By Rob Lehmann
The discussion and analysis of the Morgan Dollar series often focuses on the branch mint issues, most notably those emanating from Carson City. But, there were more Morgan Dollars minted in Philadelphia than any of the corresponding branch mints. Prior to 1878, Philadelphia had been the epicenter for the production of United States Silver Dollars, and their proficiency was not diminished at all during the Morgan Dollar years. However, one of the great misnomers is that Philadelphia Morgan Dollars are universally more common than pieces coined at the branch mints. As my analysis will show, this is not always the truth.
In the interest of time and space, I will limit my discussion to a brief analysis of each date, with an emphasis on the characteristics of mint state survivors.
1878 – Volumes of reference works are available on this date alone. Hundreds of die marriages resulted in many different design elements and sub-varieties. For simplicity purposes, here are the four major varieties of 1878-P dollars:
8 Tail Feather – The 8 Tail Feather Dollar was the first Morgan Dollar struck in Philadelphia. Mint records show an original mintage of 749,500 pieces, many of which still survive today. The typical mint state 8TF has satiny luster and is almost always well struck. Surface abrasions can be an issue, although a significant quantity of choice coins exist. True GEM mint state examples are somewhat scarce. 8TF dollars are scarce in prooflike (PL) and downright rare in deep mirror prooflike (DMPL). Curiously, a large number of one sided PL coins are known. These exhibit exceptionally deeply mirrored obverses or reverses, with non-PL, satiny luster on the corresponding side. At their best, these one-siders can be some of the prettiest of all Philadelphia minted Morgan Dollars.
7/8 Tail Feather – 7/8 TF Dollars are slightly more scarce than the 8 TF variety, but with some due diligence, high grade pieces are usually available. The presence of 4 or more underlying tail feathers is the most prominent diagnostic used for attribution. This issue is also found with satiny luster. Contact marks can be a nemesis, although choice and gem coins are available. PL examples are about equally as uncommon as the 8TF. In DMPL, this variety is downright rare with examples showing little contrast between the fields and devices.
7 Tail Feathers, Reverse of 78 – This is the single most common variety of 1878 Morgan Dollar. In grades of MS-60 to MS-63, it is readily available, a fact substantiated by its rather affordable $50-$85 CDN Bid range. In grades of MS-64, the 7TF variety is slightly scarce. In grades of MS-65 and above, it is of almost equal rarity to its 8TF cousin, although slightly less expensive. PL coins are fairly scarce, and DMPL examples are rare, almost as much so as the 8TF. Once again, most mint state examples will exhibit satiny luster with a virtually full strike. Surface abrasions are generally present on most, but not all, examples.
7 Tail Feathers, Reverse of 79- The Philadelphia Mint was pretty busy in 1878. This is the only year that Morgan Dollars were minted with so many different major design elements. One must admire the perseverance of mint officials working to get the design of the Morgan Dollar right. In terms of rarity, the 1878, reverse of 79 is probably the scarcest of the 4 major varieties, but only slightly so. This issue can exhibit pronounced cartwheel luster. Surface abrasions can be a real problem, perhaps a result of the vulnerabilities of a higher relief design. This factor generally excludes most mint state specimens from grading over MS-64. Current Greysheet BID on a MS-65 example is $1900.00. PL coins are scarce, and DMPLs are rare. When an example is located, it can be very attractive with deeply mirrored fields and cameo contrast.
1879- The typical 1879 Morgan Dollar exhibits satiny luster and an average strike. Despite the fact that this higher mintage date is known in bag quantities, it is a surprisingly difficult issue to find fully struck. Many mint state pieces show softness on the hair over Liberty’s ear as well as the high point of the eagle’s breast. I remember a bag of 1879 Morgan Dollars, lacking a single fully struck example. Luster can range from indifferent to slightly above average. This is the most deficient of all 1879 dollars, with Carson City, New Orleans and San Francisco examples almost always superior. Although I have handled a few truly amazing 1879-P dollars, they are definitely the exception. Both PL and DMPL examples are very scarce to rare. When found, they can show moderate contrast between fields and devices, but are seldom black and white.
1880- This date exhibits very similar characteristics to its predecessor, although it can be superior in both strike and luster to the 1879. There are many 1880 dollars with high point softness, but just as many that show an adequate to full strike. Luster also varies, ranging from indifferent and dull to booming, with some examples displaying a full cartwheel effect. Excessive contact marks can be problematic, and locating a GEM example can be elusive. In PL and DMPL, this is a very scarce coin. Most examples are grey in appearance with little cameo contrast.
1881- Finally, here is a Philadelphia Morgan Dollar that comes both well struck and very lustrous. As a matter of fact, this is the norm for this date rather than the exception. Unfortunately, most 81-P dollars are also very scuffy, and can be moderately to heavily abraded. Surface preservation issues make locating choice and gem pieces somewhat difficult.
In MS-64 and 65, the 1881 Morgan is less rare than both the 1879 and 1880, and probably on a par with the 1878 7TF. PL and DMPL examples are both very scarce. The latter occasionally comes deeply cameo. Although rare, these examples can be a sight to behold.
1882- This date defines rich, satiny luster, very similar in overall appearance to an 1884-CC. The strike can come soft, but usually is not an issue. Most 1882-P dollars suffer from one problem only: surface abrasions. Note the Greysheet price jump from of $62.00 in MS-64 to $430.00 in MS-65, a testament to this deficiency. PL and DMPL coins are similar in rarity to the preceding dates, although when found, they are generally more attractive. I have handled some DMPL 1882-P Morgans, that at first glance, appear to be proof. These pieces almost always exhibit dramatic cameo contrast. For the toning aficionado, 82-P’s can occasionally be found with vibrant color, the first date of the Morgan Dollar P-Mint run with this tendency.
1883- This is the first truly common P-Mint Morgan Dollar. There were many original bags of 1883-P Dollars in the Treasury hoards, contributing to its availability today. The typical 1883-P has satiny luster with an average strike. Bagmarks and surface distractions are not too big a problem, and GEM pieces are easily found. PL pieces, although not extremely common, are available for a small premium. DMPL examples are scarce, but not rare.
1884- Like the 1883, the 1884 is readily available in mint state. The average 1884 dollar has good luster, with some fully cartwheel examples. Bag marks can be somewhat of a problem, making pieces graded over MS-65 scarce. Locating a choice to gem example should be no problem. PL coins are not common and DMPL 84-P Morgans are rare, with most examples displaying only moderate cameo contrast.
1885- This is one of the most common mint state Philadelphia Morgan Dollars. Many bags of this date were released in the Treasury hoards. Apparently, most 1885 dollars avoided the melting pots under the Pittman Act. The typical 1885-P Morgan is nice, and occasionally, outstanding. Luster is usually satiny and above average. Most are well struck. Bag marks are not much of a problem, and examples up to MS-67 can be located. In PL and DMPL, the 1885-P is not rare, and either can be located for a modest premium. There are some vividly toned examples of this date, a coefficient of its normally rich luster.
1886- Here is another very common P Mint Morgan. It is readily available in all grades, and is truly generic in nature. Strike tends to be good but not great. Luster, however, can be downright outstanding. PL and DMPL examples are both readily available, although most exhibit only moderate cameo contrast.
1887- An average to good strike, great luster and exceptional surface preservation are the norms for an 1887-P Morgan Dollar. PL and DMPL examples are both fairly abundant, though a stark cameo contrast is uncommon. This date can also be found with vivid rainbow toning. With the exception of the occasional striking deficiencies, a mint state 1887 Morgan can be a really eye appealing coin.
1888-This date is available and fairly common although not as much so as the previous 3 years. Most 88-P dollars are lustrous, but can suffer from striking problems. Fully struck 88-P dollars are somewhat unusual. This date does not come as heavily abraded as most of the other P-mint dollars. This lends itself to a large number of specimens graded up to MS-65. In MS-66, this date becomes somewhat scarce, and in MS-67, it is very rare. PL and DMPL examples both exist, and are only moderately scarce.
1889-This date is a bit of an enigma. In strict mint state, it is as common as any P mint Morgan Dollar. There were many 1889-P dollars in the U.S. Treasury hoards, and here on the East Coast, they appear often. Even today, original rolls of 1889-P dollars appear. The problem is 1889-P Morgan Dollars are seldom very nice. The average 1889-P has a sub-par strike, deficient luster (which can border on dead) and tends to be very scratchy. Although I have seen my share of 1889-P dollars with booming cartwheel luster, they are the exception to the rule. As for PL and DMPL examples, both are rare, and usually, unattractive. When found, they have grey, cloudy surfaces with only moderate contrast.
1890-This date is similar in many ways to the 1889, although not as common. In grades of MS-63 or less, the 1890 is very available. These pieces are often ugly. Indifferent luster and an incomplete strike limit many 1890-P dollars to the lower end of the mint state spectrum. Bagmarks can also be a problem. It appears that many of the 1890 bags were mishandled. Although nice coins were occasionally found in original bags, I have never seen or heard of a consistently nice bag. In grades of MS-64, the 1890 is no longer so available. In grades of MS-65 and above, this date is rare. For whatever reason, this date seems to be graded on a curve. I have seen more than few toned MS-65 examples with well-concealed surface distractions. If these same coins were entirely white, in most instances, I do not believe they would warrant the MS-65 grade. Try to find a blazing white, gem 1890-P; it’s not an easy proposition. The same comments about PL and DMPL 1889-P’s also apply to this date. But, in DMPL, the 1890-P is much rarer.
1891- The 1891-P Morgan Dollar is a conditionally rare coin. By 1889, quality control did not appear to be a priority with Philadelphia Morgan Dollars. The 1891 is a testament to this, and affected by a host of problems. Many examples are softly struck. Luster varies from indifferent to outstanding, with most of the latter resulting from increased striking pressure or heavy metal flow. Contact marks can also be a challenge. Finding an example with great luster, strike and surface preservation is extremely difficult. The PCGS population is just 108 pieces in MS-65. The Greysheet BID of $7500.00 reflects this rarity. MS-64 examples, are scarce. MS-63 pieces are still not common. Most uncirculated 1891-P dollars grade MS-60 to MS-62, and these coins are more available. Although there were bags of 1891-P dollars, they are nowhere near as common as any other Philadelphia date up to this point. PL coins will prove very elusive and DMPLs are downright rare. When found, they are somewhat attractive, more-so than both the 1889 and 1890.
1892- The 1892 is the first Philadelphia Morgan Dollar that is somewhat scarce in all mint state grades. There simply were not many surviving bags, and original rolls seldom surface. Mint state specimens can vary from ugly to nice. Strike is usually a bit soft, with a fully struck coin being very scarce. Bagmarks are also a problem with this date, with most examples somewhat abraded. Curiously, for a date that seldom has pronounced luster, there are a handful of very attractively toned pieces. Several of these reside in older PCGS holders, possibly emanating from the same original source. Like the 1891-P, PL and DMPL examples are both rare and expensive. This date, in my opinion, is both underappreciated and undervalued at today’s levels.
1893- Like all 1893 dated Morgans, the 1893-P is very scarce. This was a bi-product of tough economic times in tandem with greatly reduced silver dollar production. Today, collectors will find locating any 1893-P, even a well worn example, to be a tricky proposition. In grades above MS-63, this date is both scarce and expensive. The relative rarity of MS-65 specimens is similar to that of 1891 and 1892-P dated dollars, although this date gets more attention. Quality-wise, most mint state 1893 dollars are pleasing. They usually have attractive satiny luster and can be well struck, although neither is always the case. This date can be hindered with surface abrasions, which usually is the limiting factor in attaining higher mint state grades. In PL this date is very rare and a true DMPL example is all but non-existent. In the rare instance that one actually surfaces, don’t expect it to be attractive or have significant contrast between the fields and devices. I can only remember seeing one attractively toned 1893 dollar, and that was many years ago. Although others surely exist, they certainly aren’t common.
1894- Here is the undisputed key date Philadelphia Morgan Dollar (Since the 1895-P is only known in proof, I have purposely omitted it from my discussion). With only 110,000 pieces minted, the 1894 had the second lowest mintage of all Morgan Dollars, eclipsed only by the 1893-S. For this reason, it remains a collector favorite. Even low grade circulated examples fetch over $1000.00. The quality of mint state examples, for the most part, is sub-par. Luster is satiny and sometimes lifeless. Strike is seldom full. Bagmarks can be a problem, although this is not always the case. There were far more 1894 dollars saved than the similarly small mintage 1893-S. But, uncirculated rolls are rare and original bags could be counted on one hand. In PL and DMPL, no single Philadelphia Morgan Dollar, with the exception of perhaps the 1901-P, is more elusive. Attractively toned specimens, I am convinced, do not exist. True GEM pieces, graded MS-65 and above, are very rare. The finest two examples that I know of were both owned by Jack Lee and each graded MS-66 at PCGS. If one of these specimens were to become available in today’s market, it could fetch over $100,000.
1896- After minting only 110,000 coins in 1894 and a paltry 12,000 more in 1895 (all of which apparently were melted), the Philadelphia mint was back in full gear for 1896. A large mintage of 9,976,000 pieces resulted, with many survivors remaining for collectors. The 1896-P is not at all rare. Many bags existed, and an original roll, even today, is still not uncommon. 1896 dollars can be well struck and usually exhibit decent surfaces. Unfortunately, the luster is seldom lively, resulting in most coins grading MS-65 or lower. When found, a MS-66 or 67 1896 dollar can be a beautiful coin. But again, luster deficiencies prevent most coins from being graded this high. In PL and DMPL, this date is somewhat tough to find, especially when one considers how readily available it is in mint state. When a PL piece is located, expect it to be grey and somewhat unattractive, with little cameo contrast.
1897- To a great extent, an uncirculated 1897 Morgan is a virtual twin to an 1896. This date tends to come well struck with satiny luster that can sometimes border on lifeless. Surface marks are not much of a problem, and plenty of choice to gem quality coins exist. The 1897-P is a bit scarcer than its predecessor in all grades of uncirculated, but is still readily available up to MS-65. The number of MS-66 pieces is limited by luster deficiencies, and in MS-67, this date is truly rare. The same comments regarding PL and DMPL 1896-P dollars hold true for this date, although the 97-P’s are a bit tougher to find.
1898-The average 1898 Morgan is well struck with satiny luster and decent surfaces. Generally speaking, this is one of the more attractive later date Philadelphia Morgan Dollars. Abundant quantities of uncirculated examples exist, and they are readily available in grades up to MS-65. PL coins are not rare, nor are they common. DMPL examples are somewhat scarce, and when encountered, are grey with little cameo contrast.
1899- I question the validity of the reported mintage of 330,000 pieces. Many numismatic scholars believe that some of the reported 1900-P mintage were actually 1899 dated pieces that may have been struck later in the year. The 1899-P is still moderately scarce, more so than the preceding 3 years. This date remains very popular with collectors. Aesthetically, a mint state 1899 Morgan can be very attractive. Most have rich, satiny luster, and are almost always well struck. Marks can be a problem at times. Choice and Gem pieces both exist in ample quantities. PL specimens are also available, but DMPL examples are much scarcer. Because of the reported low mintage and the overall high quality of mint state survivors, prices on this date remain high.
1900- The C-4 reverse first appeared on 1900 dollars. The result was a shallower than normal strike which lacked detail, especially noticeable on the eagle’s breast feathers. That aside, a 1900-P can still be a beautiful Morgan Dollar. Luster can range from average to outstanding, and from satiny to booming. Some pieces may evidence a full cartwheel effect. There are plenty of gem pieces graded, so locating an example up to MS-66 should not be too difficult. This was a date released in ample bag quantities. A circulated example is many times rarer than an uncirculated counterpart. PL examples are very scarce to rare, and a DMPL would be an extraordinary find.
1901- In strict uncirculated condition, the 1901-P is, by far, the rarest Philadelphia Morgan Dollar, with only the 1894 coming close. In fact, in mint state, it is the 6th rarest Morgan Dollar overall, surpassed only by the 1893-S, 1892-S, 1884-S, 1895-O and 1889-CC. Circulated examples are another matter, with abundant quantities available. This is truly a date that saw commercial use, as most were released into circulation. Apparently, few were ever saved. A typical uncirculated 1901-P is deficient in all areas, exhibiting a mediocre to poor strike, indifferent luster and heavy surface abrasions. For these reasons, basil mint state pieces are often confused as sliders. A truly choice piece grading MS-63 or above is very rare, and a full gem grading MS-65 is extraordinarily rare. PL and DMPL specimens, essentially, don’t exist.
1902- In terms of scarcity, this date is about equal to the 1903-P. The typical 1902-P comes with mellow satiny luster which can be chrome-like. Strike is typical of the post-1899 dates, with a lack of the highest point definition, especially on the eagle’s breast. Surface preservation is probably this date’s strong suit. It is not unusual to find a 1902-P with fewer-than-average marks. What usually limits the technical grade of a 1902-P is indifferent luster. PL and DMPL examples are rare, with the latter being very rare. When located, neither one is very attractive.
1903- The 1903 Morgan is in reality no scarcer than the 1902, but due to its need for date sets, CDN bids reflect higher prices in circulated grades. In uncirculated, the 1903 is actually a bit more common than the 1902, especially in MS-65 and above. Here, the 1903 emerges as the best quality Philadelphia dollar minted between the years 1901-1904. Luster and strike tend to be excellent, and surface abrasions are not a real problem either. Some really beautiful 1903 dollars are available, and as prices indicate, it doesn’t take a king’s ransom to procure one. Like the 1900-1902 issues, this date is rare in PL and DMPL. The examples that I have seen lack contrast between the fields and devices, but are not as unattractive as the aforementioned dates.
1904- A good portion of 1904-P Morgans were released at issue, so circulated pieces are not uncommon. Although a few bags of this date were in the Treasury hoards, uncirculated rolls don’t show up often. A mint state 1904-P can be the worst of all worlds. Most are dull with indifferent satiny luster. The strike can vary from average to deficient, but it is seldom good. Marks plague this issue, and most uncirculated specimens are relegated to grades of MS-63 and lower for this reason alone. Trying to find a well struck, lustrous and mark-free gem is a real task. Although CDN shows a MS-65 bid price of $2450.00, I would argue this is underpriced for a true gem. The depressed bids, across the board for this date, are probably a reflection on the date’s popularity rather than its rarity. In MS-65, PCGS has graded just 178 coins. Compare this to 121 coins in the same grade for its San Francisco counterpart. But, here’s the real kicker; The 1904-S CDN Bid is $9500.00, or nearly 400% of the 1904-P, even though the 1904-S is just 45% less common. As Rodney Dangerfield used to say, this date “gets no respect”. In PL, a 1904-P is very scarce, and in DMPL, this date is about as rare as it gets. Very few pieces have ever been graded, and the few that have, may actually be uglier than their non-prooflike counterparts. Typically, they are grey and chrome-like, with no contrast. There are only 2 DMPL specimens graded at PCGS. Suffice to say, the rarity of a DMPL precludes any necessity for an in-depth discussion.
1921- This date is, by far, the most common of all Philadelphia-minted Morgan Dollars. Since all of this mintage was post-Pittman Act, no 21-P Morgans found their way to the melting pots in 1918. Consequently, a large percentage of the original mintage of 44,690,000 survived for today’s collector. In 1921, the dies were completely reworked, resulting in a lower relief design of both Miss Liberty and the Heraldic Eagle. A 1921-P can vary from well struck to poorly struck. Luster is usually decent, and sometimes outstanding. Marks tend to be a real problem, since most bags of these were tossed about in bank and treasury vaults for many years before their actual release. There were more 1921 Morgan bags released in the 50’s and 60’s than any other single date. Even today, it is commonplace to find original rolls. An original bag can still surface every now and then, as well. Although readily available in grades up to MS-64, gem MS-65 specimens are not common. This is due to the preponderance of surface abrasions. This date is fairly scarce in MS-66 and rare in MS-67. PL pieces are fairly scarce and DMPL examples are rare.
Philadelphia Morgan Dollars are a fascinating group. By mintage figures alone, they would appear to be some of the most common dates of the series. However, in mint state, many dates are uncommon. The 1891, 1892 and 1904 are each conditionally rare and are seldom available above MS-64; The 1901 is one of the great Morgan Dollar rarities in any grade above MS-62. The 1893 and 1894 dates are scarce dates, and can be difficult acquisitions, even in circulated grades. Surprisingly, challenges really abound in assembling a complete high-grade set of Philadelphia issues.
Philadelphia Morgan Dollars may also represent some of best value in the entire series. Their branch mint counterparts tend to be more popular, and consequently, priced higher. For the astute collector, this phenomenon represents a great purchasing opportunity; Suffice to say, this pricing inconsistency won’t remain forever.