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High-grade 1886-S Morgan dollars not common

NN1010item-a.jpgBy the time 1886 rolled around, there were enough silver dollars sitting in vaults around the country to be causing problems. In his yearly report, the U.S. Mint director treated the situation like an emergency, as he was working with the War Department to have the needed security in the form of guards and Gatling guns just to guard the Morgans.

Under the circumstances, it would have been unusual to think in terms of large additional mintages, although there was the law that did require silver purchases. If you look at the mintages of 1886, it almost looks like the mints decided to compromise, with Philadel-phia and New Orleans having large mintages, while San Francisco would have a low total and Carson City would have no production.

The low San Francisco Morgan dollar mintage in 1886 was 750,000 pieces. Such a mintage at another time might have resulted in some saving or even hoarding, but this was 1886, and what collecting there was did not focus on the new Morgan dollars each year. More-over, the 750,000 mintage might look pretty low 50 years later, but in 1886 it would not have impressed anyone.

What happened to the mintage of the 1886-S becomes an interesting question and one where certain answers are not possible. We start with the probability that at least some of the 750,000 examples of the 1886-S would have been released into circulation at the time. While they might not have been needed, it is likely that like most other dates, the 1886-S was used to meet commercial demand in the year it was produced for at least some of the year.

That said, it appears that whatever release there was could not have been large, as by the 1920s, the 1886-S was seen as a great rarity. Like the 1889-S, which was also seen as rare at the time, it was not rare, just not in circulation with whatever numbers there were after the Pittman Act melting being stored in the San Francisco Mint vault.

The best guess is that a lot were destroyed in the Pittman Act melting, for when the bags did start to come out around 1942, the supply was not large.

 There was at least some limited interest on the part of collectors and dealers at the time, so small numbers were saved, but the greater number of bags that were still being released into the early 1950s ended up at the gaming tables in Reno.

As the years passed, the flow of the 1886-S stopped and by the time the great Treasury release took place from 1962-1964, it appears that there were few, if any, examples of the 1886-S. As it turned out, being shipped to the Reno area was almost as good as being saved in the Treasury, as at least a few bags turned up in the LaVere Redfield Hoard.

There is some debate as to the quality of the coins found in the Redfield Hoard. The result is that the 1886-S, while not the great rarity it was thought to be in the 1920s, is a better-than-average date with a VG-8 price of $47.50. In Mint State, the 1886-S is quite nice, although strikes are not always sharp.

In MS-60, the 1886-S lists for $320, while an MS-65 is currently at $3,250. In reality, that price could prove to be cheap, as the 1886-S in MS-65 and above has not been graded in high numbers by any grading service.
In his book, The Official Red Book of Morgan Silver Dollars, Q. David Bowers put the likely total in MS-65 and above of the 1886-S at just higher than 1,500 coins. That is not a strong supply in the active Morgan dollar market, so the MS-65 price could rise in the future.

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