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Time is Right for Morgan and Peace Dollars
By Mark Benvenuto, Coins Magazine
March 28, 2011

This article was originally printed in Coins Magazine.
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Throughout history, many of the greatest military leaders succeeded because they looked at a situation differently than just about all other people, including the leaders and generals of the other side. It was that ability to see a situation in a whole new light that changed the course of a battle, and sometimes the course of history. Although that may not seem too apparently connected to numismatics, there is actually one direct correlation: When everyone is looking to the hot commodities, it is often wise to look at those same items in a very different way.

Right now, as silver keeps bumping up to the $20 per ounce mark, it is a very good time to look at Morgan and Peace dollars—but differently than the average joe. Let’s examine some very high-end pieces.

2011 U.S. Coin Digest: Dollars
2011 U.S. Coin Digest: Dollars

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Quite a few collectors want to get their hands on Morgan and Peace dollars right now. After all, the price of silver has risen to the point where even the most common Mint State-60 piece costs $25 to $35. But look at some common dates in uncommon grades and see what is going on there.

Starting with the 1879-S, a very common date with more than 9 million minted, one finds that in MS-65 this date costs only about $150. Yes, this is a price that is higher than that of some MS-60 specimen, but consider a few factors beyond the mintage and the price of silver and you’ll realize this coin is a steal. Consider that there are probably hundreds of thousands of the 1879-S that have survived in grades at the lower end of mint state, but far, far fewer that can claim the MS-65 grade. Consider that this price for this grade is probably going to go up with time. Consider that this is an 1879-S that qualifies as a real collector coin. As I said, this coin really is a steal.

The next place to direct our gaze is to the duet of the 1880-S and the 1881-S. Both of these are also common-date Morgan dollars, but both of them have the rather attractive $150 tag hanging around their neck, at least when it comes to that MS-65 grade. In addition, there are enough of these dates to be had that the possibility of an MS-66, or perhaps even an MS-67, is out there. The idea here is that the price of silver metal is disconnected from the asking price of coins that are this well preserved.

Taking the 1880-S and 1881-S a step further, it is worth looking at what are called “deep mirror proof-like” coins, again in the MS-65. Abbreviated DMPL, and often pronounced “dimple,” these are coins that are the best of the best without being actual proof coins. The modern proof coin program of the U.S. Mint was decades in the future when the Morgan dollars were spewing out of the various mints. But some truly gorgeous circulation strikes were made—the DMPLs.

Today one of these gems only costs about $800 when we are looking at the 1880-S or the 1881-S. Yes, that’s a big number, especially if you are used to collecting on the cheap. But it’s surprisingly small when you think of how scarce these top-of-the-line coins can be. While everyone else is staring at bulk silver, and wondering if $20 per ounce is just a stepping stone to a higher metal price, why not look at a real collector coin? One of these could become the star of a growing collection.

Morgan dollars came out of the Philadelphia Mint as well as the branch mints in torrents throughout much of the 1880s, and thus there are quite a few common dates within the series today. The 1883, 1885, 1886, as well as the 1887 make up another cluster of dates that are worth pursuing in MS-65 or higher.

As with the earlier dates we just looked at, each of these is available in a $150 to $175 price range in that grade, and may be available even in MS-66 or -67. Unlike the 1880-S and the 1881-S though, among these four, only the 1885 has a DMPL price tag that is in the $800 range. The others will cost well into four figures for that DMPL designator. The reason why is simply a matter of availability. Third-party grading services tally up the number of each date and mintmark that receive grades such as MS-65DMPL, and the 1885, as well as the 1880-S and 1881-S, apparently have higher totals, and thus lower prices, for such choicely graded coins.

The Morgan dollars I’ve listed so far are all common dates and mintmarks, so perhaps an odd addition to this growing line up is the 1885-CC. One of the scarcer dollars within this big series, there is never a day when this coin is inexpensive, whatever the price of silver metal is on the open market. But a careful examination of its prices in all the grades, from the lower circulated grades all the way up to MS-65, reveals that even though it runs about $600 in MS-60, it only goes up to $1,100 when we look at the MS-65 version. That’s not with the DMPL designator. But we’ve seen three of the common Morgan dollars in the excellent grade of MS-65DMPL for about $800 each. For only a few hundred more, the scarce 1885-CC is available in MS-65.

One caveat here, though, the 1885-CC was part of the General Services Administration’s hoard. Of the original mintage of 228,000, 148,285 survived into the 1970s, when they were dispersed, in uncirculated.

A final cluster of dates and mintmarks in the Morgan dollar that show the same great promise when it comes to high-end grades are the 1896, 1898-O, 1904-O, and the 1921. It’s probably no surprise that the 1921 is still an affordable coin, even in MS-65. It’s the most common date in the entire series, with more than 44 million minted. The eyebrow raiser is the 1904-O, which only saw a mintage of 3.7 million coins. Admittedly, that many coins in any series hardly makes it rare, but it is one of the lower mintages of any of the pieces we’ve seen here.

As with a couple of the earlier dates, we have another in this group that shows promise as an MS-65DMPL coin, in addition to what is has to offer as a simple MS-65. That is the 1898-O, which can be had bearing that DMPL label for about $1,000. Again, this is a much higher price than $150, but for such a choice specimen, it’s still quite a deal.

After a stroll through the massive listing that is any Morgan dollar price guide, it doesn’t take a huge leap to realize there may be some excellent coins hiding in among the Peace dollars as well. That thought is certainly worth pursuing, as there is a quartet of these more recent dollars that do indeed come in at about the same $150 mark that I’ve been using for the Morgans.

The 1922, 1923, 1924, and the 1925 all fit the bill when we look down the MS-65 column. Once again, these are common dates within their series. Indeed, the 1922 is the most common coin in the entire Peace dollar series, with a mintage of 51.7 million pieces. But the number of them that have seen almost a century pass while remaining in MS-65 has got to be much smaller.

For those of us who want to think outside the norm, this might thus be a very good time to assemble a collection of extremely high-end Peace dollars. Perhaps MS-66 or -67 coins are a way to go, especially when their value is based on collector interest and not speculator interest.

Whether you are a collector of modest means or a person looking to sock some serious money into silver dollars right now, it does seem that there is some room for growth among the best of the best. Spending $150 for a choice coin is not a huge outlay of money.

Perhaps now is the time to let the rest of the world chase after common silver. Perhaps now is the time to look seriously at some serious collector coins. Best of luck.

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On April 3, 2011 Brett Kunkel said
I have been purchasing your magazine over the counter for about a year now and have decided to purchase a subscription. I just bought my MAY 2011 issue and read the article "Going for the better grade" by Mark Benvenuto.Second paragraph states that silver is bumping up to the $20 mark. Silver at this time is bumping up to the $40 mark ($37.82). Second, he states that even the most common Mint State 60 piece cost $25 to $35. In your own price guide, there is not one MS60 Morgan valued at between $25-$35,the majority peace prices are over $35. How old is this article or what is going on. A month ago Silver was over $35. I need to find a magazine that is accurate. Doesn't an editor monitor these articles? Please respond. Signed a possible future subscriber.

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