The 1880-O Morgan dollar might just be a sleeper. It’s a better New Orleans date than most people realize, although it is still at least available in most grades.
There is no good direct source of information on the first years of Morgan dollar production. The simple truth is that most coin collectors at that time were not interested in the coin. They could not have cared less about Morgan dollar varieties, Carson City Morgans, or any of the things we are so interested in today. They generally did not collect dollars, as they were too expensive; and if they did, they did not collect by mints. If they wanted a Morgan dollar for their date collection, they would have acquired a proof from Philadelphia.
Certainly there were plenty of Morgan dollars in circulation, but from the start this situation was somewhat regional in nature. Circulation numbers in the West were not matched by similar numbers in the East, where people seemed perfectly content with bank notes.
The 1880-O Morgan dollar had a mintage of 5,305,000, which probably can be termed average for New Orleans. How many would have been released at the time is to this day an open question. Certainly some would have been released, but New Orleans was not among the leaders in silver dollar use at the time.
There is also some confusion over Mint State coins. In some cases, including the 1880-O, original bags of New Orleans dollars turned out to be lightly circulated. It seems that New Orleans made a practice, at least in the early years, of simply repackaging silver dollars when they came back. The bag might look new, and the assumption might be that the coins inside were Mint State, but in fact they were not. This happened a number of times with a number of dates, so reports of 1880-O bags appearing might in some cases not be Mint State bags at all.
Another factor is that it appears the New Orleans vault flooded at least once. The bags rotted, and when the coins spilled out, they were picked up by hand and placed in new bags. No attempt was made to ensure all the dates were the same, which again leaves us with a dilemma when determining which bags of the 1880-O actually appeared when.
We are able to track some bags of the 1880-O Morgan dollar, with a few coming out in 1946 and some more a decade later. With each release, the date would be seen as common, but then the supply would dry up. The Treasury release of 1962-1964 did see some additional bags surface but certainly not as many as some other New Orleans dates.
Following the Treasury release, other bags surfaced. Wayne Miller pointed to one in 1974, while the R.D. Donovan Hoard of silver dollars is believed to have had at least one additional bag. Unfortunately, a bag here and another there does not make for a large supply.
At present, the 1880-O lists for $52 in VG-8 condition and $110 in MS-60, but it jumps to $22,000 in MS-65. The reason is that what bags there were contained average coins. The 1880-O was actually pretty well made for a New Orleans dollar, but with many being circulated and others being dumped on the floor when their bags rotted away, we have come to realize that, especially in top grades, it is actually a much tougher date than expected.
This is an interesting situation, and it makes the 1880-O Morgan dollar (which actually comes with two different sizes and styles of mintmarks) a very interesting coin.
This article was originally printed in Numismatic News. >> Subscribe today.
More Collecting Resources
• The 1800s were a time of change for many, including in coin production. See how coin designs grew during the time period in the Standard Catalog of World Coins, 1801-1900 .
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