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Four Top Silver Choices
By Mark Benvenuto, Coins Magazine
October 25, 2013

This article was originally printed in Coins Magazine.
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Around the holidays, it’s natural for plenty of collectors to think in terms of some sort of numismatic gift that might work incredibly well for the folks closest to them in their lives. But after enough years pass, and enough attempts to please our friends with our own hobby go by, we often come to one inescapable conclusion: It’s probably wiser to buy some great coins for ourselves.

After all, our friends and loved ones are oftentimes not collectors. They might like a coin or two, but they only enjoy it for a short time. Collectors, on the other hand, get some serious joy out of any coin they have for years or even decades. Keeping this firmly in mind, here is a wish list of excellent coins that any of us within the collecting fraternity just might want to give ourselves over this coming holiday season.

1  Morgan silver dollars, such as the 1878-S, the 1879-S, the 1880-S, or the 1881-S. The Morgan dollar series has been on the center stage for decades when it comes to collector interest. They’re big, they’re attractive, and many of them are affordable.

The series is also varied enough that some hard-to-get rarities get nestled right next to coins with mintages in the multi-million coin zone. The four dates I have picked here are certainly common coins, each with a mintage at or near 10 million coins, but these high numbers give a person some room and latitude when it comes to adding them to a collection.

What I mean by that is that a person can choose between tight grade differences, like Mint State-64 vs. MS-65. Right now, the higher grade usually costs between $200 to $300, while the lower can drop to below $100 per coin. That is a wonderful price when you consider the eye appeal an MS-64 Morgan dollar can possess.

Of course, if you are the type who really holds the reins tight when it comes to your purchases, there is nothing wrong with shifting to the higher circulated grades, as they are even less expensive. But the old rule about buying the best coins for your collection that you can afford certainly applies when purchasing Morgan dollars. The best of these coins are definitely beautiful examples of the minter’s art.

Before I move on, it’s also fair to say that these are not the four most common dates and mintmarks among the Morgan dollars. Several have been made to much higher numbers. So if you wish, by all means take a look through any price list in Coins, compare prices and mintages, and see what other Morgans tickle your collecting fancy. You may find quite a few dollars on the list worth your attention, and may even find some with the same prices but much lower mintages. Perhaps obviously, there are a lot of possibilities in this series.

2  A Lafayette commemorative dollar. This dollar may seem like an odd addition to any growing collection or holiday want list, but when it comes to dollar coins, the Lafayette has three things going for it: It is the very first commemorative silver dollar from the U.S. Mint, it is the first U.S. coin to sport a president’s face, and its mintage—only 36,026 coins—is quite low when compared to most other coins.

That low mintage remains the sticking point for many, as it means the Lafayette dollar will always be costly, at least in comparison to most other silver dollars. Indeed, it is rare to land an MS-60 specimen of this commemorative for less than $1,000. But while that price is high, it’s not impossible for someone who plans, takes their time, and does some saving.

In addition, the higher end of the circulated grades shows a pretty quick price drop, making a good-looking specimen with a bit of wear on it a much less expensive addition to a collection. This price drop may still be the result of the collector and speculator interest in the entire classic commemorative program that occurred in past years. Whatever grade you shoot for, a Lafayette dollar can be an excellent condition to any silver dollar collection.

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3  Peace dollars, such as the 1921, the 1922, the 1925, and 1935. Moving to another very popular series, there is never really a bad time to purchase some good-looking Peace dollars. Yes, for those who are Peace dollar aficionados, I have started with the always coveted 1921. All the other Peace dollars I have on the list are very common, but I’ve included the 1921 precisely because it is such a perennial collector favorite.

The price tag for a decent-looking 1921 Peace dollar will always be a few hundred dollars. But think about what you are getting for your money. Not only is this the high relief version of the design, but it was really only minted for about a month. How many coins have both that level of artistry, and that brevity of production both rolled together?

If the 1921 is just too rich for your blood, well the other three I have listed are much more affordable. The 1922 is the most common piece in the series, with more than 50 million to its official tally. Even in MS-65, this coin doesn’t cost more than $150, which certainly qualifies as very good news.

The 1925 is on my list because it is the final date in the series that has a mintage of more than 10 million coins. Also, its price is comparable to the 1922, in just about any grade. And the 1935 is on the list because even though it has a mintage that is not much higher than the 1921, its prices are always lower. For example, the $250 I just mentioned for an MS-60 1921 can net a person an MS-65 of the 1935. That’s an amazing jump in grade, and worth considering for anyone trying to grow a collection of Peace dollars.

While the Peace dollar series is far smaller than any Morgan dollar list, the advice I just gave concerning the Morgans certainly applies here as well. If the bug for this series bites you, don’t stop at the four I have listed. See what other dates and mintmarks are available in a price range you find comfortable. The Peace dollars are beautiful, and they are always fun to collect.

4  The 1983-S and 1984-S Los Angeles Olympics proof silver dollars. It may seem like quite a leap from the Peace dollar series to the modern commemorative program, but the two silver dollars that were made for the 1984 Olympic Games are very affordable. The artwork remains something of a controversial subject, in that some like the modern look of each coin and others feel there is no more life in either design than in some store window set of mannequins.

But there isn’t any doubt that the proof version of each of these silver dollars is very cheap, at less than $50 each in the MS-69 grade.

If you do choose to go for a truly beautiful version of these coins, buy them in third-party grading holders. The reason is that you are buying the security of knowing that an MS-69 is indeed that grade. While some collectors still do not cotton to slabbing their coins, or owning any slabbed pieces, when it comes to being sure a coin is an MS-69 vs. an MS-68 (or lower), that third-party grading service is indeed a worthwhile service to have.

The two 1984 Olympic dollars are much more common as proofs than as uncirculated pieces, but that’s because the Mint filled orders as people placed them. The collecting public liked proofs then, and likes them now. But I’m sticking with the idea of buying these two dollars as proofs, and not uncs, simply because there seems to be no chance the less common uncirculated pieces will rise in price any time before the next Ice Age—and because the proofs can look very handsome.

Well, there we have it, a small set of big silver that can itself become the nucleus of four much larger collectible series, or that can make great holiday gifts. As mentioned, the Morgan silver dollars have been in the collector eye for decades now and probably won’t leave it anytime soon. The few we have seen can serve as a starting point for a gorgeous collection. That Lafayette dollar might act as the spark for a deeper interest in the classic commemorative series, and for the sometimes odd themes commemorated within it.

Like the Morgans, the Peace dollars we looked at can be the seeds from which a full and gorgeous date and mintmark set can grow. And the proof versions of the 1984 Olympic dollars can be the beginning of a fun collection of modern commemoratives, be they dollars, halves, or even gold.

You still have to find some decent gifts for your friends and loved ones. But when it comes to a gift or two for yourself, well, the job is done.

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