By Mike Thorne, Ph.D.
Are you a collector of Morgan dollars, or do you have just a few examples that a relative gave you to start your collection? In the collections/accumulations I’ve been asked to appraise, I have found both situations but not in the same collection, of course. Some people have just a few Morgans, typically dated 1921, whereas others have tried to put together a complete date/mintmark run of the series.
In this column, I’m going to tell you about a 2016 Whitman publication: A Guide Book of Morgan Silver Dollars subtitled A Complete History and Price Guide. It’s a 6 x 9-inch paperback containing nearly 300 pages. Penned by Q. David Bowers, it’s the 5th edition of Volume 1 of “The Official Red Book” series.
In his Preface, Whitman publisher Dennis Tucker begins, “Whenever the coins of the United States are ranked for popularity, the famous Morgan silver dollar rises to the top of the list.” Echoing that, near the end of his brief Introduction, Bowers writes, “…these dollars are at once historical, beautiful and, for the most part, readily obtainable in Mint State for very reasonable prices.” Their large size makes them much easier to study than smaller coins, such as the half dime. “All American coins are interesting, but George T. Morgan’s silver dollar is the king of the hill.”
Bowers begins with a chapter that considers the appeal and challenge of Morgan dollars. This includes the romance of the Rocky Mountains (think Carson City Mint) and opportunities to purchase Morgan dollars.
Chapter 2 looks at the tradition of silver dollars in the United States. It begins with the 1794 dollar on its way to the “King of American Coins,” the fabled 1804 dollar. Gobrecht, Seated Liberty, and Trade dollars are briefly considered along the path to a congressional action that greatly affected the denomination, the Bland-Allison Act.
The act paved the way for the creation of a new dollar to replace the much-criticized Seated Liberty design. This led to work by the Mint’s chief engraver William Barber, assistant engraver George T. Morgan, artist Anthony Paquet, and possibly Barber’s son, Charles Barber. Morgan’s designs won because they had the lowest relief and required less force to strike up fully.
Chapter 3 includes a newspaper article detailing the first striking of the dollar. In addition, there are a number of contemporary comments about the new dollar, which are not all positive. One newspaper editor, for example, wrote, “The long line of monstrosities issued from the United States Mint, certainly receives its crown in the new dollar.”
Chapter 5 briefly surveys the five different mints that produced Morgan dollars: Philadelphia, San Francisco, Carson City, New Orleans, and, for the last of the Morgans only, Denver. The account of the Carson City Mint, in particular, makes for interesting reading.
If you like to read about great hoards of coins, you’ll love the treatment of the GSA silver dollar sales in the 1970s. I participated in the sales but not to the extent I wish I had. In fact, I still have one of the coins I bought all those years ago, an 1883-CC Morgan that NGC certified as MS-66 Prooflike. I paid $45 for it.
In Chapter 8, Bowers examines one of the most important topics in coin collecting as it pertains to Morgan dollars, grading and evaluating the coins. The chapter includes an abbreviated grading guide, complete with pictures of actual coins.
Chapter 10, the heart of the book, presents the entire run of Morgan dollar date/mintmark combinations. Each year begins with a brief historical account of what was happening in America that year in terms of the money in circulation, events at the mints, and the American scene. The account of 1878, for example, contains several fascinating tidbits. One is that the Remington Arms Co. improved its typewriter by introducing a shift key to allow the use of both upper-case and lower-case letters on the same line of type. Another is that Maximilian D. Berlitz opened a language instruction school that employed his “immersion” method of instruction. With it, a group of language learners spent a week with a Frenchman who knew no English. Requiring the students to communicate only in the language to be learned resulted in rapid learning.
After this historical overview, there’s a page devoted to each of the major varieties that year. For the 1879-CC dollar, for example, there are photos of the obverse and reverse of the coin. To the left of the photographs, Bowers indicates what he considers the “Optimal Collecting Grade” (MS-64) and below this appears the circulation strike mintage (756,000). To the right of the pictures are photographic enlargements of the two mintmark types (large CC over small CC, large CC).
In text below the pictures, Bowers notes, “There were probably hundreds of thousands of 1879-CC dollars melted under the 1918 Pittman act, but facts will never be known.”
At the bottom of the page, there’s a Whitman Coin Guide, which supplies values for grades VG-8 to MS-65 DMPL (deep mirror prooflike). Finally, there are estimates of mint-state availability.
After the year-by-year analysis, two appendices cover Morgan dollar patterns and misstruck and error dollars. These are followed by chapter notes, glossary, bibliography, listing of credits and acknowledgments, an “About the Author” page, and a one-page index.
If you collect and/or have any interest in Morgan dollars, you will want to make this guide book part of your numismatic library.
Published with a list price of $19.95, it’s available from the publisher (www.whitman.com) and online booksellers.
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