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Morgans, I have known; have you?

 Much of the 1885-CC mintage remained in storage, leaving few to circulate.

Much of the 1885-CC mintage remained in storage, leaving few to circulate.

Collectors of Morgan dollars have a lifetime of pursuit awaiting them. The face value of a date and mintmark set is over one hundred dollars. This does not include varieties. Specialists in the series may also be interested in proofs.

Many beautiful dollars, and not so beautiful, can be found by anyone who seriously collects the Morgan series. Differences in condition, strike and appearance can impress the Morgan lover, even if the collector does not purchase the coins. And the greater number of coins viewed by the collector, the more the collector can learn about their favorite series, making them better numismatists with experience.

One of the prettiest Morgan dollars I’ve seen was in a black GSA (General Services Administration) holder. It was not professionally graded, but it was obvious, even to the casual collector, that this was one special coin. This was an 1881-CC that was prooflike. The black-and-white contrast stood out, along with bright mint luster. This coin sat in the Treasury hoard for years until it was placed in its holder and sold to an astute collector.

Some collectors like toned coins, while others do not. Many Morgans come in shades of gold, blue, green, violet, pink, orange...every color of the rainbow and then some. A few were the end coins in a roll and show this by their toning pattern. Some were stored in cardboard holders or in a drawer. And some have been artificially toned.

I once saw an 1886 dollar with even yellow toning on the obverse. The color was too even and not attractive. I’ve also seen Morgans with gorgeous toning on the obverse or reverse.

One 1883-O dollar, picked out of a junk box, had rainbow toning on the reverse. An 1882-S had dark pink and purple toning on the obverse. An 1885-CC showed rusty orange colors on the obverse, along with bright cartwheel luster. Many collectors pay fancy prices for these fancy coins.

There is much to be said for Mint State Morgans with flashy white color, no toning, just brilliance that pours off the coin. And if the coin has a minimum of bagmarks, so much the better. I once saw an 1886 like this. A common date, but uncommonly lovely. Liberty’s cheek was unscratched. The fields were perfect and shimmered, with the watery effect seen on exceptional coins. Mint luster poured off this coin. This coin would be an ideal type coin, or a great addition to a beautiful set.

Even worn coins have their own charm, their own personality. Worn dollars from the West, San Francisco and Carson City, went out and did the job they were created to do. Who could find fault with a worn 1893-CC or 1893-S dollar? Even common dates that are worn can be part of a circulated set, or a collector’s own grading set, showing different levels of wear. Some coins are scarce in worn condition, such as the 1885-CC and 1904-O. Perhaps a worn 1885-CC does not even exist!

So-called junk boxes can yield great finds. When I began collecting, I spotted an 1883-S in such a box. It was not well worn, but it had seen circulation and was a nice-looking coin. More searches yielded more finds: 1884-S, 1904-S and a pretty 1902-S with some mint luster. Taking time to look through junk boxes can yield good results. Collectors with an eye for detail can find a scarce variety, too.

The very first coin I examined at a major show was an 1892-O that was well struck for the date and beamed with luster. I spent some time with this impressive coin. In decades of looking at Morgans, I had not seen a prettier 1892-O. I did not buy it, but I’m sure the next Morgan lover who saw it did.

A scarce 1895 proof is always a joy to behold, with glittering mirror surfaces and cameo contrast. But there were a few that got out into circulation. I have seen 1895 Morgans showing some wear. One was graded Proof-20. A collector has to wonder how these specially struck coins got out into the world and how long they circulated.

Silver dollars were popular gifts in years past. When I was young, a dealer friend gave me a Christmas present – a 1904-O dollar in Mint State. A common date, not known for looking spectacular, but a good-looking coin and a special gift.

Probably the most special gifts ever were the two silver dollars that got me interested in coins. My grandmother gave me a 1921 Morgan and a 1922 Peace dollar for Christmas. The coins were dated only one year apart, but the designs were so different. This piqued my interest in coins, which became a lifelong pursuit.

The 1921 Morgan is the most common of Morgans, as collectors know. But not that many collectors know of the 1921-D engraved dollars. These coins are engraved in the obverse field “—th dollar of 1st 100 ever released from Denver Mint.” Coin number 12 was for sale at a major show. Coins numbered 3 through 12 are known. This special coin has been an interest for years. In my research, I managed to track down all of the engraved coins.

Morgan dollars make up a big set, with many dates, mintmarks, varieties, colors and conditions. Whether Mint State, proof, worn or well-worn, Morgan lovers know that every coin in this series has a story and is special to the one who gives it a home.

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News. >> Subscribe today.

More Collecting Resources

• Are you a U.S. coin collector? Check out the 2019 U.S. Coin Digest for the most recent coin prices.

• If you enjoy reading about what inspires coin designs, you'll want to check out our Fascinating Facts, Mysteries & Myths about U.S. Coins eBook.