Buying or Selling Morgan Silver Dollars – A Definitive Guide
Morgan silver dollars are some of the most collectible coins in the United States and throughout the world. These coins have captured the imagination of collectors and investors alike and depict some of the most iconic images of coins ever produced by the United States Mint. Whether you are looking to sell Morgan silver dollars or add more to your collection, you’ll definitely want to take a few minutes to read through this article.
A total of five mints produced these coins over the years, minted from 1878 – 1921 in varying mintages, types and varieties. All Morgan silver dollars contain 90% silver content. These coins were designed by George T. Morgan.
The value of these coins can range anywhere from the melt value of the coins, upwards of hundreds or even thousands of dollars, making them accessible to collectors with smaller budgets to high-end collectors. The inclination is to jump right in when buying or selling Morgan silver dollars, but it’s helpful to take a step back and consider several factors before moving forward with a trade.
In this piece, we’re going to share with you tips and tricks and general guidelines to help save you time and money. Whether you’re new to collecting, have recently received a Morgan silver dollar collection as part of an estate, or are a grizzled veteran, you’re sure to benefit from this article. We’ll begin with recommendations on buying followed by recommendations for selling silver coins.
Buying or Selling Morgan Silver Dollars
Assembling a collection of Morgan silver dollars can be a rewarding experience and can be a great investment and hobby. However, going about it the wrong way can cost you hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
Alternatively, selling a Morgan dollar (or any US silver dollar) collection can be overwhelming endeavor unless you’ve done your research already. Below are some helpful hints to improve your chances of success when buying or selling Morgan silver dollars.
Let the Coin Speak for Itself
Marketers and sellers of Morgan silver dollars will oftentimes go to great lengths to convince you of a certain grade or value of a coin. While this is to be expected, it’s important to pause and take a step back before diving headfirst into an investment that you may end up regretting.
We recommend that you take an objective approach to buying Morgan silver dollars and ignore the hype. Is the coin really a better date coin? Will it receive a straight grade from a third-party grading service or has it been altered? Is it a coin that is frequently counterfeited?
Will the grade of the coin significantly impact the value of the coin?
The best way to purchase valuable Morgan silver dollars is in person so that you can see the coin with your own eye. If this isn’t possible, then we recommend you request high resolution photos so that you can see all the details of the coin and determine for yourself if it is accurately graded and worth the advertised price.
Beware of Deceptive Marketing Practices
As a coin dealer that takes pride in being honest and transparent, it’s frustrating to see coin collectors fall prey to deceptive marketing practices. In many cases, these marketers target the novice investor or elderly.
In fact, we just recently met with an individual who told us that they company he had purchased his coins from was specifically targeting elderly Christians. This type of practice makes us sick!
One way that you can prevent falling prey to these dishonest companies is by doing your homework. We frequently see these companies attempt to sell obscure foreign coins with a limited mintage that they claim will be high value numismatic coins in the future.
Unfortunately, if the general public isn’t aware of these coins, then there’s likely going to be a limited market for them when the time comes to sell.
If buying U.S. coins, do your homework to make sure that the asking price for the coins is in line with other comparable coins. Also, remember that the TPGS is important and that if the coin isn’t certified by PCGS and NGC, you should pay less for it, as the grading standards of other companies aren’t as stringent.
You also shouldn’t pay much more for an Early Releases or First Releases coin but can expect to pay slightly more for a First Day of Issue (FDOI) coin.
In recent years, signatures on labels have become increasing popular, but we recommend that you don’t pay substantially more for a signature label. Especially for someone that didn’t hold a significant position, such as the U.S. Mint Director or Chief Engraver or Sculptor.
Some of the individuals signing labels are a bit more obscure, which likely won’t increase in value at the same rate as an individual recognized and respected in the industry.
Pictures Can Tell a Thousand Words
We’ve all heard the saying that a picture tells a thousand words. The same can be said in the coin industry, but it’s important that the picture clearly depict the details of the coin and that it hasn’t been altered anyway with setting or filters.
As an example, we regularly see individuals selling coins that they claim are deep mirror proof like (DMPL). These are coins that have a mirror-like finish background and foreground. While these coins exist in raw condition, as a coin dealer that purchases hundreds of thousands of coins a year, we don’t see them very often.
Therefore, it’s a bit suspicious when a seller advertises nearly all their coins as DMPL and provides images which can only be altered showing a stark contrast between the background and foreground. Bottom line is if the coin looks too good to be true, it probably is. Don’t fall prey to these tactics.
In other cases, a seller may state in their listing that the coin is a much higher grade than it appears in the pictures. If you have any question about the grade of the coin, we recommend that you peruse this tool from PCGS.
Additionally, some coins have been cleaned, polished, or whizzed, which may photograph well and give the appearance of a higher-grade coin, but in the end, are less valuable. We’ll discuss this topic in further detail in the next section.
When possible, it’s best to purchase high value coins in person; especially those that haven’t been certified. With that being said, if you choose to purchase them online, make sure that you’re buying the coins from a reputable dealer.
All That Glitters Isn’t Always Gold
As humans, we’re naturally drawn to shiny things, but when it comes to Morgan silver dollars, shiny is a negative. This means that the coin has somehow been altered, such as cleaned, polished or whizzed. As with antiques, buyers desire Morgan silver dollars in their original condition, even if the coin has some patina, toning or tarnishing.
In fact, toning can increase the value of Morgan silver dollars if it’s the correct type. For example, some collectors only collect toned coins. One of the most popular are referred to as “rainbow” or “monster rainbow,” which span across the coin (oftentimes both sides) and display deep hues of differing colors.
As a bit of background, when Morgan silver dollars were first minted by the U.S. Mint, they displayed a frosty or snowy appearance, which is mint luster. It’s important to be able to tell the difference between mint luster and shine from cleaning.
As Morgan silver dollars were handled in general circulation, the mint luster is worn off and the coin displays more of a matte-like finish. Therefore, you shouldn’t expect to see mint luster on a circulated coin.
Coins that have been cleaned, which appear shiny to the naked eye, typically trade at values that are two grade levels below an unaltered coin. For example, an almost uncirculated (AU) coin that has been cleaned may trade at values closer to a very fine (VF) that has not been altered.
Condition Matters – Don’t Accept Less Than Your Coin is Worth
If you’re in the market to sell your Morgan silver dollars, it’s important to remember that the condition of your coin matters; even if it’s a common date coin. A Morgan silver dollar is graded on a 70-point scale with 1 being the worst condition and 70 being a perfect coin.
Other than the 2021 Modern Commemorative 100th anniversary Morgan silver dollar, no Morgan dollar has been graded a perfect 70.Only a handful of original Morgan silver dollars have received an MS69 grade, which makes them extremely valuable.
With respect to condition, a Morgan silver dollar is considered a standard condition coin in fine to very fine condition. Coins graded less than fine trade at lower values while coins in extremely fine condition or better trade at premium rates.
Uncirculated coins typically trade at values that are 50% higher than standard condition coins, if not more. Alternatively, coins in less than fine condition trade at a discount to average condition coins.
While a coin may present with certain details, it could be a less valuable coin due to several issues, which include, but aren’t limited to:
- Rim dents
- Oxidation or heavy toning
Expect to receive less when you sell these coins, as they’re considered off-quality.
On the other hand, if you’re purchasing coins with these issues, you should expect to be able to purchase them at a discount.
Where Does Your Coin Hail From?
While the condition of a coin is an important factor in determining its value, where the coin was produced is just as important. A total of five US Mints produced Morgan silver dollars from 1878 – 1904 and again in 1921.
Carson City Mint
All coins produced by the Carson City mint were produced in lower quantities than common date coins. Those produced from 1882 to 1884 had the highest production runs with mintages of over one million coins each.
The lowest mintage Carson City silver dollar is from 1885, but the 1889 is the most valuable due to the relatively small number of coins that survived the melting pot.
An estimated 270 million Morgan silver dollars were melted down following the passage of The Pittman Act of 1918. The large number of coins melted down has made the survival rate of many of the coins unknown.
New Orleans Mint
The New Orleans Mint has an interesting history. Established as one of the three original US mints, it was the only mint at that time to strike both gold and silver coins. In 1861 it was seized by Confederate, Louisiana forces and used to mint more U.S. coins solely for the Confederate State of America.
After the Civil War, it was closed, but reopened again in 1879 until 1892.
Another example of a coin with a substantial original mintage but a low survival rate is the 1903-O Morgan dollar. The reported mintage of the coin was over 4 million coins, but the limited survival rate of these coins makes them relatively valuable with prices beginning in the $200 range.
Other valuable New Orleans-issued coins are from 1893 and 1895. Most other New Orleans Morgan dollars are going to be common date.
The Philadelphia Mint was known for producing some of the highest number of coins, but there are a few exceptions.
The most valuable and lowest minted Philadelphia-issued coin is from 1895. Only 880 of these coins were produced making them the rarest and most valuable Morgan silver dollar. Other lower mintage Morgan dollars from Philadelphia are from 1894, 1895 and 1899.
San Francisco Mint
The San Francisco Mint was known for producing some of the lowest minted coins. Of note, the 1888, 1892, 1893, 1895, 1902 and 1903 are more valuable coins.
The most valuable of the San Francisco Morgan silver dollars is the 1893. A mere 100,000 of these coins were produced with values beginning at over $1,000.
Last, but not least, the Denver Mint produced only one Morgan silver dollar, which was in 1921. Over 20 million of these coins were produced, making them a common date coin. In fact, the 1921 Denver Morgan silver dollar is the third highest minted coin in the Morgan dollar series.
Third Party Grading Services – The Skinny
While various companies have been involved in some form of professionally grading coins for a while, the Third-Party Grading Services (TPGS) industry effectively began in 1979 with ANACS. As of this writing, ANACS still exists, but today plays second fiddle to the two leading TPGS, NGC and PCGS.
This is in part due to some inconsistency and less stringent grading standards. Another recognized, but less popular TPGS is ICG. In most cases, the value of NGC and PCGS certified coins is higher than ANACS and ICG coins.
If you have ever been curious about how each company would grade the same coin (as we have always wondered as well), check out the video below that a YouTuber did, comparing just this!
(We have no affiliation to this YouTube channel, but felt it was an interesting watch!)
Other than the four TPGS that we highlighted above, most other TPGS aren’t recognized in the industry as being reliable and accurate. In fact, in many cases, the extent of the over grading of these companies is borderline criminal.
We regularly see coins certified by these “third tier” grading services as being many levels above the actual grade of the coin.
It’s also common for coins that have clearly been cleaned or polished to receive a straight grade as opposed to a detail grade. Fortunately, some online auction sites no longer allow these coins to be posted for sale, as it could cost an unsuspecting buyer hundreds or even thousands of dollars due to the over inflated value of an inaccurate grade.
One other quick point regarding TPGS; they’re not necessarily the holy grail that may people suspect they are. We purchase hundreds of thousands of coins a year and only submit a fraction of 1% to be authenticated, certified and graded.
One must consider if the cost, not to mention the turnaround time, is worth the additional expected value of a certified coin.
Some factors to consider are:
- Cost to submit the coins
- Grading fees
- Processing fees
- Shipping, Handling, & Insurance fees
- As of May 2022, NGC & PCGS have both stated they expect 30-90 day delays in getting your freshly certified and graded coin back to you
More times than not, it’s hard to justify these expenses and delays of having a coin graded.
The ‘Tweeners’ Can be a Costly Mistake
The difference between one grade can result in prices that differ by hundreds or even thousands of dollars. In most cases, the largest discrepancies are between coins that are in almost uncirculated (AU) and brilliant uncirculated (BU) condition.
A good example is the 1884-s Morgan silver dollar. With a mintage of 3.2 million, it’s by no means a rare coin. However, it’s difficult to find this coin in uncirculated condition. This coin in AU condition trades in the $200 range, while a BU variety trades at values of $5,000 or more.
It’s not uncommon for less than reputable sellers to sell these coins on auction sites claiming that they’re in BU condition when, they’re no better than in AU condition. If you find yourself in a situation where you’re looking to pick up a high value coin to help fill a hole in your collection, we recommend that you purchase a PCGS or NGC certified coin. Certified coins will run you a bit more but buying an incorrectly graded raw coin can be much more costly.
Not all large price discrepancies occur between the AU and BU grades.
A few examples of coins that vary by $500 or more between extremely fine (XF) and almost uncirculated (AU) grades are:
If these coins are certified by PCGS or NGC, you can be assured that the grade is accurate.
Short of that, you’re taking a risk. If you choose to roll the dice, just make sure that the seller has a generous return policy.
Ignore Comments on 2×2 Holders
We’ve already touched on this subject briefly, but to reiterate, you should ignore any comments made on the holders of raw coins, as they are likely a marketing tactic to sell the coins for above market rates. The coins should sell themselves based on the merits of the coins – not based on the dealer’s or seller’s flashy comments.
As an example, we recently purchased a large collection that consisted of many of these coins. In fact, the seller was so creative that he rarely used the same comments twice. When viewing the coins in person, it was clear that the seller had overstated the features and grade of the coins.
We understand that marketing is a powerful tool but do your best to resist any comments made by the seller in determining if the coin is a good buy.
Our comments above, however, do not apply to a seller providing a description of a coin. This is something that they should do. In fact, having a thorough and accurate description is great for new buyers and longtime collectors, alike.
To Certify or Not Certify – That is the Question
The last topic that we’ll address is whether to have your coins certified. We’ve touched on this topic throughout the article, but in this section, we’ll provide some guidelines as to when you should and shouldn’t consider submitting coins.
In most cases, the expense and turnaround time doesn’t justify have your Morgan silver dollars certified or professionally graded. We purchase thousands of Morgan silver dollars a year, and short of bulk submissions of common date uncirculated coins, we only submit a handful of these coins to be certified on an annual basis.
The reason is that the cost to certify doesn’t translate into significantly higher prices. Our general rule of thumb is that if the certification doesn’t increase the value by at least $100 over all expenses incurred, then it’s probably not worth having the coin certified. This is the case for nearly all Morgan silver dollars.
However, there are some exceptions. For example, we always recommend having an 1895 Morgan silver dollar certified (no mint mark), as this is the most valuable of the Morgan silver dollars and is frequently counterfeited. Only 880 of these coins are known to exist, making them a rarity.
Another valuable coin that in most cases is worth having certified is an 1893-s Morgan dollar. Short of it being in poor condition, you’re likely to recoup your expenses by having it professionally graded.
Other coins that we would recommend having certified are those that we highlighted in our “Tweeners” section. If you believe that your coin will grade at the higher of the two grades, then the expense is worth it, as this could translate into values that are $500 higher or more.
Last comment regarding certification – if you decide to go this route, don’t try and cut corners or save money by submitting your coins to a second or third tier grading company.
Most coin dealers ignore stated grades on holders from these less regarded companies, and in fact, have been known to crack the coins out of the holders and sell them as raw coins.
In conclusion, we’ve addressed several factors to take into consideration when buying or selling Morgan silver dollars. If buying, make sure that the coin is as described, don’t fall prey to marketing tactics and only purchase certified coins from well-respected TPGS. If selling, realize that not all Morgan silver dollars are created equal.
You should expect to receive higher values for better condition, key date or rare coins and certified coins.
It’s our hope that this article will help to improve your buying or selling experience. If you happen to be in the market to buy or sell Morgan silver dollars, the coin specialists at Atlanta Gold & Coin Buyers can assist.
We are experts in the field and can help to guide you through the process of buying or selling Morgan silver dollars.
If you are selling silver dollars, we look forward to offering our assistance and transparency so that you’re able to maximize the value of your Morgan silver dollar collection. Should you be looking to buy Morgan silver dollars at a reasonable price, we can help with that as well.
Make sure to check out our Current Inventory or What We Pay for your coins and bullion, then give us a call or fill out an appointment request form to start the buying or selling process with us at Atlanta Gold & Coin Buyers.