established issue price is $85 per coin and each of the Centennial Morgan Dollars has a 175,000 maximum mintage. The Peace Dollar, which if produced in anything approaching a “High Relief” should be spectacular, will only be produced as a Philadelphia issue and has a 200,000 maximum mintage. Anthony de Francisci’s marvel will appear for sale on June 7. My fellow coindexters, be sure to mark your calendars and visit the US Mint’s website for particulars!

2021 'CC' Morgan Dollar and 2021 Peace Dollar with special NGC label

The only drawback is that although all of the coins go live in a few weeks, we will have to wait until the fall to receive them, as shipments are not scheduled until October! Ugh!

Until next time, be safe and happy collecting!

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