6th National Silver Dollar Convention
St. Louis, Missouri
November 11 -17, 1985
The Morgan Dollars of 1921
By Michael G. DeFalco
After a lapse of seventeen years, the production of Morgan dollars resumed again in 1921 with significant changes in design. On the redesigned coin the Eagle’s breast is flat, the arrow feathers are parallel and the stars are larger. On the obverse, the eyelash is missing, the hairlines are much more deeply etched, there is no crease above the chin and the latter is tucked up more than on earlier designs. Because of the enormous mintages, the quality of the finished product was inferior to that of previous years. All of these factors contribute to a lack of understanding of this issue on the part of collectors and investors alike. In an attempt to rectify this situation I would like to present the following in-depth analysis of the 1921 Morgan dollars.
1921 P (mintage 44,690,000)
Although one of the most common Morgan dollars in uncirculated condition, the 1921 P is very difficult to locate in strict Mint State 65. Most pieces exhibit a poor strike and excessive abrasions. Luster is generally good and can be outstanding. Because of the previously mentioned reverse die changes, never expect the 1921 P to exhibit the same bold breast feather definition encountered on many of the earlier dates. Also, many 1921 P Morgan dollars display the same cream colored spots that plague some of the Peace dollar issues. Unless of a highly distracting nature, these spots in no way affect either the grade or the value. Now that I’ve given you the bad news, let me give you the good news. Although quite scarce, specimens exhibiting a bold strike, excellent luster and very clean surfaces are sometimes available. These are very underrated and highly recommended.
The 1921 P is very scarce in prooflike condition. The strike is usually quite bold and abrasions are plentiful. To further add to the problem, many coins are severely stained. Most specimens encountered are of the “brilliant prooflike” variety; however, cameo prooflikes do exist. Though the fields are adequately mirrored, they are generally not deep. Strict MS-65 or better examples are very scarce and seldom available. They are extremely underrated and very highly recommended.
1921 D (mintage 20,345,000)
Although fully mint state specimens abound, the 1921 D is very scarce in strict MS-65 or better condition. The strike can vary from flat to full; however, the majority of extant specimens are poorly struck. Luster is generally average but can be absolutely outstanding. Excessive abrasions are present on most pieces. With a great deal of effort on your part it is possible to locate a coin exhibiting a bold strike, excellent luster and very clean surfaces. These are very highly recommended. On very rare occasions the 1921 D is available with impressively frosted devices set against a background of silvery fields. Such specimens usually exhibit a bold strike and very clean surfaces. These coins, although they usually carry an enormous premium, are nonetheless highly recommended too.
The 1921 D is rare in prooflike condition. Virtually all fully prooflike specimens are of the VAM 1-A variety. They exhibit a die fill in the “S” of “TRUST.” On a few such pieces, the second “S” in “STATES” is also obliterated. These prooflikes tend to exhibit a somewhat soft strike with adequately mirrored “brilliant” prooflike surfaces. Unless the strike is very flat, such coins (so long as all of the other criteria are met) can still qualify for the MS-65 grade designation. Although very rare, the 1921 D also exists in prooflike condition without the aforementioned die fills. Such specimens will exhibit a very bold strike and relatively deep mirror surfaces. I have seen four such coins. Two of them exhibited a full strike and deeply mirrored fields, however, both coins graded MS-60+ at best. The other two coins were strict MS-65’s. The first of these exhibited a very strong strike and adequately mirrored fields. The surfaces were very clean and blanketed with light golden rose toning. The second piece was fully struck with deep mirror fields and near perfect surfaces. These two coins were very unusual and sold at a large premium. In the final analysis, prooflike 1921 D’s (eigher variety) must be considered very rare and underrated.
1921 S (mintage 21,695,000)
The 1921 S is very rare in strict MS-65 condition. The vast majority of extant specimens are very poorly struck with excessive surface abrasions. Luster varies considerably. Some coins exhibit very poor luster while others are literally ablaze with white mint frost. Fully struck specimens exist; however, they usually exhibit dull luster or excessive abrasions, or both. Locating just one piece that is sharply struck with good luster and clean surfaces can be a major undertaking. However, they do surface from time to time and are worth the effort expended trying to locate one. This date is grossly undervalued in MS-65 condition. What about superb gem MS-65+ or better specimens, do they exist? You bet, but they are excessively rare! In January of 1980, I sold Bruce Amspacher a “knockout” for $2,500. The coin had a strong strike (though not full), intense luster and virtually perfect surfaces. As nice as this coin was, they do come even better. At the 1982 ANA Convention, Steve displayed impressively frosted devices contrasted against silvery fields. The surfaces were exceptionally free of abrasions. Steve kept the best piece for himself and sold the other one to Wayne Miller for $5,000! These coins were unlike any other 1921 S’s I have ever seen.
The 1921 S is excessively rare in prooflike condition. Less than a dozen are known to exist. Two of these pieces exhibit prominent die scratches in the obverse field and are generally quite unattractive. The others exhibit adequately mirrored “brilliant” prooflike surfaces but are somewhat softly struck. The finest known examples of this major prooflike rarity were purchased by me in 1977 from Nick Buzolich. Amazingly, Nick showed up on my doorstep one day with not only one, but three fully prooflike pieces. Each coin exhibited deep mirror surfaces and were minimally abraded. Although not full struck, they were well above average. However, as nice as these coins were for this issue, the majority of collectors would still find them rather unappealing. Consequently, price has never been equal to their true rarity. In fact, the $5,000 price received for the previously mentioned superb gem (non-prooflike) is the record price as far as I know. I guess that most people would opt for the most appealing coin rather than for the prooflike, regardless of its rarity.
I hope that you found this in-depth analysis enlightening. Just remember, when purchasing any of these dates, be realistic in your expectations. For the most part, they just don’t come like the earlier issues. If that is what you expect, then you are sure to be disappointed.