VOL. XXIII, NO. 2
Mirror Surface Morgan Dollars: The 1881-O
By Randy Campbell, NLG
FUN Director of Education
“DMPL Dollars in Demand” says the top headline in the May 6 issue of the Coin Dealer Newsletter. This issue emphasized that there were “numerous significant plus signs embracing DMPL’s.” The winners included the MS-65 DMPL 1881-S, now bid at $600; the MS-65 DMPL 1882-S, now quoted at $1,780; and the 1893 Philadelphia, now bid at an amazing $50,000 in MS-65 DMPL!
One market insider told me, “If you’ve got a nice DMPL dollar –almost any date – you can get stupid money for it.” He continued, “Except for the common CC’s, there really aren’t many nice DMPL dollars for sale right now.”
Amidst all this strength are there any signs of weakness in the DMPL dollar market? I believe that the three common CC issues (the 1882-CC, the ’83-CC and ’84-CC) are fully valued in MS-63 PL and MS-64 PL, plus MS-63 DMPL and MS-64 DMPL. Clearly, at $375 bid, the scarcer MS-64 DMPL 1888-O or 1897, both of which are bid at about $100 less than the MS-63 DMPL 1883-CC.
Overall, though, there’s no denying the fact that Deep Mirror Prooflike Morgans remain one of the hottest areas of the U.S. coin market. I expect many more plus signs in the coming months ahead.
Prooflike or DMPL Obverses?
Recently a caller into the ANACS grading room asked me, “Does ANACS certify those dollars that are Prooflike or Deep Mirror Prooflike on the obverse only?”
For over a year ANACS has certified those dollars with mirror surfaces on the obverse only. Why?
In the real world of coin shows these coins sell for premium prices. Recently, when MS-65 common date Morgans were trading near $125, I watched an 1880-S with a cameo DMPL obverse trade for $180. Thus, ANACS’ decision to certify those coins with obverse mirror surfaces merely reflects market reality.
Back in the 1970’s, the 1881-O Morgan dollar was considered a common to semi-common issue with mirror surfaces on both sides of the coin.
By the 1980’s, however, the consensus opinion of the 1881-O was beginning to be modified. In this landmark Morgan and Peace Dollar Textbook (1982), author Wayne Miller noted that “the majority of prooflike pieces are heavily bagmarked; many are lightly circulated.” He further stated that the 1881-O “is one of the most difficult common date dollars to obtain in fully gem Prooflike condition” (page 93).
Time has proven that Miller was right. The 1881-O is now universally regarded as an extremely difficult date to locate in MS-65 Prooflike or MS-65 Deep Mirror Prooflike condition.
This date is notorious for having deep, numerous and distracting surface abrasions. Mirror surface 1881-O dollars, in particular, tend to display severe scrapes and bagmarks. Luster tends to be below the series average. Many have been grossly overdipped in a misguided attempt to improve the coin’s luster.
For all these reasons, the vast majority of mirror surface 1881-O dollars grade less than MS-64.
At ANACS, Prooflike dollars are required to have a minimum of two to four inches of clear reflectivity in the fields on both sides of the coin. This is a very important distinction because some 1881-O Morgans will exhibit mild reflectivity but will fail to have full mirrors at the two to four inch distance. Such coins will NOT bring Prooflike prices from knowledgeable specialists.
MS-63 PL: The three major services combined have slabbed less than 300 1881-O dollars in MS-63 Prooflike. These coins will display moderate mirrors, little or no cameo contrast, and moderate abrasions.
Current CCDN (“Bluesheet”) bid is a modest $55.
MS-64 PL: As of recent population reports the leading grading services have slabbed 133 examples of this date in MS-64 Prooflike. Such coins will have moderate mirrors, perhaps some cameo contrast, and fewer than average bagmarks. Liberty’s cheek should be free of major scrapes.
Current Bluesheet bid is a surprisingly low $155. Collectors should expect to pay $225 to $350 (or more) for examples with especially positive eye appeal.
MS-65 PL: The 1881-O is one of the rarest dates in the series in strictly gem Prooflike condition. As of this writing PCGS has certified just three examples in MS-65 Prooflike; NGC has also certified three in this grade; and ANACS slabbed only four pieces in MS-65 Prooflike.
First and foremost, gem Prooflike 1881-O dollars must have superior eye-catching mint luster. The coin must be free of noticeable scrapes in the prime focal areas (a couple of minor marks are permissible).
The strike should be sharp to full. Overall eye appeal must be outstanding. Offensive rim dings, hairlines or discolorations are not acceptable.
Bluesheet bid on this date rises from $155 in MS-64 Prooflike to $2,100 in MS-65 Prooflike! This huge price difference suggests that strict, professional, grading is an absolute MUST when buying high grade mirror surface 1881-O dollars.
Obviously, a one point grading mistake on this date could be catastrophic. Be careful!
Deep Mirror Prooflike
MS-63 DMPL: ANACS, PCGS, and NGC combined have slabbed about 350 1881-O dollars in MS-63 DMPL. Current Coin Dealer Newsletter (“Greysheet”) bid is an affordable $120. Examples with noticeable cameo contrast can sell for a substantially higher price.
MS-64 DMPL: The grade MS-64 DMPL is the most popular grade among collectors of mirror surface 1881-O dollars. The major services combined have certified about 190 examples in this grade. In my opinion this population of 190 pieces provides enough coins to make a market but not so many coins as to FLOOD the market.
Depth of mirrors is a critical factor when purchasing 1881-O dollars. Currently, MS-64 Prooflike bid is $155; MS-64 DMPL is $975. Some 1881-O Morgans that are offered for sale as DMPL are, in fact, only Prooflike.
Buyers should insist that all DMPL dollars have at least four to six inches of clear reflectivity of standard typewriter printing in the fields on both sides of the coin. Many coins are close to – but not quite – DMPL. Others have Deep Mirrors on one side but only Prooflike Mirrors on the other.
It is worth paying a premium to buy an 1881-O dollar that is absolutely, unquestionably, DMPL on both sides of the coin.
As stated earlier, MS-64 DMPL bid is currently $975. Those examples with noticeable cameo contrast on both sides should sell for a substantial mark-up over current bid levels.
MS-65 DMPL: The 1881-O is excessively rare in MS-65 Deep Mirror Prooflike. ANACS, PCGS, and NGC combined have certified ONLY SIX EXAMPLES in this grade! None have been graded higher in DMPL.
Current Greysheet bid for this coin is an impressive $12,000. However, compared to other dates of similar rarity, the 1881-O might actually be undervalued.
Ultra Deep Mirror
At ANACS, dollars bearing the Ultra Deep Mirror superlative must have a minimum of 12 inches of clear reflectivity on both sides of the coin. These visually stunning items display a depth of mirrors that exceeds most PROOF MORGAN DOLLARS!
As of this writing, ANACS has certified only three 1881-O dollars in MS-63 Ultra Deep Mirror. Another three have been slabbed by ANACS in MS-64 UDM. None have been graded higher.
One of those MS-64 UDMs was from the amazing Bill Lower collection. It featured “across the room” super deep mirrors, intense cameo contrast, and just a few marks on the face and in the fields. It was one of the most incredible attractive mirror surface dollars I have ever seen!
Best Grade for the Average Collector
Those working on limited budgets should consider an 1881-O in MS-64 Prooflike condition. This coin combines a relatively low population (133 certified) with a relatively low bid price ($155).
Advanced collectors and investors usually prefer MS-64 DMPL examples of the 1881-O. Those exhibiting noticeable cameo contrast (a minority of this issue) should sell for substantially more than the current Greysheet bid of $975.