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Mirror Surface Morgan Dollars Part XII & XIII

NSDR Journal


Summer 2004


Mirror Surface Morgan Dollars Part XII & XIII

By Randy Campbell, NLG

Director of FUN Education


I want to thank each and every one of you who contacted me regarding my two-part series on counterfeit Trade dollars.  The favorable reaction to the “From China with Love” articles was most gratifying.


The Mirror Surface Market in 2004

Over a year ago in March of 2003 bid levels from common date Morgans in MS-64 Deep Mirror Prooflike were $108 on the Certified Coin Dealer Newsletter.  Today, those same common dates are bid at $190!

MS-65 common date Deep Mirror Prooflike also have registered substantial gains.  A year ago, they were bid at $322.  Today, they’re bid at $400.

Bid prices are one thing.  Selling prices are another.  At the recent convention there were reports of common date MS-64 DMPL’s trading in the $250 – $300 range, while MS-65 DMPL’s were trading for about $750!

Are bid prices for certified DMPL dollars getting too high?  “Not on your life,” said one veteran dealer.

$400 bid for common date MS-65 DMPL’s may seem a bit high for some collectors.  But it was exactly 15 years ago that these coins achieved their all-time historic highs when bid for common date MS-65 DMPL’s exceeded $2,100 on the Bluesheet!  That was in May of 1989.

Today, demand for flashy Deep Mirror dollars is the strongest it’s been in nearly 20 years.  However, the available supply is very limited.  The vast majority of dealers on the circuit have NO certified MS-65 DMPL dollars in their inventory!



My date-to-date analysis of mirror surface Morgan dollars continues with an examination of the 1880-S issue.

The 1880-S, and its sister, the 1881-S dollars in grades ranging from MS-63 to MS-69!  Slightly more than 10% of those coins have had mirror surfaces on both sides of the coin.


General Characteristics

The typical 1880-S dollar displays a sharp strike, fewer than average marks and above average to excellent luster.  Those grading less than choice tend to do so because of hairline patches, spots, rim dings or excessive abrasions on Liberty’s face or the fields in the front of her face.

Some 1880-S dollars will be downgraded because of luster problems.  Overdipping and improper storage are two causes of inferior luster.



At one time mirror surface 1880-S dollars were readily available.  The mind-boggling Continental-Illinois Bank Hoard (which was dispersed in the mid-1980’s) contained perhaps 1,500 bags of dollars.  Among them were original, unopened, BAGS OF PROOFLIKE AND DEEP MIRROR PROOFLIKE 1880-S DOLLARS!  The quality of these coins was absolutely astonishing!

Demand for these Continental-Illinois dollars reached a fever pitch.  Several 1880-S and 1881-S dollars sold for $2,000 to $5,000 per coin.  A few deeply mirrored common date dollars with attractive bag toning sold for $7,500 to $10,000!

By 1989, virtually all of these Continental Prooflike and Deep Mirror Prooflike dollars had been absorbed into the marketplace.  Now, only a few pieces from this hoard are seen occasionally at the larger coin conventions.

Prices for nearly all coins fell precipitously during the last half of 1989.  By 1990 and 1991 America was in a very deep economic recession.  1880-S dollars in MS-65 DMPL collapsed from over $2,000 to less than $200 within a few years.

Owners of high quality mirror surface dollars were not interested in selling at these much lower bid levels.  Thus, the vast majority of PL and DMPL dollars remain stored away in safety deposit boxes and bank vaults across America.

In my professional opinion, we will not see a significant increase in the supply of nice mirror surface dollars until bid levels approach or exceed $1,000 for common date MS-65 DMPL’s.


Prooflike or Deep Mirror Prooflike?

Back in the 1970’s the consensus opinion about 1880-S mirror surface dollars stated that most of them had very deep mirrors and nice cameo contrast.  However, those who were really active in this market knew better.

Experienced experts knew what the slab era proved to be true.  Most mirror surface 1880-S dollars are NOT deeply mirrored on both sides of the coin.

First, a refresher course.  At ANACS, Prooflike dollars are required to have at least 2 to 4 inches of clear reflectivity of standard printing in the fields of BOTH sides of the coin.  Deep Mirror Prooflike dollars MUST have at least 4 to 6 inches of reflectivity in the fields of BOTH sides of the coin.  A coin that is DMPL on one side and just PL on the other will be designated as Prooflike by ANACS.

As of recent population reports, the three major grading services combined have slabbed over 14,000 1880-S dollars MS-63 PL, MS-64 PL or MS-65 PL.  However, just over 4,000 have been certified MS-63 DMPL, MS-64 DMPL or MS-65 DMPL.

Roughly speaking, DMPL 1880-S dollars are about 3-1/2 times scarcer than Prooflikes.

How does this impact YOU, the collector or the investor?  If you are buying a “raw” (uncertified) 1880-S dollar at DMPL prices, MAKE SURE the coin is deeply mirrored on BOTH sides of the coin.  So-called “one-siders” are worth substantially less than two-sided Deep Mirror Prooflikes.



MS-63 PL:  The Big 3 grading services have slabbed almost 3,500 1880-S dollars in MS-63 Prooflike.  Current CCDN bid is an affordable $37.

MS-64 PL:  The major services have certified nearly 6,800 1880-S dollars in the grade of MS-64 Prooflike.  Current Bluesheet bid is $70.  Under current market conditions, collectors should expect to pay at least $85 to $100 for examples that are pleasing for the grade.

MS-65 PL:  The 1880-S is not scarce in MS-65 Prooflike.  The leasing services have encapsulated over 4,100 examples in this grade.  Current CCDN bid is a surprisingly low $150.  Pleasing examples with nice cameo contrast on both sides of the coin are worth over $200 – and headed higher!


Deep Mirror Prooflikes

MS-63 DMPL:  The 3 major services have slabbed a combined total of almost 1200 pieces in MS-63 Deep Mirror Prooflike.  Current Bluesheet bid is $55.  It is worth paying a premium to buy those coins with nice cameo contrast on both sides.

MS-64 DMPL:  ANACS, PCGS and NGC combined have certified about 1900, 1880-S dollar sin MS-64 DMPL.  Those with cameo contrast and an overall pleasing appearance will sell for substantially more than the current bid of $170.

MS-65 DMPL:  Despite all the hoopla and publicity about mirror surface dollars, the three leading services combined have slabbed only 1,152 examples of this very common date in MS-65 DMPL.  Allowing for crack-outs and resubmission of the same coin, we may only be talking about 600-800 DIFFERENT coins in this population of 1,152!

And of those 600 to 800 coins, how many have nice cameo contrast and a pleasing appearance for the grade?  NOW you know why pricing guides have become somewhat irrelevant when pricing choice coins on a sight-seen basis!  And that’s why some MS-65 DMPL, 1880-S dollar sell for $500 to $800, even though the current CCDN bid is only $395!


Ultra Deep Mirror

At ANACS, Ultra Deep Mirror dollars are required to have a minimum of 12 inches of clear reflectivity in the fields on both sides of the coin.  Such coins will exhibit mirrors that ARE DEEPER THAN MOST PROOF MORGAN DOLALRS!

Thankfully, the 1880-S is one of those dates that actually exists in Ultra Deep Mirror condition (most dates are unknown in UDM)

MS-63 ULTRA DEEP MIRROR:  ANACS has slabbed 12 1880-S dollars in MS-63 UDM.  Most are two-sided “headlights” with just a few too many marks to grade MS-64.  Under current market conditions, I would expect one of these coins to trade for at least $125 to $175.

MS-64 ULTRA DEEP MIRROR:  ANACS has certified 24 examples of this date in MS-64 Ultra Deep Mirror.  (As of now, neither of the other two major services employs the UDM superlative.)  Perhaps a majority of the MS-64 UDM, 1880-S dollars came from the aforementioned Continental-Illinois Bank Hoard.  It may take only $300 to $500 to buy one under current market conditions.

MS-65 ULTRA DEEP MIRROR:  Seventeen examples of this 1880-S dollar have been certified MS-65 UDM by ANACS.  I am unaware of any recent sales.  However, these ultimate “headlights,” with ultra deep mirrors and snow-white cameo contrast, could command over $1,000 if sold at a major coin auction.  They are SCARCE!

Better Varieties:  The 1880-S exists with the last two digits struck over the remains of an underlying 79.  Both the VAM-8, with the medium S mintmark and the VAM-9, with the large S mintmark, are known to exist with mirror surfaces on both sides of the coin.  They bring substantial premiums from those who pursue the Top 100 VAMS.

VAM-10, the 1880-S with the second 8 struck over a 7, features a sharp, clear crossbar of a 7 in the upper loop of the second 8.  It is rarely encountered with mirror surfaces on both sides.

BEST GRADE FOR THE AVERAGE COLLECTOR:  Quality conscious collectors should aim for the 1880-S in MS-65 Deep Mirror Prooflike.  The current CCDN bid of $395 is, in my opinion, a joke.  Expect to pay over $500 for examples with noticeable cameo contrast on both sides of the coin.

Those working on more modest budgets may want to consider pleasing MS-64 Prooflike 1880-S dollars, currently bid at $70 on the CCDN.  You may be able to buy a pleasing certified example for under $100.



Unquestionably, 2004 has been the strongest year the coin market has seen since 1989.  At the recent July 1-4 Clearwater coin show, one Florida dealer told me “the year’s only half over, and I’ve already had the most profitable year of my life!”

“If the coin is nice, I can sell it in a heartbeat,” bragged another dealer.  He continued, “Even butt ugly examples of better date coins are selling fast…a sure sign of a very hot market.”

Not surprisingly, mirror surface Morgan dollars continue to score impressive gains.  Some dates (such as the 1884 and the 1897) have risen by more than 25 percent in the grade of MS-65 DMPL this year.


Supply Problems

Have significantly higher bid prices resulted in more mirror surface dollars entering the marketplace?  In a word, the answer is “no.”

Those who are relatively new to the hobby may believe that higher prices will entice more coins into the market, but in reality, plus signs breed the expectation of even more plus signs.

Collectors who own high quality mirror surface dollars tend to hold on to their coins in a rising market.  And those few dealers who have PL and DMPL dollars tend to price them at “next month’s prices.”  This, of course, leads to still more plus signs and higher prices as the available supply continues to dwindle.

Two factors could cause this upward price movement to slow down to stop.  One, a major economic recession could result in huge sums of discretionary cash leaving the coin market.  In 1991 and 1992 the U.S. economy slowed dramatically.  This resulted in significantly lower bid levels for many U.S. coins.  Some items dropped by 50%, or more, from their highs in May of 1989.

Second, a huge hoard of coins could hit the market, thereby temporarily reducing bid levels. However to the best of my knowledge, no major hoards of Deep Mirror Prooflike dollars have entered the market in over a decade.

Thus, the short term outlook for Mirror Surface Morgan dollars remains very strong.  I expect to see many more significant increases in the coming months.

My date-to-date analysis of Mirror Surface Morgan Dollars continues with an examination of the 1881 Philadelphia issue.

In his authoritative MORGAN AND PEACE DOLLAR TEXTBOOK (1982) author Wayne Miller reported that the “typical 1881-P has above average luster” (p.92).  That may have been true in the early 1980’s.  However, in my 15 years as a professional grader for ANACS, I can report that the vast majority of the dollars of this date that have been submitted have had average to below average luster.  Overdipping and improper storage are two causes for this.

High mintage Philadelphia and New Orleans dollars often display a wide range of high point detail.  The 1881 (mintage of 9,163,000) is a good example of this tendency.  The strike ranges from acceptable to very flat.

Bagmarks tend to be worse than the series average.  Hairline scratches, rim dings, and discolorations are present on many examples.  Overall eye appeal on the typical 1881 is below average.

As of recent population reports, ANACS, PCGS and NGC combined have slabbed over 11,000 1881 Morgan dollars.  However, just over 500 pieces have been certified in MS-63, 64 or 65 with mirror surfaces on both sides of the coin.



At ANACS, Prooflike Morgan dollars must display a minimum of two to four inches of clear reflectivity of standard printing in the fields on both sides of the coin.

MS-63 PL:  The three major services combined have slabbed 143 1881 Morgans in MS-63 Prooflike.  Current CERTIFIED COIN DEAL NEWSLETTER bid is a most affordable $40.

MS-64 PL:  The leading services have certified 125 examples of this date in MS-64 PL.  Current CCDN bid is $170.  In my opinion, pleasing MS-64 PL’s should trade for at least $250-$350.

MS-65 PL:  This date’s tendency for worse than average bagmarks is the primary reason why so few mirror surface 1881 dollars grade higher than MS-64.  When seen, the typical MS-65 Prooflike 1881 will exhibit two to four-inch mirrors, light to moderate cameo contrast, and just a very few minor abrasions.  To date, the major services have certified only 14 examples of this issue in MS-65 Prooflike.  Collectors should expect to pay significantly more than the CCDN bid of $1,450.


Deep Mirror Prooflikes

At ANACS, DMPL dollars must exhibit at least four to six inches of clear reflectivity in the fields on both sides of the coin.   This is an extremely important distinction because Deep Mirror 1881 dollars are worth several multiples of Prooflike 1881 dollars.

MS-63 DMPL:  ANACS, PCGS and NGC combined have encapsulated 113 examples of this date in MS-63 DMPL.  Such coins will have positive eye appeal despite the presence of a few annoying marks on the cheek and the fields in front of the face.

Current Bluesheet bid is $210 (this of course, represents a sight-unseen bid).  Conversely, sight-seen bid, as represented by the Greysheet, is $405.  Why the big disparity?

As a group, mirror surface dollar buyers are a finicky lost.  They will not blindly accept the opinion of an independent and respected grading service.  They want to SEE THE COIN!

To prove the point, dollar dealer Al Johnbrier (the current President of the prestigious National Silver Dollar Roundtable) recently sold an 1881 Morgan in MS-63 for $450.  It was a “raw” (uncertified) coin.

Al reported that the coin had “pleasing cameo contrast.  Once the buyer saw that, he was willing to pay more than double Bluesheet bid.”

MS-64 DMPL:  The major services combined have slabbed 110, 1881 Morgan dollars in MS-64 DMPL (PCGS=52, ANACS=30, NGC=28).  Current Greysheet bid is $1,330.  Collectors may have to pay close to $2,000 for examples with nice cameo contrast.

MS-65 DMPL:  The three leading services have slabbed only 16, 1881 dollars in MS-65 DMPL (NGC=7, PCGS=5, ANACS=4).  Two of the four certified by ANACS were particularly attractive and merit a brief description.

The first coin was the Wayne Miller Plate Coin as photographed for his 1982 MORGAN AND PEACE DOLLAR TEXTBOOK.  It displayed very deep mirrors, some cameo contrast and just a few trivial marks.  The coin had extraordinary eye appeal.

The second coin (owned by an Ohio collector) exhibited even more cameo contrast than the Miller Plate Coin!  It was what old-time dollar nuts call “a headlight!”  It carried perhaps one or two more marks than the first coin.  But its full strike and heavy contrast made it marginally superior to the Miller coin.

Current Bluesheet bid for the 1881 in MS-65 DMPL is $6,500.  However, current sight-seen Greysheet bid is $11,000.

The appearance of a certified MS-65 DMPL, 1881 dollar at a major auction would set off a bidding war of significant proportions.


Ultra Deep Mirrors

The 1881 is extraordinarily rare with Ultra Deep Mirrors (12 inches or more) on both sides of the coin.

To date, ANACS has slabbed ONLY ONE example of this date in UDM (an MS-62 UDM) certified many years ago.  The coin featured “across-the-room” mirrors, nice cameo frost and noticeable abrasions in the prime focal areas.

I have never seen, nor heard of, another Ultra Deep Mirror example of this date.


Best Grade for the Average Collector

Those collecting on limited collecting budgets should consider the 1881 in MS-64 Prooflike condition.  Current CCDN bid is $170.  Pleasing certified examples with some cameo contrast may command over $300 under current market conditions.

Advanced collectors and investors are drawn to the 1881 in MS-64 Deep Mirror Prooflike.  Certified examples with noticeable contrast will bring substantially more than the current Greysheet bid of $1,330.



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