The 1901 Morgan dollar is an extremely interesting date and in top grades, it is also extremely tough. In fact, among the circulation strikes in the Morgan dollar set, the only tougher MS-65 is likely to be the 1896-O, so the 1901 is a date that has to be taken very seriously.
The story of the 1901 starts out with the situation at the time. There was certainly no need for additional silver dollar production, as there were perhaps 500 million sitting in vaults, but only about 50 million in circulation. There were mintages in 1901, but not for the purpose of having silver dollars for circulation, as there were already more than enough.
There were some interesting technical matters in 1901, as there were new hubs and the 1901 would be made in some cases with the old hub and in some with the new. There was also a new Mint in Philadelphia, with the first coins being struck in October of that year. Most of the 1901 Morgan dollar production for the year was over by October, so when you look at a 1901, the odds are pretty good that it was made in the old facility.
There were plenty of examples of the 1901 to look through, as the mintage was 6,962,000, but there were not many in circulation, as there was virtually no need for more silver dollars back then.
To look today and see that the 1901 is at $2,150 in MS-60 and $220,000 in MS-65, you have to conclude that something very unusual happened to nearly 7 million examples of the 1901. It is not, however, all that easy to determine why a coin with a nearly 7 million mintage is priced like it had a mintage of 70,000.
In his efforts to trace the releases of Morgan dollars, Q. David Bowers in his book, America Coin Treasures and Hoards, sums up the information on 1901 releases saying, ?So far as is known, this date was not represented in any Treasury releases of the 1940s, 1950s or the remarkable early 1960s.?
The Bowers statement is more remarkable than many might realize. Literally every Morgan dollar date appeared in bag form at some time between the 1940s and early 1960s. There might be a couple others where even a full $1,000 was not certain, but in almost every case, at some point in the roughly 25 years a bag of every date was reported. Of course, bags could be released with no notice, so we cannot say with certainty the 1901 was not released. We can simply suggest that if released, it was not reported.
The immediate question has to be what happened to nearly 7 million examples of the 1901. At least part of the answer can be found in the fact that the 1901 is relatively available in circulated grades today. A VG-8 lists for $27.50 and if anything, that is too much in the eyes of many, as it?s barely tougher than some of the most available dates.
The presence of so many circulated examples leads to the first conclusion that at some period, perhaps around 1901, there were many 1901s in circulation.
The second logical conclusion is that the 1901 was destroyed in large numbers in the Pittman Act melting. There is never certainty when it comes to that subject, but the 1901 had to have been melted and in large numbers.
We are left with a situation where the 1901 is nearly impossible in a grade like MS-65. If you want a truly top quality 1901, the best advice is to buy a proof, as there were 813 and a Proof-65 today is likely to be around $6,000. That is a savings of $214,000 over the price of an MS-65 and they are much easier to find.