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Low-mintage 1889-S not really scarce

1889-S Morgan DollarProbably the best thing about Morgan dollars is that they are all different and you really can make no assumptions based on their mintages as to whether one is available or not. There are just always surprises lurking as some Morgans got saved and others were melted, but mintages do not tell you what happened to any particular date once they left the Mint.

The 1889-S is a good example of this situation. By the time 1889 rolled around, there were already too many Morgan dollars. Just storing them was a problem. It was reported that 42 million from Philadelphia and 8 million from New Orleans were shipped to the Treasury just to open up room in the vaults at those mints.
The mintages of dollars in 1889 were prone to extremes. Philadelphia coinage over 21 million pieces and that was huge. The 1889-O also had a large mintage of 11,875,000. The 1889-CC came in with 350,000. San Francisco was also low at 700,000.

What happened to the 1889-S mintage is a good question. Answers have changed over the years. This has kept dealers and collectors guessing as to whether the coin is available or tough in Mint State.

As was the case with virtually every date, at least a few made it to circulation. Certainly a VG-8 price of $51 indicates a reasonable supply.

It seems the 1889-S was only sporadically available for a long time. In his book, American Coin Treasures and Hoards, Q. David Bowers explained the situation in the 1920s: “The 1889-S was considered to be the rarest of all Morgan dollars outranking such issues as the 1889-CC, 1892-S, 1893-S and 1895.”

That changed in 1937 when a few bags were reported. They were followed by a large number in the early 1940s. The idea the 1889-S was scarce disappeared. Then it became known that the 1889-S was available at face value in $1,000 bags from the San Francisco Mint. Apparently there was little interest.

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In all probability, the fate of many an 1889-S silver dollar was to spend its life in casinos. That notion is supported by the fact that the famous Redfield Hoard is reported to have had several thousand Mint State examples. As the Redfield coins were bags shipped to Reno for casinos, that would suggest the 1889-S was a date that saw shipment from the vault in San Francisco to the gaming tables. The Redfield coins were reportedly heavily bagmarked.

It is hard to estimate supply today. Bowers, whose estimates are better than anyone’s, puts the total at between 50,000 and 100,000 coins.

Whatever the total, it translates into an MS-60 price of $275, which does not seem high in light of the original mintage. The 1889-S in MS-65 lists for $2,350, which is actually lower than a number of other dates with larger mintages.

Being well made and being released over a long period of time seems to have made a difference in the supply of the 1889-S as despite not being reported in large numbers in the Treasury releases, the 1889-S is available today. It might not be a common date, but all things considered, it is more available than you would expect.

 

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