Collecting Morgan Dollars
The Morgan Dollar series is one of numismatics most collected series. Born from the Bland Allison Act of 1878 and created by engraver George T. Morgan, the issue was released for circulation beginning in 1878, running continuously until 1904, and again transitionally in 1921. The art of coin collecting is a flexible framework and smart collectors work within guidelines to achieve a set of specific goals. The Morgan dollar has long been a benchmark within the hobby providing a variety of paths which collectors can fine-tune to suit individual preferences.
Following are some set concepts that can serve as loose blueprints for collectors to work on. These formats lend themselves across the numismatic spectrum but are specifically discussed here in terms of the Morgan dollar. These sets can be done in various conditions or grades, using dates and prices that reflect individual resources or comfort levels. I’ll leave the grades to you, but for the best return on your money look for the finest condition your finances allow.
Morgan Dollar Mint Set (beginner)
A fun way to dive into collecting Morgan Dollars is to buy one from each of the mints - Philadelphia, New Orleans, San Francisco, Carson City, and Denver. Date choices vary widely (except Denver). It is easy to build this set and XF or better is suggested. Each mint offers different characteristics, so while working on this one should be researching strike and date characteristics for each. You’ll find the Morgan series rich in these technical subtleties. That knowledge base will make you a better buyer across all series as learning about each mint provides a great background for collecting U.S. coins in general.
Dollar Date Set (intermediate)
The date set consists of one example of each date from 1878 to 1904 and a 1921 example. The date set is an excellent primer for any series as a whole. Outside of 1895 (the proof-only year), this strategy is accessible to all pocketbooks allowing collectors to choose coins at various price levels. The concept can be done affordably in uncirculated grades with most dates obtainable under $500 in MS63. A collector can choose from the more common mint mark, or choose tougher examples within each date. This set offers a great foundation for the complete set.
Complete Dollar Set (advanced)
The complete dollar set would include one of each date and mintmark throughout the series. With nearly 100 coins in the basic set, this undertaking is a lofty goal and usually takes years. The strategy can be broken down into two levels with increasing difficulty – the basic circulating set, and the circulating set with major design varieties. An expert level addition to this set would be expanding this with the addition of top die varieties and the proof only 1895. Whole books are dedicated to collecting Morgan dollars by die variety, with each date broken down into die pairings used to produce each year’s total mintage. Regardless of depth, the completion at any level of the complete set is considered one of the crowning achievements in U.S. numismatics.
VAM Set (expert)
The common varietal guide by die pairs was originally developed by professional numismatist Leroy Van Allen and Eddie Milas (thus VAM). This original work has been expanded on with the discovery of new varieties. Regardless, collecting by VAM designation has made Morgan dollars one of the most popular “die pair” collectibles in all of numismatics. Complete sets of varietals are usually not the goal as lists have been compiled of the most widely recognized. Collectors often choose to add the “Top-100” or just the “Hot-50.” Some advanced dollar collectors choose to work within an individual VAM date and obtain all VAMS for that year (i.e. NGC currently recognizes over 25 different varieties of the 1878 8TF.)
Grade Date Set (expert)
The Grade Set collector works to obtain each grade from POOR 04 to MINT STATE 68. Collectors alter this range and choice of dates for inclusion. This is a tougher set than it appears at first glance and requires intense patience. The key to this set is obtaining coins with similar luster and striking characteristics so the coins appear to transition smoothly from grade to grade. You want your MS64 to be slightly better than your MS63. Sticking with a single date makes this easier, as each mint common strike characteristics.
The concept behind building a grade set is to fine-tune your own grading within the series. It is best to start with the benchmark coin grades of VG35, XF45, AU55, MS60, MS63, and MS65 then work around these to flesh out the collection. Again, this set requires patience. The lower grades of some dates are difficult to purchase already certified, and you may have to dig deep to find a suitable specimen. Remember, having lower valued coins professionally graded costs money you cannot get back. Consider it an educational cost, and enjoy. Know that building a Grade Set will teach you to be a competent grader as it hones your skills as a Morgan dollar collector.
Accumulation or Positions (novice to expert)
Not everyone takes the time to build sets. Some search for hidden value within the series or accumulate examples to fit their respective goals. Because of the inherent value around the silver content coupled with the intense demand and readily available supply, the Morgan dollar represents some unique investment angles. Many collectors and outside investors consider the series a solid storer of value.
Enthusiasts purchase in small quantities building positions over time. Others buy in bulk to invest in silver taking advantage of the stability in premiums. Better grade examples of the common or generic dates are often accumulated and trade regularly as a commodity item. The more advanced buy exquisite color or top grades seeing the value in these condition rarities. Educated collectors analyze and look for just specific dates and grades based on mintages, survival figures, and grade populations buying examples they feel are undervalued in the market. These are more broad approaches but add to the overall demand for the series.
Whether you seek a complete set or a single example, U.S. Coins and Jewelry can help. We carry an extensive inventory of the series and are dedicated to working with collectors and investors alike. We provide top-quality coins and high-end support regardless of intent. The art of collecting requires both careful planning and a trustworthy dealership. We can help on all fronts. We are there for the single purchase, building a collection, or a lifetime pursuit of numismatics.
Morgan dollars provide a glimpse into one of the United States' most expansive and colorful eras. The nostalgia behind the story brings to mind the Wild West and a budding industrial nation boldly becoming the world's greatest economy. Our knowledgeable staff coupled with an ever-expanding inventory can aid any collector from beginner to expert and we will work in tandem within any framework offering the utmost in collecting satisfaction.