Jeff Garrett: A Guide to Collecting Morgans

Posted on 7/1/2021

The popular and abundant silver dollar makes a great addition to any collection.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the end of Morgan Silver Dollars and the beginning of Peace Silver Dollars. The year 1921 was momentous for the numismatic world, and 2021 is becoming an important year for the hobby as the US Mint launches its “tribute” series of Morgan and Peace Silver Dollars to mark the occasion. The first offerings in May were an instant sellout and created a near feeding frenzy.

Many Mint customers were left out, and the elusive coins are selling for multiples of issue price in pre-release (for an October delivery). Ironically, the new “tribute” Morgan and Peace Silver Dollars are selling for more than their vintage cousins. Now would be a great time to consider assembling a set of these iconic issues.

2021-'CC' Morgan Dollar with the NGC Morgan Dollar Centennial Label
Click images to enlarge.

My love of Morgan Silver Dollars is apparent, if you ever have the chance to meet my daughter Morgan Garrett. Not many people would name their children after their favorite coin, but for me and my wife, it was an easy choice. Numismatics has played a huge role in our lives, and we wanted to honor the blessing the hobby has been for us both.

Morgan Silver Dollars have been one of my favorite coins since I began collecting in the late 1960s. After turning professional, buying and selling Morgan Silver Dollars became one of the most important aspects of my growing business. I fondly remember that my first car was paid for by the proceeds of trading silver dollars. I have not maintained exact accounting, but I can safely say that I have bought and sold hundreds of thousands of coins over the years.

A silver dollar history

Morgan Silver Dollars are one of (if not the) most collected coins in all of numismatics. The coins came into being in the late 1870s during a time that is closely linked with Western lore. When some think of silver dollars, they envision Wells Fargo strong boxes brimming with coinage. Morgan Silver Dollars were also struck in the eastern part of the United States, but those issues struck in the West garner outsized attention. Regardless of the Mint, Morgan Silver Dollars have been heavily collected for decades and remain extremely popular.

George T. Morgan arrived in the United States from England in the 1870s, and one of his earliest assignments at the US Mint was designing a new silver dollar. Several extremely interesting pattern coins were created at this time and are highly sought-after by both Morgan Dollar and pattern collectors. The first regular issue coins struck in 1878 were produced in Philadelphia, San Francisco and Carson City. New Orleans struck coins starting in 1879 and Denver produced coins for only one year, in 1921.

1878-S Morgan Dollar, graded NGC SP 64. To learn more, click here.
Click images to enlarge.

Tips for collecting Morgan Dollars

Morgan Silver Dollars were struck in prodigious numbers from 1878 to 1921. Hundreds of millions of coins were minted during those years. These large mintages and the hoarding of coins, both privately and by the US government, make them easily available to today’s collectors. It is extremely affordable to begin a collection of Morgan Silver Dollars. There are more than two dozen date-and-mintmark combinations that can be purchased in mint condition for less than $250. The affordability, combined with the coins’ large size and beauty, have made them an excellent introduction to hundreds of thousands of collectors over the years.

Even though many issues of Morgan Silver Dollars are quite common and easy to find, the series is full of rare date-and-mintmark combinations. One of the most famous (and considered by many to be the “king” of the series) is the 1895, which is only known in Proof. The lowest-mintage circulation issue is the 1893-S, and this date is highly collectible and scarce in all grades. The Morgan Silver Dollar series also has an abundance of condition rarities. Some dates such as the 1896-O are easily found in circulated condition, but are very rare in Mint State.

1895 Morgan Dollar graded NGC PF 67 Ultra Cameo and pedigreed to the Paramount Collection.
Realized: $150,000 in a Heritage Auctions sale in February 2021. To learn more, click here.
Click images to enlarge.

Morgan Silver Dollars are interesting in the range of dates and mintmarks available. Some mint condition Morgan Silver Dollars can be purchased for only $60 to $80. On the other extreme, there are a handful of amazing examples of rare dates that can push into six figures. It is amazing that a very rare date in mint condition such as the 1884-S could have survived in MS 65, yet one recently sold at public auction for about $150,000.

All great coins have incredible stories attached to them, and Morgan Silver Dollars are no exception. The Morgan series is also well known for hoards. The US Treasury release in the 1960s, the GSA Carson City Morgan Dollar sales and the Redfield Hoard are all amazing tales worthy of further study for those new to the hobby.

1892-CC Morgan Dollar graded NGC MS 63 and pedigreed to the Redfield Hoard.
Click images to enlarge.

Interestingly, there are quite a few coin dealers in the country who specialize in silver dollars. These dealers have obtained a wealth of knowledge over the decades about the series and can be great mentors to those new the hobby. As mentioned many times before, buy coins with good eye appeal and try to find the best quality for the date you can afford.

One word of caution: The new attention paid to this series has caused prices to surge in recent months. Collectors may consider adding to their collection slowly in case prices go back down when interest subsides.

Suggested reading:

  • NGC Coin Explorer
  • NGC Price Guide
  • Redbook Guide Morgan Silver Dollars by Q. David Bowers
  • Morgan Dollar: America’s Love Affair with a Legendary Coin by Michael “Miles” Standish
  • Carson City Morgan Dollars by Adam Crum, Selby Ungar and Jeff Oxman
  • A Guide Book of United States Coins (“Red Book”) by R.S. Yeoman

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