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1884-S Morgan Shines in MS-65
By Paul M. Green, Numismatic News
April 12, 2013

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News.
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The mid 1880s are not a time when you think of major Morgan dollar rarities. Certainly it seems like a time when any San Francisco date was available, but that is the fun of Morgan dollars. It seems all of the rules have at least one exception. When it comes to available San Francisco dates from the mid 1880s, the 1884-S would rank as the exception.

The 1884-S had a slightly surprising mintage of just 3.2 million. Now that is still a lot of silver dollars, but the 1883 San Francisco mintage was about twice that total, and the 1882 was over 9 million.

Precisely what happened to those 3.2 million 1884-S Morgan dollars is an even bigger issue than the mintage. Also an issue is the quality of the 1884-S, which, for a San Francisco Morgan, was somewhat below average. The striking was average at best, and the luster was below average, being called “dull” by at least one expert.

Even so, with 3.2 million of them, there were bound to be some absolutely glorious 1884-S dollars. After all, we are talking about San Francisco, where they made Morgan dollars that required sunglasses to examine closely.

The first suggestion as to what happened to the 1884-S is that it was released in some numbers.

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There is probably some truth in that idea as the 1884-S is basically an available date in a grade like VG-8 at just $35.20. It’s hard to say exactly how many were released. Although, the 1885 report on the prior 12 months stretching back to June 30, 1884, shows that San Francisco had distributed over 3.5 million silver dollars. However, it was not likely to run out as it had over 32 million on hand.

The next possibility is the Pittman Act that resulted in the melting of over 270 million silver dollars in 1918. Some examples to-grade examples of the 1884-S could have been melted, but we cannot prove it.

It appears that in the 1920s and 1930s examples emerged from both the San Francisco Mint and the Treasury in Washington. The 1884-S would have attracted very little attention from collectors and dealers at the time.

Much the same was true in the 1950s when an additional small number emerged from San Francisco. Later in 1964 when a roll was offered, everyone was probably cautious. They wanted to be sure they were not buying a date that would be rare today but common next week.

There is a lot of speculation as to what happened to the 1884-S. Normally a San Francisco date would be expected to have ended up in casinos in Nevada and while that is certainly possible the 1884-S did not appear in any numbers in the Redfield Hoard, assembled from San Francisco shipments to Reno.

It is also not a case where the 1884-S was shipped in large numbers to the Treasury. When the huge numbers of bags were released, the 1884-S was not heavily represented.

The result is that the 1884-S is extremely tough in Mint State grades today. In MS-60, it is likely to command $7,500 or more. However, it is in MS-65 and above where it becomes one of the special Morgans. The 1884-S is estimated at about $235,000 in MS-65, but it could easily be more as the best estimates suggest there may be a dozen examples that would make the grade.

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