Morgan Dollar Timeline

Over the 27 years of Morgan Dollar production, some 657 million Morgan Dollars were produced in 96 different date-and-mint combinations. Hundreds of millions of Morgan Silver Dollars have been melted over the years. The timeline below gives a brief overview of the major events that affected this American Classic Silver Dollar.

  • 1859 – Comstock Lode; The richest silver mine in American history was discovered in Nevada.
  • 1873 – Crime of 1873; Silver demonetization and end of the silver dollar, puts the U.S. on the gold standard.
  • 1878 – Bland-Allison Act; Guaranteed government silver purchases creates the birth of the Morgan Silver Dollar.
  • 1890 – Sherman Silver Purchase Act; Increased government silver purchases increases silver dollar production.
  • 1893 – Panic of 1893; An oversupply of silver triggers bank failures, causing a serious economic depression.
  • 1904 – Morgan Dollar End; The Mint ceases to strike Morgan Dollars when silver reserves are finally depleted.
  • 1918 – The Pittman Act; The mass melting of over 270 million Morgan Dollars to be used to supplement the war effort.
  • 1921 – Morgan Dollar Rebirth; Over 86 million 1921 Morgan Dollars are minted one final time.
  • 1962 – Treasury Hoard Discovery; Over 2.9 million Morgan Dollars with the coveted Carson City (CC) mintmark are found.
  • 1972 – The GSA Sale; The General Services Administration holds 7 mail bid auctions grossing $100 million.

Morgan Dollar Key Dates

Collecting Morgan Dollars has become a popular set-building pursuit among many coin enthusiasts as well as investors. The goal is to complete a set of all coins minted which includes one of each date and mintmark. The most desired coins in the set are known as “Key Dates.” Key Date Morgan Dollars are usually the most valuable and rarest of the series.Often referred to as “Keys,” they tend to have higher price appreciation over time than their common-date counterparts and thus become a targeted acquisition for investors. There are also “Semi-Key Dates” that are the next level of difficult-to-obtain after “Keys” and those too show great price appreciation over time.

Supply and demand fundamentals move markets, especially those with a fixed supply and a strong collector foundation. With popular collectibles like the Morgan Dollar, rarity, and demand drives pricing.A coin’s population or survival rate directly affects supply, so when there are high supplies, prices are usually lower. However, when a Morgan is difficult to obtain and in demand, like a Key Date, it will have a numismatic premium which trends higher based on market conditions, rarity, and condition.

Key Date Case Study

The 1889-CC Morgan Dollar is a Key Date coin that has a small supply is extremely popular and enjoys a steady increase of demand, as with all Carson City Morgan Silver Dollars. The Carson City Mint opened in 1870 to accommodate a shorter traveling distance for the silver coming out of the Comstock Lode. The mint in Carson City struck Morgan Dollars from 1878-1885 and 1889-1893. The four-year hiatus was for political reasons and in October 1889, Morgan Dollars once again began rolling off the mint’s presses. Only 350,000 coins were struck in the last three months of 1889 due to maintenance issues. The result is that the 1889-CC Morgan Dollar is one of the lower mintage issues of the entire Morgan Dollar series. Many other less-famous dates had lower mintages, but many 1889-CC Silver Dollars had an early demise. Approximately 300,000 1889-CC Silver Dollars were melted, ensuring 1889-CC survivors to become one of the Key Dates in the Morgan Dollars series.

The Carson City Mint 1889

VAM Morgan Dollars

Almost 50 years ago, extensive research was published by Leroy C. Van Allen and A. George Mallis on the variation of the dies used to strike Silver Dollars. The term VAM is an acronym for “Van Allen-Mallis”. In 1971, Leroy Van Allen and A. George Mallis published “The Comprehensive Catalog and Encyclopedia of Morgan and Peace Dollars,” which is one of the foremost authorities on these coins. There are over 3,000 different VAM numbers and since the VAM book was first published and has been updated with new editions and supplements to reflect the latest findings.

The VAM system catalog identified die varieties by their respective date and mintmark and these VAM numbers are exclusive for each specific Morgan variety. Some VAM varieties have fun nicknames like, Long Nock, Alligator Eye, Spitting Eagle, Hot-Lips, and Scarface. There are also popular variety lists like the ‘Hot 50’ or ‘Top 100’ varieties. VAM collecting is very popular, and it is the “thrill of the hunt,” that drives many coin collectors on their journey in collecting as many different die varieties as possible.

Collecting Morgan Dollars

Morgan Silver Dollars, minted from 1878 to 1904 and again in 1921, are by far the most popular and widely collected U.S. coin series in numismatics. America has had a long love affair with this legendary lady born out of the Wild West. Few coins have captured the hearts and minds of collectors as much as these big beautiful silver coins. Morgan Silver Dollars are fascinating as a coin series and are both challenging and fun to collect.

Morgan collecting is very flexible, and there are many ways to build a collection.The many varieties offer collectors several intellectually exciting options. There are many ways to assemble sets from date ranges to mintmarks. Listed below are ways one might choose to focus.

  • Morgan Series – Pursuing a full set is a popular past time for those with the means, patience, and desire to build legacy collections. There are approximately 100 coins, not including overdates and major die varieties.
  • Date Set – Another popular set is to acquire one of each date from 1878 to 1904 and a 1921. Some may pursue the most common for the date, while investors and sophisticated collectors will tend to acquire the toughest variety or mintmark for the date.
  • Key Dates – A key date and a semi-key date collection is very popular for investors who recognize that collectors will always need the tougher coins to complete their collection, thus creating a strong foundation for value. The rare Key Dates and Semi-Key Dates are always in demand even in soft market cycles.
  • Mintmarks Set or Date Set – This is a very popular way for those with a budget. This short set represents a single year of mintage, but a coin baring each mintmark, Philadelphia, New Orleans, San Francisco, Carson City and Denver.
  • Carson City Set – While I have seen many collectors pursue a coin of each baring a single mintmark, none are more popular than a Wild West baring the Carson City mintmark (CC). This is shortest set to acquire and in comprised of only 13 different dates.
  • Grade Set – Building a set in a specific grade or condition is a popular and very challenging endeavor. Many key dates are next to impossible in MS65 or better.
  • Proof Set or Proof Like Set – Morgan dollars were minted in proof condition in low quantities and are stunning when preserved correctly. To build a proof set of Morgan Dollars is the goal of many collectors, especially those who enjoy the beauty and history of this American Classic. In addition to proof strikes, there exists business strikes which are preserved in what appears to be proof condition, but are actually early die strikes which are known as DMPL (Deep Mirror Proof-Like) and PL (Proof Like) designations. Many of the world class collections, like the Jack Lee Collection or the Little Darlings Collection, include both high grade business strike (MS) and proof strike (PR) coins of every date with many major die varieties.
  • VAM Set – “VAM” is an acronym for Leroy Van Allen and George Mallis who identified many Morgan varieties. While pursuing a VAM set is not as popular, it can be quite fun and challenging for those who enjoy the minor nuances and attention to detail.
  • GSA Set – In recent years I have seen a growing desire among enthusiasts to acquire coins released from the General Services Administration (GSA) in their original government holders. These GSA sales took place from 1972 to 1980. It has become so popular that even some dates the certificates issued with each coin trade for hundreds of dollars.
  • Toned Set – Over time Morgan Silver Dollars can become beautifully toned due to oxidation. Some examples exhibit beautiful vivid rainbow colors, or other hues and natural patina toning. These coins often command big premiums and many collectors only pursue coins of natural beautiful colors.

Because of the great consistency in grading and guarantees provided by the top tier services there really is no reason to acquire coins that are not certified and graded by PCGS and NGC. The coins by the top tier often trade sight-unseen, at premium prices over coins with the same grade in the second tier. Coins in third tier holders are not recognized by mainstream quality dealers and should be viewed as uncertified and potentially problem coins.

Morgan Dollar Visual Grading Guide

Coin grading determines a coin’s condition using an industry adopted system of standards and terminology. Graded coins can be bought and sold, sight unseen because of standardized grading scales. The top of the Morgan Dollar grading scale is the Proof Morgan.

Proof Coins

Proof, or PR is a specially made coin distinguished by sharpness of detail and usually with brilliant mirror-like surfaces. Proof is a method of manufacture, not a condition… Proof coins range from PR-60 to PR-70.

Mint State

A Mint State coin has never been circulated and is abbreviated by the MS designation. An MS coin is as fresh as the day it was released from the mint. It likely displays “mint luster,” that fresh brightness that radiates from the surfaces of a newly struck coin. The quality of mint state coins are broken down into a numerical system from Mint State 60 to 70 (MS 60-70).

  • Perfect Uncirculated MS70
  • Superb Gem Uncirculated MS66-69
  • Gem Uncirculated MS64-65
  • Choice Uncirculated MS62-63
  • Uncirculated MS60-61

About Uncirculated

About Uncirculated is abbreviated as AU. The AU grade is important because it represents a very desirable coin on which only the most modest wear can be detected on the highest points of the relief. Mint luster should normally still be present on AU coins. About Uncirculated, AU coins are graded between AU50 and AU58.

  • Choice About Uncirculated AU58-55
  • About Uncirculated AU53-50

Extremely Fine

Extremely Fine grades are abbreviated as XF. This is the first level when wear becomes somewhat obvious without the aid of magnification or better lighting. Design detail must remain sharp for a coin to be designated XF. Original mint luster will likely still remain in some protected areas surrounding higher relief design elements. Extremely Fine, XF coins are graded from XF40 to XF45.

  • Choice Extremely Fine XF45
  • Extremely Fine XF40

Very Fine

Very Fine grades are abbreviated as XF. This is still a very presentable grade, but by the time a coin has worn to the point of being Very Fine, some of the finer points of design details are gone. All lettering and major design details should still be present, unless the coin was weakly struck. Very Fine, VF coins are graded from VF20 to VF35.

  • Choice Very Fine VF25-35
  • Very Fine VF20

Fine Coins

Fine grades are abbreviated as F. A coin designated as fine still retains some of the detail on the obverse bust as well as on the reverse, but about half of the finer portions of the design details are by now gone on both sides of the coin. The word “Liberty” is featured on the headband, this word should still be complete in coins in fine grade, however the lines defining the band on which it is displayed are by now interrupted. Fine, F coins are graded from F12 to F15.

  • Fine – Very Fine F15
  • Fine F12

Very Good

Fine grades are abbreviated as VG. The major design elements such as the obverse bust and the reverse eagle are still present in this grade, but most of the details of hair, feathers, and leaves are gone. The word “Liberty” is featured on the headband, only the first three letters of this word remain visible. The band on which the word was placed is likely entirely worn away. Very Good, VG coins are graded from VG8 to VG10.

  • Very Good VG10, VG8

Good Coins

Fine grades are abbreviated as G. Coins surviving in good condition must still have full definition of the rim on both the obverse and the reverse, however little more than the outline of the obverse bust, the reverse eagle, wreath, or other major design element remains. The word “Liberty” is now entirely worn away on the headband. Good, G coins are graded fromG4 to G6.

  • Good G6, G4

About Good, Fair, and Poor

A coin graded About Good or AG is a very worn coin. The date and mint mark must still be readable, but the rims on each side of the coin are partially or fully gone, as well as is much of the detail of any design elements near the rims. The major design elements are by now a mere outline, and the obverse bust looks more like a faceless mannequin. Coins graded AG, FR, PO, (1-3) are at the lowest end of the grading scale.

  • About Good G3
  • Fair FR2
  • Poor PO1
  • Blank/Planchet 0