This article was originally printed in the latest issue of Numismatic News.
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The beautiful and popular Morgan silver dollar, beloved by collectors for years, makes an impressive set when complete. But a collector considering building a set of Morgans may be intimidated by the sheer size of the set, not to mention the cost of certain dates and mintmarks that are expensive and in high demand. And the 880-mintage proof 1895? What everyday collector can ever afford that coin?
One solution is to build a set-within-a-set, which enables a collector to own a lovely set of his favorite coins without a huge cash outlay and avoiding the rare and expensive coins. And if a collector wants a rare and expensive set, a delicacy that could be the envy of a museum, a specialized short collection of Morgan dollars can also be assembled.
A date set of Morgans can be assembled without a crippling cash outlay. The collector can choose which common or not-so-common mintmarks can be included in his set, and avoid the purchase of big-ticket items. Such a collection can be put together in Mint State without being too painful on the wallet. This set of Morgans would include one of each date from 1878-1904 and a 1921.
The year 1881 could be represented by a San Francisco Mint coin. The 1881-S silver dollars were well made, well struck, have stunning mint luster and are relatively easy to find. Dollars of 1892, while not so pretty, can be found in high grade. And all of the 1921 issues have rather shallow detail and luster. A date set can enable a collector to closely examine the differences between dates and mintmarks, the appearance of each coin, and how some dollars at certain mints look better or worse. Coins of Carson City and San Francisco look the nicest, followed by Philadelphia. Many New Orleans Morgan dollars are weakly struck in comparison to the others.
Not sure if you enjoy the Morgan silver dollar series? A set of five dollars, one from each mint, makes a nice little set. Forming such a set can give a collector a taste of what the Morgan series has to offer, is not that much of a challenge, and can be a pretty little collection in itself, especially if housed in a display holder.
The most expensive coin and by far the scarcest in such a set would be a Carson City dollar. But if you choose the 1878-CC as the Carson City coin, the expense wouldn’t be as high, as this is the most common of the famous CC issues.
Carson City coins have always held great appeal for collectors. Who wouldn’t love a coin struck from silver found in the Comstock Lode and made in the Old West? If you acquire one CC dollar, you may want to find them all, and assemble a set of Morgan dollars from this historic Mint. Yes, there are scarce coins to make this a challenge. The coins of 1879, 1889, and 1893 – the last year of the Carson City Mint – are costly and in high demand from silver dollar collectors, Carson City fans, and anyone who appreciates historical coins.
Quite a few Carson City dollars can be found in the black holders made by the General Services Administration, when hoards of old silver dollars were released by the Treasury in the 1970s. Some are even professionally graded, complete with sticker. A serious collector could look through a number of these dollars and find beautiful coins that would be just right for a choice Carson City set.
A plastic holder in the shape of the state of Nevada is available to house a set of Carson City Morgan dollars if you prefer raw coins. Such a valuable and historical set would be fun to assemble and own.
The numismatist with a large coin budget may consider building a set of proof Morgan dollars. Much searching and patience are required to build this set. Most have mintages in the hundreds, and who knows how many of these coins have survived? From the 1880, with a mintage of 1,355, to the 1890, with a mintage of only 590, this set could take a lifetime to build, but what a collection it would be when finished.
A set of proof Morgan dollars would not be complete without the famous 1895. With a mintage of 880, this coin has always been the key to any Morgan dollar set, in high demand from collectors. No circulation strikes are known, and none has ever turned up in 115 years.
An even more challenging and expensive set would be a collection of branch mint proofs. Only a handful of a few select dates are known and they command high prices and much excitement whenever any are offered at auction. Many collectors are not even aware that these coins exist. Probably the most famous of branch mint proofs is the 1893-CC, struck to commemorate the last year of the Carson City Mint.
Many collectors are enamored of the many errors and varieties within the United States series, and quite a few can be found in the Morgan dollar series. Some are widely recognized, such as the 1878 tail feathers varieties; these coins even have special openings in albums. Overdates, over mintmarks, doubled dies, hot lips, and spitting eagles are found. An entire reference book is devoted to this series that catalogs the varieties by Van Allen-Mallis numbers, VAMs for short, so a collector can spend a lifetime building a set of Morgan dollar varieties. A numismatist with a head for research and a strong glass could even make his own discovery. There can never be a complete roster of varieties, so building your collection can be an ongoing project.
Collecting by variety is not the most popular way to collect, so a set of Morgan dollar varieties may not require a big collecting budget – just a good eye and a lot of patience, and the ability to look through many dollars in the hopes of finding an unattributed coin. But with variety collecting, the thrill is in the chase. Attending major conventions, where hundreds of Morgan dollars can be seen, is a must for any collector of varieties. You never know what you might see, or find.
The large Morgan dollar series offers something for everyone. Building a date and mintmark set can be done, or a date set, a variety set, or whatever special coins appeal to you. A small set can be completed quickly, or a larger set can keep a collector busy for many years, if not decades. Any set-within-a-set can be fun to build, fun to study, and help a collector appreciate one of the most popular series in United States coinage.