Question: My photo shows an 1887 silver dollar, one of four given to me by my grandfather many years ago. The others are dated 1882, 1889 and 1900. The 1887 and 1889 are in similar condition, the 1882 is quite worn and the 1900 is shiny with little wear. None of the coins has a mint mark. I would appreciate information about the coins and their possible value as collectibles. - T.C., Salem
Answer: The coin that appears in your photo is the Morgan silver dollar, celebrated as "King" of American coins. Issued by the U.S. Treasury from 1878 to 1904 and again during 1921, the hefty .900 fine silver money is the most well-known and popular U.S. coin.
Designed by English engraver, George T. Morgan (1845-1925) and initially minted at Philadelphia, the coin's Liberty Head obverse was modeled after the profile of Anna Willess Williams (1857-1926) a young Philadelphia schoolteacher and writer. The Morgan's reverse features an elaborate eagle with spread wings.
From 1887 to 1904, Morgan silver dollars were issued by mints at Philadel-phia, San Francisco, New Orleans and Carson City, Nevada. Although the Morgan dies were destroyed when production ended in 1904, the coins were struck at Philadelphia, San Fran-cisco and Denver mints for a short time during 1921 before being replaced by post-World War I Peace dollars.
During the early 1960s, a huge reserve of forgotten Morgan dollars was discovered in U. S. Treasury vaults. A number of mail-bid sales of the coins followed in the 1970s, culminating in the final sale of more than 200,000 uncirculated Mor-gans in 1980. Publicity and interest generated by the final sale led to the Morgan silver dollar's present popularity and status as the world's most sought-after collectible coin with values of rare, uncirculated examples minted at San Francisco and Carson City ranging from $24,000 to $36,000 each.
Worth of a Morgan silver dollar is based on its date, mint mark and condition. Examples struck during the late 1870s and early 1880s are considered very desirable. Tiny mint marks - found on a coin's reverse side above the "DO" of DOLLAR - are the San Francisco mint's "S," New Orleans "O," Denver "D" and Carson City "CC." The absence of a mint mark signifies the Morgan was made in Philadelphia.
Condition of the coins is especially important. Mor-gan dollars graded "Uncir-culated" are in mint state, with no wear, all original design detail remains and there is a mint luster on the coin's surface. "Extremely Fine" coins evidence slight design removal with loss of mint luster. "Good" examples have a noticeable loss of high relief, some detail loss and a soft blending of the coin's design and rim. Coins rated "Bad" are scratched, nicked, show cuts and rim damage.
Presently, collectible values of circulated Morgan dollars minted in Philadel-phia during 1882,1887,1889 and 1900 range from $20 to $38 depending on condition. Based on your photo and description of your other circulated coins, the 1900 Morgan appears to be at the high end of "Ex-tremely Fine" condition while the 1887 and 1889 would be somewhat lower and the 1882 drops to the "Good" category.
Alyce Hand Benham is an antiques broker, appraiser and estate-liquidation specialist. Send questions to: Alyce Benham, Life section, The Press of Atlantic City, 1000 W. Washington Ave., Pleasantville, N.J. 08232. Email:
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