VOL. XIX, NO. 2
1921-P, 17-Berry and 16-Berry Morgan $1
By Bill Fivaz, NLG
As we know, both the obverse and reverse designs for the Morgan Dollar were changed in 1921, after a 16-year minting hiatus of this series. The obverse master die remained constant for the entire year for all three mints (Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco), but there was a subtle reverse design change, probably relatively early on in the year, for the coins struck in Philadelphia.
The two varieties for the “P” reverse are referred to as the “17-berry” and “16-berry” reverses. All known Denver and San Francisco coins carry the 16-berry reverse design.
Interestingly, the 17-berry design was the first used during this year, and it has the following characteristics:
1921-P $1 (17-berry reverse):
The 17th berry appears on the inside of the right wreath, below the left stand of the “R” in AMERICA, just above the very short leaf.
There is no doubling on the tailfeathers.
Heavy die polishing is evident on the top arrow point.
The center (incused) lines in the tailfeathers are very prominent, deep, and go almost to the bottom of each feather.
The Two “S”s in STATES are doubled inside the bottom loop.
The star after DOLLAR is not doubled.
1921-P $1 (16-berry reverse):
No 17th berry as described above.
Doubling is visible on the tailfeathers, especially on the first one on the left and in between others.
There are no die polishing marks on the top arrow point.
The incused lines in the tailfeathers are shallower, less prominent, and all do not go as far down the feathers as do those on the 17-berry variety.
There is slight doubling at the very bottom of the lowest wing feather on the left, above the olive leaves.
The top berry on the outside right of the right wreath (under the right serif of the “E” in AMERICA) has a raised center (the “bulls eye” berry).
The two “S”s in STATES are not doubled as on the 17-berry.
The star after DOLLAR is doubled slightly toward the rim.
The fact that the 17-berry design preceded the 16-berry is confirmed by the doubling under the tailfeathers on the latter. This area on the master die evidently was not “cleaned up” after being over-hubbed by the 16-berry reverse, and portions of the feathers from the 17-berry design can be seen peeking through under several of those on the second design. The doubled star is also a product of the over-hubbing.
The mint did clean up the heavy die polishing marks on the top arrow point, as well as the doubling on the “S”s in STATES.
It should also be mentioned that on the 17-berry variety there is a unique aberration on a few that is quite collectible. The “Infrequent Reeding” specimens only have 157 reeds, while the normal reeding on these coins carries 186 reeds. The difference is quite noticeable when they are compared side-by-side.
Generally speaking, the 17-berry reverse is more difficult to find (but certainly not rare) than the 16-berry. However if you want a challenge, start looking for a branch mint (D or S) 17-berry reverse. None have yet been reported, but has anyone really been looking for them? One or more of the early 17-berry reverse dies could have been sent westward and used on a few coins, and they may be lurking out there, awaiting discovery.
If you should happen to find one, I’m sure there are many collectors who would give you something to do at those shows where you just can’t find the “right” coin for your collection.
The gauntlet has been thrown down…are you up to the task? Lest you think this is a hopeless cause, the 1914 Buffalo Nickel overdates were discovered as a result of exactly the same challenge.