Buyer Beware: Read This Article Before Buying Morgan Dollars Online
As is the case with most coin dealers, we have an online store featuring some of the most popular coins and bullion in the industry, including Morgan silver dollars. Taking photographs and accurately describing items can be challenging at times, as online pictures never truly reflect how the coin appears in hand. While it can be difficult, we do our best to accurately describe coins and post pictures that are representative of how the coins appear in person.
As a coin dealer that frequently purchases large collections, including many from estates, we routinely come across Morgan silver dollars originally purchased from online dealers that were misrepresented. Knowingly or unknowingly, the seller made comments in the auction description or on the 2×2 holder housing the coin that don’t accurately depict the condition and features of the coin.
We recently acquired one such coin that we’re going to feature in this article. We don’t know who the original seller is and don’t have a vendetta against anyone. Rather, we want to share with our readers some of the representations that were made with respect to this coin and what the comments mean. Once we do so, we’ll provide our assessment of the coin to see how it stacks up.
History of Morgan Silver Dollars
Before we get into the nitty gritty, we’re going to first share some basic information on Morgan silver dollars to help explain why they are some of the most popular collectible coins in the industry. The Morgan silver dollar, a 90% silver coin, was designed by George T. Morgan and had a long production run from 1878 – 1904 and again in 1921. A total of five mints produced these coins, including the Philadelphia, San Francisco, New Orleans, Carson City, and Denver mints.
Each mint, except for the Philadelphia Mint, included a mint mark on the reverse of the coin to indicate where the coin was produced. The number of coins produced by each mint varied and ranged anywhere from 880 to tens of millions. Generally speaking, the Philadelphia Mint produced the largest number of coins and the Carson City Mint the smallest number, but there are certainly many exceptions to this rule.
Even though we have original mintage figures on these coins, the number of coins remaining, commonly referred to as survivorship, is a mystery, as the Pittman Act of 1918 authorized the melting of hundreds of millions of these coins (350 million to be exact). It’s impossible to know which coins were melted down and which were saved from the melting pot. The best we can do is look at population reports from third party grading services to determine how many coins have been certified in various grades.
The relative rarity and iconic design of Morgan silver dollars makes them highly collectible. Not to mention, these coins are composed of silver, which is in high demand. Collectors and investors alike frequently acquire Morgan silver dollars based on the year of mintage, grade or condition and rarity. Investors tend to focus more on common date average condition coins while collectors seek specific years, mint marks and grades to fill holes in their collection.
Now that we’ve provided a bit of history and addressed why these coins are sought after, we’re now going to tackle some of the common verbiage you see listed with respect to these coins, and, in particular, the comments noted on the 2×2 holder of the featured coin.
Morgan Silver Dollar Date & Mint Mark
The Morgan silver dollar featured in the included pictures is a 1900 Philadelphia-issued silver dollar. We know that it was issued by the Philadelphia mint, as it doesn’t have a mint mark present on the reverse of the coin. As you see in the included pictures, there’s a notation on the holder surrounding the coin that this is a “Rare” and “Semi Key” coin. This website provides the total mintage of coins by year and mint. As you can see from this website, a total of 8,830,000 coins were produced, which is far from rare.
Typically speaking, coins with a mintage of 1,000,000 coins or less are considered rare or key date coins and coins with a production of 1,000,000 – 2,000,000 coins are generally considered semi-key date coins. One notable exception is Carson City silver dollars, which have mintages ranging from 228,000 to 2.3 million coins. They are considered rare and collectible coins regardless of the mintage.
With respect to the 1900 silver dollar, there’s no situation in which this coin is considered a rare or semi-key date coin unless it’s in pristine condition. Even then, to maximize your value, it would need to be certified; otherwise, it will just be considered an uncirculated coin, which will trade at standard uncirculated rates.
Interestingly, the featured coin has a “CC” notation on the reverse side of the holder, which indicates that the coin was produced at the Carson City Mint. The Carson City Mint didn’t produce a coin in 1900. There is however an error coin from 1900, which is an “O” stamped over a “CC,” but since this coin wasn’t produced at the New Orleans Mint, it’s not possible for it to qualify for this error or variety.
Morgan Silver Dollar Condition
The original seller seems to be a bit inconsistent with respect to the condition of the coin, as he or she has five different notations regarding the coin’s condition. We’ll break down each of these comments below so that you’ll have a better understanding of what they were trying to convey.
MS is an abbreviation for “mint state.” Mint state means that the coin is in uncirculated condition. An uncirculated coin can receive a grade as low as MS60 and as high as MS70. However, most uncirculated silver dollars, when certified by a third-party grading service, receive a grade of 64 or less. Coins with a grade of 65 or higher trade at a higher price point, with values jumping substantially at the MS67 grade.
The reason most Morgan dollars don’t qualify for an “MS” grade is because they were used by the public in circulation. This causes wear to the coins (at least the high points) and disqualifies it from being an uncirculated coin.
Another notation on the 2×2 coin holder is “GEM BU.” Gem BU is a term used in the industry to describe a coin with a grade of MS65 or higher. These are coins that have full and complete mint luster, limited contact marks, clean cheeks (i.e. no marks on the face of Lady Liberty), no wear to the high points of the coin, and are aesthetically appealing. To give you an idea of the rarity of GEM BU silver dollar, if you were to submit a group of 100 uncirculated Morgan silver dollars to a third-party grading service, you may receive one out of a hundred that receives an MS65 grade.
The 2×2 holder also has a “CH BU” notation, which is different from a GEM BU coin. “CH” is short for “choice” and typically describes a coin with a grade of MS63 – MS64. While a decent grade and an appealing coin, this is a grade or two below a “GEM BU” coin. Why this individual noted two different classes of grades on the holder is a bit of a mystery. The only thing we can think of is that they were trying to fill some space and reach a broader audience that may not be familiar with coin terminology.
“PQ” is an abbreviation for “premium quality” and basically means that the coin is high-end for the grade. You may have noticed online through your research that some coins have a “PQ” or “CAC” sticker. In a nutshell, both designations refer to high-end quality coins. Only a small percentage of coins receive this designation. More recently, the third-party grading services have been including a “+” sign next to a grade if the condition falls between two grades or is a nice example for the grade. PQ is somewhat of a subjective term but should only be used on a limited basis and where warranted.
High grade is another subjective term, but it typically refers to an uncirculated common date coin. It can also refer to a key date coin (i.e. low mintage) that is in better than average condition. It’s generally not a term used to describe a common date coin that has been circulated. However, since the term is somewhat subjective, it can be used more liberally than the BU and PQ terms noted above.
Morgan Silver Dollar Strike
Some Morgan silver dollars are notorious for having weak strikes, such as the 1883-s, 1884-s and 1885-s Morgan silver dollars. In general, the San Francisco Mint seemed to have more strike issues than some of the other mints. Most other Morgan silver dollars have standard strikes, which means that the details can be made out reasonably well. Coins that have a weak strike, are sometimes referred to as “pancake strikes,” which makes it difficult to make out some of the finer details of the coin.
The term “deep strike” or “sharp strike” is usually from a new die that has had limited use. Most proof coins have a “sharp strike,” as they’re stamped twice, which brings out the minute details of the coin. Some coins that have a solid strike can appear to have a high-relief strike, similar to the 1921 Peace silver dollar.
Most coin dealers don’t reference the quality of a strike of a coin, unless it’s an ancient coin or is a coin that has a reputation of being poorly struck. That being said, Morgan silver dollars are marketable as long as they have a standard strike, so the term “deep strike,” at least in this case, really doesn’t add any significance or value to the coin.
Morgan Silver Dollar Aesthetics
The aesthetics of a coin can impact its value. Common terms used to describe the aesthetics of a Morgan silver dollar are “proof-like,” “deep proof-like,” “rainbow toning,” “monster rainbow toning,” and “cartwheel” effect.
Assessment of the Featured Morgan Silver Dollar
Now that we’ve addressed the notations on the coin holder, we’re now going to see how this coin stacks up to each of these advertised features to see if it was accurately described or if someone received the short end of the stick.
Unfortunately, this coin fails to meet the standards of an uncirculated coin, which means that none of the descriptors related to the coin’s condition are accurate. Rather, it qualifies as an AU detail grade coin. We’ll explain what that means. AU is an abbreviation for almost uncirculated. An almost uncirculated coin has many of the features of an uncirculated coin, but typically doesn’t exhibit full and complete mint luster across the front and back of the coin (the snowy or frosty appearance seen with uncirculated coins) and has wear to the high points of the coin. The high points of a Morgan silver dollar include the cheek of Lady Liberty, above the ear, and the eagle’s breast feathers on the reverse of the coin.
You may have also noticed that the coin has a shiny appearance. This should not be confused with mint luster. Coins that have a shiny appearance have been cleaned, polished, whizzed or otherwise altered. A coin that has been altered doesn’t qualify for a straight grade from one of the third-party grading services. Rather, it would receive a “detail” grade or qualifier. An altered coin has a significantly lower value than coins with original surfaces. Most serious collectors avoid altered coins, as they’re perceived to be lower quality coins.
We’ve already addressed the rarity of the coin, but it bears repeating. A mintage of over 8 million coins doesn’t qualify as a rare or semi-key date coin, so these notations aren’t accurate. Furthermore, “CC” isn’t accurate, as this is short for a coin produced at the Carson City Mint, which clearly isn’t the case with this coin.
With respect to the strike of the coin, we don’t see anything special about this coin that would lead us to believe that it’s a “deep” or “sharply” struck coin. From all appearances, it appears to be a standard strike, so this isn’t an accurate description.
Lastly, coins that have been cleaned or polished don’t exhibit a cartwheel effect. This should be somewhat obvious, as it’s the mint luster of the coin that contributes to this feature. A coin with a full and complete mint luster has a greater opportunity to exhibit a cartwheel effect. Coins that have a proof-life appearance, which means a mirror-like finish background and frosted foreground, are coins that are mo
In conclusion, we’ve shared with you some of the common notations and abbreviations for a Morgan silver dollar. Most of the descriptors found on the holder or packaging of a coin relate to the coin’s condition. As we analyzed the comments made with the featured coin, we identified some discrepancies, as the comments relate to two different categories or grades of coins.
We also broke down some of the comments regarding the aesthetics of the coin and found them to be inaccurate. Coins with a deep or sharp strike should be bold and may even exhibit somewhat of a high relief appearance. Since a cartwheel effect is limited to coins with full and complete mint luster, it couldn’t possibly apply to this coin.
Our recommendation is that you avoid all the “noise” associated with a coin and evaluate it based on its merits. Typically, a coin’s condition speaks for itself. If someone goes through the hassle of trying to make a coin appear more attractive by using multiple descriptors, there’s a high likelihood that they’re trying to overcompensate for a pedestrian or even subpar coin.
If you’re in the market to purchase a key date coin in high-end condition, we recommend that you consider a coin that has been certified by a leading third-party grading service. If a raw coin is more affordable, which is oftentimes the case, make sure that you avoid all the noise and closely evaluate the coin’s condition. Don’t hesitate to request high resolution pictures if the photos of the coin you’re interested in don’t show the fine details that are needed to properly assess the coin.
At Atlanta Gold & Coin Buyers, we always do our best to accurately describe the coins that we sell, and for the most part believe that is the approach of most coin dealers. However, we recommend that coin collectors don’t take comments at face value and encourage you to do your due diligence. Numismatics is a great field that we’re proud to be part of. We do our best to help educate our readers and hope that this article addresses some of the issues that we occasionally see when Morgan silver dollars are sold online. We’re large and aggressive buyers of Morgan silver dollars and welcome you to contact us if you’re in the market to liquidate or add to your collection.