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Collecting Budget Morgan Dollars

Mark Benvenuto By Mark Benvenuto

Morgan dollars have without a doubt enjoyed widespread popularity among collectors for as long as anyone can remember, for a variety of reasons. They are big, silver coins. Many of them exist in high, Mint State grades. They span four decades and two centuries. They invoke some of the grandeur of the bygone days of the Wild West. Yet too often, many of us think that because the series is large and detailed, that it cannot be fully collected. Let’s look at these popular dollars from a somewhat different angle then, and see what an eager collector can put together without emptying out their own wallet.

In any new collecting endeavor, we need to think in terms of just what we want to spend. Something like $100 per coin doesn’t sound too bad – but $75 per coin sounds better. So let’s see just what in the Morgan dollar series might be available at this price.

1878-S Budget Morgan dollar

1878-S Morgan dollar (Image courtesy Heritage Auctions)

We have just mentioned that this series is big enough that it is tough to collect completely. But it isn’t just size that’s the problem. If it was always $75 per coin, we could, in theory, simply save up and be patient. Rather, it’s the scarce dates and mintmarks, and the outright rarities nestled in the long string of dates, that make the Morgan dollar series daunting. The solution for bargain collectors like us will be the obvious: skip those. We’ll concentrate on the common dates.

Scrolling down any of the major price lists, the first Morgan we come to that fits in our price range, and does so in some Mint State grade, is the 1878-S. With over 9.7 million of them as the official Mint tally, it’s rather obvious that the West Coast facility was pretty busy pounding out silver dollars that year. But for $75, we should be able to land one today in a grade like MS-62. And before we make a laundry list of other dates and mintmarks that come in at this price, let’s say a couple of words about grades such as MS-62.

It appears that for the past decade or so, the collecting community has had a real love affair with the MS-65 grade. Admittedly, Morgan dollars in that grade are beautiful. But slightly lower grades, such as the MS-62, are hardly those for which “BU” stands for “beat up.” Especially when encapsulated by one of the major grading firms, these pieces in the lower grades of Mint State can be put together into sharp-looking collections. So let’s keep this and other Mint State levels in mind, and see what other Morgans we might find with both this grade and price.

Continuing down the price list in Numismatic News, we quickly realize there are a string of “S” marked Morgans each year for which both this price tag and Mint State grade apply, at least up to 1883. In that year, it is the 1883-O that meets our criteria – and that qualifies as the first that might be found for no more cost in an MS-63 grade. But also around that time, the 1882-S can be had at our target price tag in the MS-64 grade. These two small steps up the ladder, as it were, have put us very close to the grade that seems to be so heavily coveted.

From this point up to 1889, there is at least one Morgan per year that passes our test for being inexpensive, with several of those doing so as MS-64 coins. This certainly won’t be a complete collection – none of the “CC” marked coins make the list, for example – but a date run of these big, silver disks, including some with mintmarks, is still impressive.

From 1890 through 1895, we end up in a stretch of time where there were definitely plenty of Morgan dollars issued, but for which the Mint State coins tend to be expensive. The 1890 and the 1890-S are two we can hope to add to our growing set, but many of the others we’ll either need to pass on, or look at in some lower grade. A good example is the 1890-O. With an official Mint total of over 10.7 million, we can be forgiven for thinking the coin is as common as common gets. Yet today, the price is a bit more than what we are shooting for, at least in the Mint State levels. Several times in the past century there have been price spikes for silver in which many older United States coins met their demise in the melting pot. Whatever the reason is, though, today several of the dates and mintmarks in this period are expensive.

If the early 1890s are a tough stretch among the Morgan dollars, well, from 1896 to the end of the series (including the “last hurrah” year in 1921), the good news is that there is always one piece per year that we can afford, and in MS-64 for all years except one. The three options for 1903 all cost more, but the 1903 from the main Mint in Philadelphia can be had as an MS-62 specimen while staying within our range. And as for the three choices available in 1921, which includes the only “D” marked coin in the entire series, two are available as MS-63 examples for no more than what we want to spend, and the 1921 from Philly rings in at a wonderfully low $60 in MS-64.

This little jaunt through the years of the Morgan silver dollars has not found us a single date or mintmark that could be snagged for $75 in the MS-65 grade. Alas, and other such sighs. But we have found that numerous dates are available as MS-64 coins, and all but a few years can be obtained as MS-62 pieces, all of which is very good news. The Morgan dollar series might be a big one, but it appears that those of us bargain collectors can still make big inroads into it without too much of an outlay. Good hunting!

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