Vol. XVII No.1
Mirror Surface Morgan Dollars, Part 1
By Randy Campbell, NLG
FUN Education Director
Reprinted with permission of the author of FUN-TOPICS
This is a series of articles I have wanted to write for many years. “If only I had the time to do it,” I said to myself. On another occasion I told myself, “I’ll do it as soon as I retire.”
The recent passing of relatives and friends near and dear to my heart made me realize that the, “I’ll do it as soon as I retire,” plan was no plat at all. It was just an excuse… a poor excuse for inaction.
Challenged by FUN-TOPICS editor Jim Best to “come up with an article for the next issue,” I have responded with the first of what I trust will be many articles on my all-time favorite coin, The Mirror Surface Morgan Dollar.
In 1958 I plucked a nice 1934-S Peace dollar out of the change drawer at my Dad’s business. Occasionally, a Morgan dollar would find its way into the register. The size and the beauty of these large silver coins captivated me!
In 1960 I attended my first coin show in Miami. A coin dealer from Boynton Beach had hired me to work for him because, as he put it “you have a knack for coins!” At that show I saw one entire showcase filled with hundreds of 1928 Peace dollars brought to America by Cuban refugees, many of whom had worked at the Havana casinos that had just been closed by Fidel Castro.
Another dealer at that coin show had two showcases of Morgan dollars. One had frosty surface dollars. The other one had mirror surface dollars…hundreds of them! “I can get an extra five or ten cents more for these mirror dollars” he bragged! For the princely sum of $1.15 I walked away from his table with an amazing deep mirror 1879-S dollar. “You paid too much”, said the dealer who had hired me. No matter, at age 13 I was hooked on prooflike dollars.
In the 1970s I developed friendships with John Love, Dean Tavenner and, most of all, Wayne Miller. To me, these men were the pioneers of the silver dollar market and specifically, the mirror surface Morgan dollar market. Through them I developed a basic understanding of the characteristics of every date in the series. By the mid-1970’s I was specializing in prooflike dollars.
It was an exciting time. The amazing Redfield hoard, featuring bags of frosty and prooflike dollars were dispersed. The government’s series of Carson City dollar sales brought thousands of new collectors into the hobby, many of whom were transfixed by the incredible deep mirror cameo CCs that came onto the market.
In 1976, Wayne Miller’s An Analysis of Morgan and Peace Dollars, was published. It included a date-by-date analysis of each date. Miller’s explanation of the rarity and characteristics of prooflike dollars further fueled an already red-hot market.
Then, in 1977, Les and Sue Fox published the first of several editions of Silver Dollar Fortune-Telling. It was a phenomenal success!
The Foxs’ advertisements for the 1982 edition of their book featured a photo of “Mr. P-L,”… Randy Campbell. In that book, (sold under the title Fight Inflation with Silver Dollars), I wrote a chapter which included a date-by-date analysis of each date in the series. In this chapter I subdivided mirror surface dollars by average mirror (what we now call “prooflike” or “P-L”) and deep mirror (what we now call “deep mirror prooflike” or “DMPL”). It was my contention that the price of a mirror strike was a product of both the GRADE and the DEPTH OF MIRROR, a concept that is now an industry standard.
Also, in 1982, Wayne Miller’s second book, The Morgan and Peace Dollar Textbook, was published. It was, and still is, the standard by which all other dollar books are measured. It is an absolute “MUST BUY” for all silver dollar lovers!
The impact of Miller’s second book on the silver dollar market was massive! (I remember staying up all night so I could read the book from cover-to-cover). Although the overall coin market was slumping, the prooflike dollar market took off! In fact, the fanatic support that the mirror surface dollar market enjoys can be traced directly to the success of Miller’s landmark effort.
PLs DMPLs and UDMs
Rampant misrepresentation, overgrading and counterfeiting (all major problems in the 1970s and 1980s), gave rise to the need for rare coin certification. By 1989 PCGS, NGC and ANACS were all engaged in the encapsulation of coins in hard plastic holders, known as “slabs.”
Also, in 1989, I was hired by ANACS as a professional authenticator/grader with a specialty in silver dollars. Literally, this has been the opportunity of a lifetime! It has provided me a chance to expand my numismatic knowledge in all area, including mirror surface dollars.
The slab era has participated in the evolution of the mirror surface dollar market. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, the word “prooflike” was a catch-all phrase reflectively for coins with incredible depth of mirrors.
The decade of the 1990s has given rise to a greater degree of specification within the mirror surface dollar market. At ANACS, the term PROOFLIKE refers to a coin with minimum of two to four inches of reflectivity of standard typewriter printing in the fields on both sides of the coin. The term DEEP MIRROR PROOFLIKE, (or “DMPL”), refers to a coin with a minimum of four to six inches of reflectivity on both sides of the coin.
At ANACS, the term ULTRA DEEP MIRROR, (or “UDM”), refers to a coin with a minimum of 12 inches of reflectivity on both sides of the coin. Dollars with the depth of mirrors were called “headlights” or “across-the-room prooflikes” in the 1970s. As of late 1999, only ANACS uses the UDM superlative. The other two major services, PCGS and NGC, lump UDMs and DMPLs into one category.
Roughly half of the dates in the Morgan dollar series do not exist in Ultra Deep Mirror. For some other issues, fewer than a dozen UDMs are known to exist. However, for those dates that do exist in UDM, the prices fetched by these “headlights” can be mind-boggling.
A few years ago, an 1884-CC in MS-64 UDM was sold for $225, even though bid levels for MS-64 DMPLs were below $100! California dealer Jim Curtis, a specialist in flashy silver dollars, once told me “people will pay crazy prices for Ultra Deep Mirrors. All I’ve got to do is find them,” he said.
The general characteristics of each date in the series will be presented in this mirror surface analysis. Reference will be made to recent editions of the population reports of the three major grading services in an effort to establish the relative rarity of each date.
1878 EIGHT TAILFEATHERS
GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS: The Eight Tailfeathers 1878 dollar exists in large numbers with a mirrors surface obverse and reverse. However, it is somewhat elusive with full mirrors on both sides of the coin.
Most examples will have an average to above average strike. Surface abrasions are fewer than average. Those marks that are present have a tendency to cluster on Liberty’s cheek, neck, and the fields in front of her face. As of this writing, NO MIRROR SURFACE EIGHT TAILFEATHER DOLLARS HAVE BEEN GRADED HIGHER THAN MS-65 by the major services.
PROOFLIKE: The leading services have graded about 350 coins of this date in MS-63 Prooflike. About 200 have been certified in MS-64 PL. Only 17 have been slabbed in MS-65 PL, (current bid=$1,500).
DEEP MIRROR PROOFLIKE: Coins that are Deep Mirror Prooflike on one side but only Prooflike on the other side are designated Prooflike by the grading services. The 1878-Eight Tailfeathers is available in that DMPL/PL combination. But two-sided DMPL’s are scarce above MS-63. A total amount of about 160 have been slabbed in MS-63 DMPL; only about 70 in MS-64 DMPL; and just about 8 in MS-65 DMPL (bid=$4,500). Most DMPL examples of this issue will have noticeable cameo contrast on one side of the coin. Two-sided cameo contrast is rarely seen.
ULTRA DEEP MIRROR: As of late August 1999, ANACS has not certified any examples of this date in two-sided Ultra Deep Mirror!
COMMENT: This issue is very popular with variety collectors. Indeed, four of Oxman and Fey’s “Top 100 VAMS” are 1878-Eight Tailfeather varieties. This has placed increased upward price pressure on this issue.
The 1878-Eight Tailfeathers is a proven rarity in MS-65 Prooflike and MS-65 DMPL. Barring an economic recession, I expect bid levels to rise in those grades.