13 Top Carson City Morgan Dollars|
January 07, 2014
Minted from 1878 through 1904, with a coda in 1921, the Morgan dollar series has many fans in the coin collecting world. After all, Morgan dollars are large, made of 90 percent silver, and have a great Liberty head design. And that’s just on the obverse. Some would argue that the eagle on the reverse is even more attractive.
Another reason for the attractiveness of the Morgan dollar series is that there are many ways to collect it. For example, you can put together a year set, choosing the least expensive date/mintmark combination for each year Morgans were minted.
Unfortunately, for some years it’s hard to find an inexpensive example. You’ll be hard pressed, for example, to find an 1893-dated Morgan for less than $200 in any grade. 1895 is another problematic year, as the 1895 is known only in proof, and 1895-O and -S Morgans are several hundred dollars apiece even in well-circulated grades.
A complete date/mintmark collection of Morgans is even more daunting, as you have to contend with keys such as the 1879-CC, 1889-CC, 1893-S, and 1894. And don’t even think about collecting proof Morgan dollars; you won’t find any of them for less than four figures.
Yet another way to collect Morgans is to concentrate on short sets within the larger series. For example, you might work on a set of all the Morgan dollars with a particular mintmark, or no mintmark at all in the case of Philadelphia-produced coins.
One of the most interesting of such short sets consists of all Morgan dollars minted at the Carson City Mint. One factor that makes a CC Morgan set fun to collect is that there are only 13 different coins to acquire, and all are readily available, although not necessarily at an easily affordable price. Another positive factor is that coins from the Carson City Mint, and particularly CC Morgans, are quite popular with coin collectors and have proven to be good investments over the years.
The caveat, of course, is that you must buy them at a price appropriate to their grade. If you pay too much initially, they may never appreciate enough to offset their purchase price. With that thought in mind, let’s examine the CC Morgan short set in more detail.
We can break the 13 different CC Morgans into two groups: the early dates, minted annually from 1878 through 1885; and the later dates, minted each year from 1889 through the mint’s closing in 1893. The key to the early dates is the 1879-CC, whereas the later group has two key dates, 1889-CC and 1893-CC.
Values and scarcity of CC Morgans are not strictly related to mintages, as some relatively common dates have low mintages and some of the scarcest dates have substantial mintages. One major reason for this discrepancy can be summarized by one acronym: GSA, for General Services Administration. The GSA held a series of sales of silver dollars in the early 1970s and 1980, which distributed millions of mostly CC dollars to the collecting world.
Some of the previously rare CC Morgans were overrepresented in the dispersed hoard, whereas other dates were poorly represented. For example, in the 1972 GSA inventory of CC dollars, there were 4,123 1879-CCs and just one each of the following dates: 1889-CC, 1892-CC, and 1893-CC. It won’t surprise you to learn that these four dates are the most expensive CC Morgans, at least in mint state.
The two dates with the lowest mintages, 1885-CC (228,000) and 1881-CC (296,000), were among the overrepresented group. In fact, nearly half of all 1881-CCs minted were offered to GSA-sale buyers, and 1885-CCs were even more plentiful in the sales, with approximately 65 percent of the total mintage available.
As a side note, a colleague and I were able to obtain several of the CC-sale dollars. All were common dates (1882-CC, 1883-CC, 1884-CC) except for one 1881-CC, which I sold at the 2013 World’s Fair of Money in Chicago. My friend and I sold most of our purchases for a profit shortly after the sales. I’ve often thought we should have held onto them rather than selling them so quickly. I do have one remaining coin from the GSA sales, which I’ll say more about later.
In terms of their mintages, the most expensive CC Morgans, 1889-CC, 1879-CC, and 1893-CC, are ranked 3, 6, and 5, respectively. All have mintages below 1 million, coming in at 350,000, 756,000, and 677,000, respectively. The date with the rank of 4, 1880-CC (591,000), was another well-represented date in the GSA sales, with more than 22 percent of the original mintage available.
As you can see, it’s really impossible to talk about CC Morgans without reference to the GSA sales. Some of the dates that had previously been considered quite rare, particularly in mint state, became exceedingly common in that condition after the sales.
Mintage-wise, 1882-CC, 1883-CC, and 1884-CC occupy the middle ranks (7, 9, and 8, respectively) among the 13 CC dollars, with each having a mintage of a little over a million pieces. However, the GSA sales included a little over half of the total mintage of 1882-CCs, nearly 63 percent of all 1883-CCs, and almost 85 percent of all 1884-CCs. Keep in mind that these were all mint-state coins.
It’s little wonder that these three dates are the least expensive CC Morgans in mint state. Given this information, it’s hard to imagine why anyone would purchase an 1882-CC, 1883-CC, or 1884-CC in a circulated grade, unless the person just wanted to have an example that had actually been handled.
With this background, let’s run through the series to see the investment potential of each of the 13 dates. Along the way, we’ll consider the optimal collecting grade and other tidbits of information about the CC Morgans.
With a mintage of more than 2 million pieces, the 1878-CC ranks 12th out of the 13 different CC Morgans. However, with less than 3 percent of the mintage available in the GSA sales, 1878-CC is a bit pricier than the 1882-CC-1884-CC triad, at least in mint-state grades. In A Guide Book of Morgan Silver Dollars (4th edition), David Bowers considers Mint State-64 the optimal collecting grade. “Coin Market,” in Numismatic News, values the date in that grade at $640, with an MS-63 worth $425, and an MS-65 $1,875.
According to a chapter by William E. Spears in John Highfill’s The Comprehensive U.S. Silver Dollar Encyclopedia (1992), the 1878-CC Morgan has “Excellent investment potential in MS-65 through MS-67 due to low PCGS populations and affordability in MS-65. The 1878-CC is one of the best CC dollar investment dates, second only to the 1890-CC in potential.”
Of course, 1992 was a long time ago, and the PCGS population in the different grades has increased considerably, at least in MS-65 and -66. The MS-65 figure has grown from 286 to 1,711, 24 in MS-66 has become 210, and one in MS-67 is now five. Although the $1,875 in MS-65 is somewhat affordable, it’s hard to say that for the current values in MS-66 and -67: $6,250 and $42,500, respectively, according to the PCGS website.
About the 1879-CC, Bowers writes, “Among basic date and mintmark issues, the 1879-CC is the first key or rare variety in the Morgan dollar series and is the second rarest (after 1889-CC) of all Carson City Morgans.” Two basic mintmark varieties are recognized, the so-called normal or Large CC variety and the Capped CC or Large CC Over Small CC variety. Although there are fewer of the Capped CC, the normal mintmark variety is considered more desirable by many collectors and has a higher value in most grades below MS-65. Bowers’ optimal collecting grade is MS-64, which “Coin Market” values at either $11,500 or $10,150 depending on mintmark variety.
As I indicated earlier, relatively few 1879-CCs appeared in the GSA hoard, which is one of the reasons the date is so pricy in mint-state grades. Spears considered either mintmark variety excellent investments because of their rarity in PCGS populations in MS-65 (normal CC, 11, with none in higher grades; Capped CC, one, with none higher). Current figures are 97 in MS-65, with two in MS-66 for the normal mintmark and 10 in MS-65, with none higher for the Capped CC. The biggest difficulty with their investment potential is the amount you’ll have to pay to acquire one: “Coin Market” gives a value in MS-65 of $31,500 for the normal mintmark and $43,000 for the Capped CC.
The 1880-CC Morgan dollar exists in several different varieties, but Bowers notes, “Certification data are confused for the 1880-CC, as most have been certified without mention of the reverse style.…” “Coin Market,” for example, lists and prices six varieties, but there’s not much price variability until the grade of MS-64. Spears discussed only two 1880-CC varieties, reverse of 1878 (flat-breasted eagle) and reverse of 1879 (rounded breast), both of which he thought had good investment potential in MS-66 because of the low PCGS populations. Of course, the populations have grown considerably in the last two decades.
Bowers’ optimal collecting grade for either variety is MS-64, worth either $1,160 or $715, according to “Coin Market.” In MS-66, Spears’ recommended grade for investment, the 1880-CC is worth at least $2,600 on the PCGS site. The actual value depends on the variety, with some worth up to $37,500!
As I noted earlier, large percentages of the total mintages of both the 1881-CC and the 1885-CC Morgans were dispersed in the GSA sales, and these were all mint state coins. Because of this, Spears did not think that these dates had great investment potential. The PCGS populations of both dates are substantial, even in high mint-state grades.
For Bowers, the optimal collecting grade for the 1881-CC is MS-65, and he notes, “Wayne Miller suggested that, ‘on the whole the 1881-CC is probably the highest quality Morgan dollar struck at the Carson City Mint.’” “Coin Market” values an MS-65 1881-CC at $935.
Bowers assigns MS-64 as the optimal collecting grade for the 1885-CC, and the approximate retail value in this grade is $925. With a retail value of just $1,155 in MS-65, I would actually recommend the higher grade, as the difference in cost is not that much. About the date, Bowers writes, “…the 1885-CC is the rarest of all Morgan dollars in circulated grades, eclipsing the 1889-CC, 1893-S, and all other contenders.…”
Because of the GSA sales, 1882-CC, 1883-CC, and 1884-CC are the most commonly available CC dollars in uncirculated condition, and Spears gave them only average investment potential. In other words, if you’re looking to buy CC Morgans for investment, put your money elsewhere.
Still, these are nice Morgan dollars, and Bowers considers the optimal collecting grade for each date to be MS-65. Prices for this grade in “Coin Market” are $575, $570, and $568, respectively. My one remaining coin from the GSA sales is an 1883-CC that NGC graded in the GSA holder as MS-66 Prooflike. Not a bad buy for $45.
After a three-year lull, the 1889-CC begins the last five years of Morgan dollar activity at the Carson City Mint. Unfortunately for the collector, most of the mintage was released into circulation. Bowers calls the 1889-CC dollar “…one of the great keys in the Morgan series, and among Carson City issues it is far and away the most elusive. In comparison to the demand for them, examples are rare in all grades.”
As for its investment potential, Spears considered it excellent “…due to its true rarity and low PCGS population. The only drawback is the extremely high cost, which places it in a category with few potential buyers.” As an illustration of this drawback, in Bowers’ optimal collecting grade of MS-63, the 1889-CC lists for $43,500.
Spears considered the 1890-CC to have the best investment potential in the series, with the 1891-CC not far behind. Both of the dates had substantial mintages, ranking 13th and 11th, respectively. Neither date had significant representation in the GSA sales. Bowers’ optimal collecting grade is MS-64 for both dates. “Coin Market” gives the 1890-CC a value of $1,485 in MS-64 and $5,350 in MS-65. The 1891-CC lists for $1,325 and $5,200 in the same grades.
Both dates have major varieties with colorful names. For the 1890-CC, it’s the Tail Bar variety, named for what appears to be a bar extending from the bottom arrow feather to the olive branch below. For the 1891-CC, it’s the Spitting Eagle variety, on which a lump of metal extending from the eagle’s beak has been construed as spittle. Both varieties are typically valued higher than their normal counterparts.
Although the 1892-CC ranks 10th out of the 13 CC Morgans in terms of mintage, Spears thought it had good investment potential. This was not one of the CC dates found in quantity in the GSA sales, as I indicated earlier. About the date, Bowers writes, “Year in and year out this coin has been in great demand.” His optimal collecting grade is MS-64, which lists for $3,300. It’s worth $2,400 and $9,500 in MS-63 and -65, respectively.
Finally, we come to the 1893-CC, ranked fifth out of the 13 dates in terms of mintage, as I indicated earlier. Like the 1889-CC, Spears labeled this date one with excellent investment potential because of its rarity in mint state. At the time he was writing, PCGS had assigned an MS-65 grade to only a single coin, with none graded higher. That situation hasn’t changed all that much in the intervening two decades, as the current population in MS-65 is 12, with just one coin receiving a higher grade.
In Bowers’ optimal collecting grade of MS-63, the 1893-CC has a “Coin Market” value of $9,350, with prices of $17,600 and $70,000 in MS-64 and -65, respectively. In other words, in order to capitalize on this date’s investment potential, you’ve got to have money to make money.
As I hope you can see from this survey, the 13-piece CC Morgan set has a lot going for it. If you buy only coins with nice eye appeal, you can expect most of the dates to increase in value over the years because of the demand for them.
If you’re looking for a short set of Morgan dollars to tackle, take another look at the CC Morgans. If you can afford them, I think you’ll find them fun and profitable to own.
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