Morgan Silver Dollars 1878 – 1921
Most people have a Morgan silver dollar or two, some people have quite a few. When researching Morgan silver dollars you’ll quickly realize two things. The date/mint mark combination matter quite a bit and the so does the “grade” of the coin. It’s easy to establish what date your coin is and with a coin grading loop or a pair of reading glasses (if you’re my age) you can read the mint mark. Those two steps are easy but what about the grading? When it comes time to sell your coin collection you’ll be faced with the question of “grades” and I’m going to try to help you have a very basic understanding of the modern “Sheldon” rare coin grading system. My father owned a rare coin shop in Santa Monica Calfornia back in the 1960’s, it is with he and my brother that I learned to grade coins, let me share with you what I learned.
Let’s get some things out of the way at the outset of this blog. Never, ever clean your coins. Never. There are no exceptions to this rule. You cannot improve the originality of your coins by cleaning them. Listen to this rule and take it to heart; “something is original only once”. To the experienced collector that means that an original coin can never be made to look original again once it’s been cleaned. Next, if your coin has already been cleaned or it is damaged, it’s value is a mere fraction of what it would be had it not been cleaned or damaged. Damaged or cleaned coins have very little appeal to collectors and therefore they have very little value compared to an original specimen. Got it? Good! Let’s move on.
Mint State or MS indicates that a coin has been made for circulation. This is the type of coin you get at your bank or in change from a merchant.
Proof or PR indicates a coin made from specially prepared dies, for presentation, not circulation. These special presentation coins were made to illustrate the engravers skill in bringing the designers vision to life in coin form.
Mint Luster is the satiny finish that covers the coins surface on uncirculated coins. Over time as the coin wears the mint luster disappears.
Bag Marks are often found on Morgan silver dollars, they are evidence of the coins being stored in large canvas bags. When the coins were poured into the bags then moved around, they would bump up against one another and create marks. A coin can have bag marks and still be uncirculated.
So from here on out when you see a combination of letters and numbers like this MS65 or PR65, you will know that MS indicates a Mint State coin and PR indicates a Proof coin.
The Sheldon numismatic grading scale is numberical and runs from 1 to 70. 1 being the lowest with a designation of “poor”, 70 being the highest grade. Here is how the Sheldon grading scale breaks down for Mint State and Proof Coins.
About Good 03
Very Good 8-10
Very Fine 20-35
Extra Fine 40-45
About Uncirculated 50-58
Now we’ll go over the basics of grading with some digital images of Morgan silver dollars. We’re going to stay away from the numerical aspect of this scale as it can be very subjective and often leads to “splitting hairs”. We will however go over the basics from Good to Uncirculated so that you can see exactly how the process works.
Grading Morgan Silver Dollars:
The hair detail is very well worn leaving very little detail. Cotton bolls are worn flat. The rim of the coin is full on both the front and back of the coin. Notice that most of the feather detail is missing from the upper left portion of the eagle’s wing.
(VG) Very Good
Still quite worn but you will notice a little detail in the cotton bolls and more definition in Liberty’s hair. You will also see a bit more feather detail in the eagle’s wings. As with the Good grade, the rims must be full both front and back.
A specimen in Fine condition will have moderate wear but you’ll see more detail. Notice the hair detail is starting to become defined, the cotton leaves are outlined though worn. Look at the cotton bolls, there are two lines clearly evident in each boll. The rim and denticles are raised and clearly defined. There is light blending of the high points in the eagle’s wings but most of the feather detail is present.
(VF) Very Fine
Light to medium wear overall but again, you’ll notice the overall details becoming sharp and better defined. The cotton leaves are well outlined with inner detail visible though each feature is worn a little flat on the highest points. There is significantly more hair detail and possibly breast feathers visible on the eagle but keep in mind some coins come weakly struck so you will see softness there regardless of grade.
(XF) Extra Fine
The high points of the design will show light wear, Liberty’s hair will show some wear above the ear but overall the hair detail is very well defined. The cotton leaves will be crisp with only the lightest wear visible on the high points. Though worn slightly the breast feathers on the eagle should be clearly visible, there may be very light wear on the right wing. You will find traces of the original satiny mint luster between the stars and the lettering near the rim.
(AU) Almost Uncirculated
Only the slightest trace of wear is evident on the high points. There may be very light wear visible in the hair above the ear, tops of cotton bolls and edges of cotton leaves but overall the coin shows evidence of only the slightest wear to the high points. There will be more evidence of mint luster visible now. Essentially an AU can look almost like an uncirculated coin but if there is slight wear, it will grade AU. These range from AU50 to AU58 on the grading scale, an AU58 will have thick mint luster throughout!
(MS) Mint State
A mint state Morgan Silver dollar will have no signs of wear on the coin, none. There will be thick unbroken mint lust from rim to rim. The coin can have bag marks or contact marks but you won’t see actual “wear”. The coin has never been in circulation.
Determining what makes an MS60 vs an MS65 is a difficult thing to teach online. In my experience as a professional numismatist in Los Angeles it’s become evident over the years that some people are simply incapable of grasping the subtleties from one grade to the next. You should consult a professional numismatist in if you need assistance with grading. Please visit our website if you have more questions.
We specialize in Antiques, Rare Coins and Estate Jewelry and a broad range of collectibles. We are located in Santa Monica California. We are nearby Culver City, Malibu, Brentwood, Westwood, West Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Los Angeles. We service the entire west coast with appraisals and buying services pertaining to every field we deal in. If you are interested in buying or selling Antiques, Rare Coins, Estate Jewelry or any Collectibles, we ask that you visit the “what we buy” section of our website.
How to sell gold jewelry and realize the highest prices!
In the last blog I explained how gold is measured in terms of weight and purity. I showed a chart that broke down karat designations by fineness and showed you what a positive and negative wet chemical test looks like. So let me explain how to go about selling your scrap gold jewelry so that you realize the most amount of money for what you have.
Don’t sell yourself short, don’t take shortcuts, follow the instructions below and I promise if you have over one troy ounce of scrap gold two things will happen. You will know how much money you saved and you will know how much the total value of your holdings was before you sold them. Now that might not sound like a big deal but you’ll never have to look back at the transaction and wonder “what was that really worth?”. You tell me, how much is your peace of mind worth? Let me show you what I’m talking about real quick. Assuming you’ve separated the items, here is what your list should look like: [read more]
How to sell your scrap gold jewelry and realize the highest prices!
So you’ve heard that gold prices are high, you’ve seen the advertisements for “Gold Buyers” on television late at night, you’ve seen those hard working young men on street corners with “We Buy Gold” signs and you want to get a fair price for your items. Can you trust the guy that runs the “Gold Buyer” shop near your home? There are many Santa Monica gold buyers, I’m sure you’ve seen them. Should you go downtown with your valuables? Will your jeweler pay you as much as a Gold and Silver shop? These are all good questions and you’re right to have apprehensions about selling your valuables to someone you don’t know. I’ve been in this business for 33 years, that’s about 30 years longer than most of the “Gold Buyer” shops that you see around town these days. I’ve seen all of the tricks, the shortcuts, the fast talkers and the methods that buyers use to increase their profit margins. Today I’m going to help you learn what you MUST know before you try to sell scrap jewelry in Los Angeles or any other town for that matter. So let’s get started! [read more]
How To Sell Rare Coins In Los Angeles!
This is the third part of our rare coin appraisal blog. The purpose of what I’m writing is to help you get a handle on your coin collection. The methods for sorting and determining value are very basic, easy to understand and used commonly throughout the industry. There are always exceptions and there are lots of variables when it comes to coin values; was it cleaned? Are there rim dings? Is it scratched? Is it authentic? Is it a rare date? What is the coin grade? For this exercise in determining the value of your collection, let’s assume that you have an average collection of coins. That the coins in your collection are in average condition and that you don’t have any rare dates. If you do have high grade or rare date coins, a professional numismatist will recognize this and adjust the value accordingly. In the meantime, let’s approach this like you have an average collection! [read more]
How to Sell Rare Coins In Los Angeles!
Welcome back Coin Collectors!
So in our last blog we discussed how to break your coin collection down into categories that make it easier to evaluate. Today we’re going to use some simple math to help you gain a ballpark idea of the value of your collection. Now I’ve got to make a disclaimer here, these tools are for establishing a “rough idea” of what you have. It is by no means a good way of determining the actual value of your collection. If you are looking for an actual value or “fair market value” appraisal, most dealers will provide that service for free, some charge for it. If you live in the Los Angeles area, we would be happy to provide you with an evaluation. If you live outside of Los Angelese, we may be able to suggest an honest local dealer if you write and let us know the city you live in.
Now let’s get to the fun part! In many cases it can take hours or even days for someone other than the original collector to sort a rare coin collection. I’m going to run through the bulleted list from our last blog and give you an example of how to evaluate each category, so let’s get started already!! [read more]
How to evaluate and eventually sell an inherited coin collection:
My name is Bryan Abbott and I am a professional numismatist. During my career as a Rare Coin Specialist I have been employed as the primary buyer for several of the larger national rare coin companies in America.
So you’ve inherited a coin collection and you don’t know how to begin evaluating it.
Let’s start by grouping your collection into categories. A categorical listing of the items in your collection can give you some insight into the approximate value of your holdings. [read more]