5th National Silver Dollar Convention
St. Louis, Missouri
November 8 – 11, 1984
My Silver Dollar Set
By Wayne Miller
On a hot, dry August day in 1968, my wife and I were savoring the first moments of our first summer vacation together. Our two children, (we subsequently added three more to our family, plus five foster children), were with my parents, and Ann and I were on the road. Our first stop was Missoula. Dean Tavenner, then, as now, one of the forces in silver dollar business, had told me of a fresh shipment of prooflike Morgans, and I was eager to see them. For several months an idea had been popping into my head about assembling a superb set of Morgan dollars – the finest ever. Of course, with a low paying state job and a rapidly growing family, this was sheer fantasy.
When we arrived in Missoula, our first stop was The Cartwheel, Dean’s coin shop. My wife has always been tolerant of my obsession with silver dollars, even on vacations. I walked into the shop very excited at the prospect of looking through what Dean had described as a major acquisition: a roll of prooflike 1881-CC dollars.
The roll was everything Dean said it was and I forked over $82.50 for the pick of the lot. With the acquisition of the coin, I began what I envisioned then to be a fifteen year project – to assemble a complete set of Morgan dollars in superb condition.
During the early years of the project many people laughed when they realized that the set was missing many pieces. “How can you call this a dollar set? Where’s the ’89-CC? Where’s the ’93-S?” But I determined early on that I would never put a coin in the set unless there was a reasonable assessment that this was the finest specimen that I was likely to see. It was interesting to discover through the years that the easiest coins to upgrade were those dates which were already among the finest in the set. In fact, from 1976 to 1982, during a period in which I upgraded almost 75% of the coins in the set, nearly all upgrades were in the least expensive coins in the series.
Although I had never particularly liked the Peace dollar series, I realized that this set would also be necessary to acquire. Some of the coins in that series are among the earliest acquired in my set. The 1922-S, for example, cost me $6 in 1972; the 1935-S set me back a whopping $65 in August, 1971.
Because of my position as a silver dollar specialist and coin dealer, I was exposed to a great number of gem silver dollars. Since it was known that I would pay a “ridiculous” price for a superb gem dollar, a large number of the finest silver dollars of the period 1968 to 1983 ended up in my collection.
Probably the most amazing coin in the entire collection is the 1886-O. During the negotiations for determining the value of my set, the 1886-O was figured at $60,000 to $75,000. Dean Tavenner acquired this coin for me early in 1977. Actually, he offered the coin to me initially for $1,500, (bid at the time was less than $200), sight unseen; he was at a coin show in Salt Lake. I just could not bring myself to pay that much money for an 1886-O without seeing it. Dean sold the coin at the show, and for two weeks afterward I kept hearing from various people how incredible the coin was. When Dean returned from the show he sold me an incredible 1892-O…the only cameo prooflike gem of this date I have ever seen or heard of. He said that this coin was nothing compared to the 1886-O. Finally, I urged him to try to repurchase the coin for me. He went to a show the next week, and afterward came over to my house. (From 1968 to 1981, I did all my coin business out of my house, and ran a good mail order business. Since I did not like going to coin shows, and since Dean loved them we would get together after a show and I would buy whatever gems he brought back.) As I looked through his offerings no mention was made of the 1886-O. In fact, I had almost forgotten the coin. But eventually I came to what looked like the most incredible 1886-P deep mirror cameo prooflike that I had ever seen. Suddenly, I turned the coin over and saw the ‘O’ mintmark. The coin was mind-boggling! I would not have believed such a coin could exist. Dean was laughing by that time, and all I could say was, “How much?” Dean knew that I would pay whatever he asked, but he charged me $2,075, which was about $200 more than he paid to repurchase it.
At the February, 1976 Long Beach Coin Show, while in loose partnership with John Love, I was going through his extensive inventory when I came across a group of 40 gem deep mirror cameo 1878-S dollars. Midway through the group, I came to a coin so perfect that I thought the Long Beach “light” was playing tricks on me. I soon realized that I was looking at the most perfect business strike Morgan dollar I had ever seen. The surfaces were deeply mirrored, face fully frosted. I was afraid to even look at the reverse! No coin could be that perfect. It was! With as normal a voice as I could command, I asked how much. Since they were nice, he would charge $14 each for the lot. I soon resold these coins, but kept the one piece for my set. It has been the cover coin for both of my books. I have turned down several offers for then $10,000 for the coin.