VOL. XL, NO. 2
Seven Underrated Dates in MS-64 DMPL
By Randy Campbell
In my 30+ years in the numismatic hobby one coin has stirred more emotions and created more controversies than any other. That coin, of course, is the Morgan dollar. In good times and bad, in inflation and recession, in up markets and down markets, the Morgan dollar has maintained a level of visibility and collector interest that few others can match.
It wasn’t always that way. The very first issue of the Coin Dealer Newsletter (the “Greysheet”) didn’t even list BU Morgan dollars! At that time (the early ‘60’s) proof sets and BU rolls of 1950-D nickels were the centers of attention.
However, by the late 1960’s, pioneer silver dollar dealers John Love and Dean Tavenner began running full page ads in some of the trade publications. Many of these ads listed “Proof Surface” (deeply mirrored) Morgans for sale at modest premiums. Many of the major coin companies followed suit.
In 1976, Wayne Miller’s landmark An Analysis of Morgan and Peace Dollars was published. The following year, Les and Sue Fox’s Silver Dollar Fortune-Telling hit the market. Both of these books discussed in detail the rarity and investment potential of prooflike Morgan dollars. The popularity of these two books created a generation of dollar fanatics, many of whom pursued the tiny supply of deeply mirrored dollars with a vengeance.
In 1979, the Coin Dealer Newsletter first listed approximate bid ranges for prooflike Morgan dollars. However, at that time, standards for prooflike dollars were somewhat vague. One man’s prooflike was another man’s semi-prooflike. And there was no official consensus as to what constituted a deep mirror dollar.
In 1981, this writer attempted to address this issue in Les and Sue Fox’s book, Fight Inflation with Silver Dollars. In the prooflike dollar chapter of that book, I differentiated between average mirror prooflike dollars (“prooflikes”) and deep mirror prooflikes (sometimes referred to as DMPL’s or “dimples”).
By the late 1980’s, rare coin certification (“slabs”) had become a reality. However, in the early years of the slab market, none of the three major grading services employed the deep mirror prooflike designation. Fortunately, by 1989, this changed. An industry-wide consensus was building concerning the parameters for prooflike (2 to 4 inches of clear reflectivity on both sides of the coin) and deep mirror prooflike (minimum of 4 to 6 inches of clear reflectivity). By early 1989, PCGS, NGC and ANACS were all using the “deep” superlative, much to the delight of dollar specialists.
The Rarity of Deep Mirror Prooflikes
For years, people speculated about the true rarity of DMPL dollars. Were they five times scarcer than frosty BU dollars? Were they 100 times scarcer? Nobody really knew.
The population reports of the three major grading services began to provide some answers. Indeed, a check of recent editions of these reports indicates that MS-64 DMPL Morgans are much scarcer than their frosty surface counterparts. Study the following statistics:
ANACS, PCGS, AND NGC
|Ratio||40 to 1 (approx.)|
As the numbers reveal, MS-64 deep mirror prooflikes are ABOUT 40 TIMES SCARCER THAN FROSTY BU MS-64 MORGANS! But, that doesn’t tell the whole story.
The nine most common dates in MS-64 DMPL (1880-S, ’81-S, ’82-CC, ’83-CC, ’84-CC, 1885, 1883-O, ’84-O and 1885-O) account for 6,027 of the 11,323 Morgans certified MS-64 DMPL. The remaining 5,296 MS-64 DMPL’s are unequally divided among the remaining 97 dates in the series.
The “Off the Market” Factor
Anyone who has tried to buy a DMPL dollar at a coin show can tell you that there’s nowhere near 11,000 MS-64 DMPL dollar available for sale on the market. Collectors are lucky if they find even a few dozen for sale at the largest coin conventions. What accounts for this seeming disparity?
First, from the combined population totals, we must subtract what I call “the crackout factor,” that is, those coins that were cracked out of MS-64 DMPL holders and resubmitted to the same, or different, services in the hope of getting the coin upgraded to MS-65 DMPL. Given the huge spread between MS-64 DMPL and MS-65 DMPL prices, there is plenty of incentive to play “the crackout game.” I estimate that, for any given date on this list of seven underrated dates about 30% of the total population consists of crackouts and resubmissions of the same coin. In this case the same coin may have been graded MS-64 DMPL on two (or more) occasions by the same, or different, grading services, thereby artificially inflating the population of that date. Admittedly, my 30% crackout rate is speculative. However, in the opinion of most dealers with whom I’ve discussed this fact, my 30% estimate is probably on the low side of the truth.
Second, I estimate that about 20% of all MS-64 DMPL’s on this list are in the hands of fanatic collectors who have no intention of selling their coins at any price. I call this the “fanatic factor.”
Third, I estimate that another 20% of the coins on this recommended list are in the hands of investors who purchased these coins when prices were much higher. For instance, back in June of 1989, common date MS-64 DMPL’s were bid at $350 (versus the current bid of $85). Understandably, many investors are not interested in selling at today’s much lower prices, especially if they believe prices may rebound in the future. Therefore, a certain percentage of the population of MS-64 DMPL’s (I estimate 20%) are off the market and unavailable because of “the investor factor.”
When you combine “the crackout factor,” “the fanatic factor,” and “the investor factor,” you come up with a total of 70% of the estimated population being essentially unavailable for today’s collectors! This combined “off the market factor” must be considered when one assesses the potential availability of a given date in MS-64 DMPL.
Specific Date Recommendations in MS-64 DMPL
1878-S. MS-64 DMPL bid = $275. MS-65 DMPL bid = $1,950. Combined population in MS-64 DMPL = 101 coins. Estimated available supply = 30 coins.
Of the estimated 30 available pieces (NONE of which may be available in your geographic area) I would warn potential buyers against purchasing those coins that do not have at least four inches of clear, sharp, reflectivity on both sides of the coin. The 1878-S is one of those dates that is seen with very deep mirrors on one side (usually the obverse) and shallow mirrors on the other side of the coin. In my personal opinion, such coins should NOT be considered as DMPL, even if they are in a DMPL slab. Such pieces can be very difficult to sell in a slow market.
1882. MS-64 DMPL bid = $300. MS-65 DMPL bid = $3,400. Combined population is MS-64 DMPL = 57 coins. Estimated available supply = 17 coins.
My estimated available supply of 17 coins is probably too high, given the immense difference in bid levels between 64 DMPL and 65 DMPL, and the resulting temptation to play “the crackout date.” The real supply may be less than 12 coins.
If a nice example of this date is available at your local show or coin shop, you should expect to pay well over the current bid price of $300. At $350-$375, I would heartily recommend a pleasing MS-64 DMPL example of this date.
1882-O. MS-64 DMPL bid = $350. MS-65 DMPL bid = $3,800. Combined population in MS-64 DMPL = 65 coins. Estimated available supply = 19 coins.
This date has something in common with both the 1878-S and the 1882. Like the 1878-S, the 1882-O exists with mirrors that are close to, but short of, DMPL standards. Do NOT buy such coins at DMPL prices.
Like the 1882, the 1882-O has a tremendous spread between MS-64 DMPL bid and MS-65 DMPL bid. Thus, the estimated available supply of 19 coins may be a bit optimistic. A true 64 DMPL example of this date is “a steal” at anywhere near the current bid level of $350.
1883. MS-64 DMPL bid = $150. MS-65 DMPL bid = $750. Combined population in MS-64 DMPL = 129 coins. Estimated available supply = 39 coins.
This is one date that collectors have a reasonable expectation of finding at a major coin convention. Most MS-64 DMPL specimens will have pleasing depth of mirrors and noticeable cameo contrast.
Some examples of this date were struck from rusted dies. Such coins will exhibit small dots of metal on the eagle’s breast, thereby obscuring breast feather detail. Specimens with excessive die rust can be difficult to sell in a slow market.
1890. MS-64 DMPL bid = $650. MS-65 DMPL bid = $7075. Combined population in MS-64 DMPL = 26 coins. Estimated available supply = 8 coins.
This is, flat-out, a rare coin in MS-64 DMPL. Only one coin has been certified MS-65 DMPL (therefore the current bid of $7075 must be regarded as theoretical since, to the best of my knowledge, no transactions have taken place at anywhere near that level).
In recent years, I have seen only one MS-64 DMPL of this date that was for sale at a convention. It displayed very deep mirrors, minimal abrasions, and moderate cameo contrast. This coin is now off the market.
The current bid of $650 for a 64 DMPL is caused by the depressed state of the overall coin market. However, don’t be fooled into thinking you can actually buy a pleasing example for anywhere near current bid levels. This date is “a rip” at anything less than $800 in MS-64 DMPL.
Population-wise, this is the rarest date on my list of seven recommended issues. It is also my favorite.
1897. MS-64 DMPL bid = $250. MS-65 DMPL bid = $1,850. Combined population in MS-64 DMPL = 67 coins. Estimated available supply = 20 coins.
This date was regarded as a fairly common date in prooflike condition in the 1970’s. However, the industry wide acceptance of deep mirror prooflike standards has brought about a change in perception regarding the 1897. Specifically, this issue is now considered to be an elusive date in two sided deep mirror prooflike condition.
The typical 1897 DMPL will be of the brilliant variety, with little or no contrast between the fields and devices. On such pieces, the fields will exhibit very deep mirrors, while the devices will also display some reflectivity. The strike should be sharp; abrasions should be fewer than average (at the MS-64 level).
The 1897 is very rare in cameo DMPL. The only cameo MS-64 DMPL that I have ever seen sold in a major auction in 1978 for over $1,000. The current bid of $250 seems ludicrous for a coin of this rarity.
1898. MS-64 DMPL bid = $200. MS-65 DMPL bid = $1,500. Combined MS-64 DMPL population = 128 coins. Estimated available supply = 38 coins.
The industry-wide acceptance of 4 to 6 inch minimum mirrors for the Deep Mirror Prooflike designation has caused a change in the rarity ratings of several dates in the series. The 1898 is one of these. Like the 1897, the 1898 was regarded as a common to semi-common date. However, current information indicates that relatively few 1898 dollars exist with sufficient reflectivity to qualify as DMPL.
The vast majority of DMPL 1898 dollars are of the brilliant variety. The tiny number of cameo DMPL’s that do exist are worth a premium, given their superior eye appeal.
This date is highly recommended in MS-64 DMPL at a fair increment above the current bid level of $200.
Where to Buy Them
Major coin shows offer collectors their best chance to pick and choose the coin that best fits their needs. These shows will also tell you what’s available and what’s NOT available, on the current market.
Major auctions occasionally will have an example of one of these dates listed in their sales. If you are attending one of the larger conventions, don’t forget to check out the auction that is held in conjunction with the show.
Speaking of auctions, Teletrade offers two telephone auctions per week of coins certified by ANACS, PCGS, and NGC. This is an important option to those collectors who are unable to attend major conventions.
Major numismatic publications, such as Coin World and Numismatic News, carry advertisements from literally hundreds of dealers and collectors. Better date DMPL dollars are occasionally listed for sale in these ads.
Don’t forget your local club coin shows, local coin shops, and local coin club meetings. Sometimes, the nicest coins are found under some of the least likely circumstances.
Raw Coins or Slabs?
The purchase of expensive, better date, raw coins is something that is best left to experienced collectors or numismatic professionals who are sure of their grading skills. The chances of a novice making a grading mistake on a raw coin are so great that, in good conscience, I cannot recommend the purchase of raw DMPL dollars by beginners. In my opinion, the interests of new collectors are best served by purchasing those DMPL dollars that are certified by ANACS, PCGS or NGC.
Does this mean I believe that all slab dollars are accurately graded? No way! As a professional grader (for ANACS), I know better! However, I will say that, in the vast majority of cases, I do agree with the grade that has been assigned by the three major certification services. When I do disagree, the disagreement (on a DMPL dollar) is just as likely to be with the PL or DMPL designation as it is with the grade on the holder. That’s why I have stressed to those of you reading this article to BE SURE that the dollar you are thinking of buying has at least 4 to 6 inches of clear reflectivity on BOTH sides of the coin, whether it is certified or raw.
Recap: Seven Recommended Dates in MS-64 DMPL
In closing, let’s take one final look at my seven recommended dates in MS-64 DMPL. Please note that “E.A.S.” refers to my estimated available supply that might be available on today’s market.
|Avoid PL’s in DMPL holders
My #2 recommended date
See comments for 1878-S
Tough coin; low price
My #1 pick. So rare!
My #3 recommended date
Cameo DMPL’s are rare
The current slow market has brought about low prices, combined with some splendid opportunities! The seven dates included on this recommended list are an example of what might be available to the prudent collector/investor who doesn’t mind paying a low price for a truly scarce coin. Here’s hoping YOU are one of the lucky ones who ends up owning one of the estimated 171 coins included on this list.
Happy hunting to all of you! I hope to see many of my friends in Florida at the Clearwater Coin Show, July 1-4, at the Sheraton San Key in Clearwater. Stop by the ANACS table and let’s talk dollars!