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Mirror Surface Morgan Dollars, Part XVI

NSDR Journal


Spring 2006


Mirror Surface Morgan Dollars, Part XVI

By Randy Campbell


“I really like MS-64 Deep Mirror Prooflike Morgans for 2006,” said Al Johnbrier, President of the National Silver Dollar Roundtable.  He went on to say, “I’ve seen more MS-65 DMPL dollars here at the FUN show than MS-64 DMPL’s.”

Johnbrier made his comments at the 28th Annual Silver Dollar Investors’ Forum, held at the recent FUN convention in Orlando.  He suggested that dates like the 1888-O “are undervalued in MS-64 DMPL.  I’ll pay over Greysheet bid to get one.  And I’ll have no trouble selling it for a profit,” said Johnbrier.

Speaking of MS-65 DMPL Morgans, yours truly stated (at the same Silver Dollar Investors’ Forum) that “every red-blooded silver dollar collector should own at least one certified MS-65 DMPL dollar.  Common dates, like the 1881-S, are now sporting Greysheet bid of $515.  I predict that bid levels will exceed $600 by the end of 2006!”

Both panelists were very bullish on Seated Liberty dollars.  “2006 would be a great year to put back a few XF and AU Seated dollars,” said yours truly.

Interestingly, the two panelists differed on the future of the key date 1893-S dollar.  I started that “at $4,900 bid, the VF 1893-S is still a good buy.”  However, Al Johnbrier suggested that the circulated 1893-S “will drop by at least 10 percent before the end of the year.”



The 1881-S is considered to be the most readily available Morgan dollar in mint state condition.  ANACS, PCGS, and NGC combined have slabbed over 300,000 examples of this date.  Most grade MS-63, MS-64, MS-65 or MS-66.

Luster on the typical 1881-S ranges from above average to outstanding.

The 1881-S displays the sharpest strike in the Morgan dollar series.  Fully struck examples can be found without difficulty.

Some 1881-S dollars will have numerous abrasions.  However, the typical example will have relatively few bagmarks, hairlines or other surface imperfections.

For all these reasons the 1881-S has always been popular with those collectors seeking a beautiful silver dollar at an affordable price.



1881-S dollars with superior mint luster sometimes are offered for sale as Prooflike when, at best, they are only semi-prooflike.  Remember a minimum of two to four inches of clear reflectivity in the fields on both sides of the coin is required to attain Prooflike status.

Most Prooflike 1881-S Morgans display little or no cameo contrast.  However, these brilliant Prooflikes are popular because of their overall pleasing appearance.

A minority of the Prooflikes of this date will have noticeable cameo contrast on both sides of the coin.  Such coins can sell for a significant premium over sight-unseen bid levels.

MS-63 PL:  The three major services combined have certified over 3,000 1881-S dollars in MS-63 Prooflike.  Sight-unseen bid on the Certified Coin Dealer Newsletter is a modest $27.  On a sight-seen basis, pleasing examples for the grade may command $35 to $45.

MS-64 PL:  The leading certification services have slabbed over 5,500 1881-S Morgans in MS-64 Prooflike.  Typically, these coins will have just a few too many bagmarks to qualify for MS-65 status.  Current CCDN bid is $72.  Examples with noticeable cameo contrast may sell for $90-$110 or more.

MS-65 PL:  ANACS, PCGS, and NGC combined have encapsulated about 3,300 1881-S dollars in MS-65 Prooflike condition.  Such coins must have a very sharp to full strike.  Only a few minor marks are permissible.  Liberty’s cheek, in particular, should be free of major scrapes.  And overall eye appeal should be excellent.

On a sight unseen basis, the MS-65 Prooflike 1881-S is bid at $172.  Pleasing examples with the much desired cameo contrast may bring  $250 to $300 or more under current market conditions.


Deep Mirror Prooflike

Prior to the mid-1980’s, the 1881-S dollar rarely was seen with cameo contrast on both sides of the coin.  Then, in 1984, the mind-boggling Continental Illinois Bank Hoard hit the numismatic marketplace.

This hoard reportedly contained about 1500 BAGS of Morgan dollars!  About 500 of these bags contained only circulated dollars.  They were purchased and dispersed by Silvertowne of Winchester, Indiana.

The remaining 1,000 bags contained some of the most incredible, high quality, Mint State dollars I have ever seen.  Several of these coins displayed shades of red, blue-green or golden original bag toning!

This amazing hoard contained perhaps a full bag or two of deeply mirrored 1881-S Morgan dollars!  Most of these coins displayed very deep mirrors and noticeable contrast on both sides!

Within a few weeks, the 1881-S went from “rare” to “available” in DMPL with cameo contrast.

Demand for these deeply mirrored beauties was insatiable.  A Louisiana-based dollar dealer told me that he sold several examples for $5,000 to $7,500.  The two best coins that he owned from the hoard sold for $10,000 apiece!  These were stupendous prices, considering that they sold during the pre-slab era.

The coin market collapse of 1990-1991 caused bid levels to drop drastically for most U.S. coins.  Common date MS-65 DMPL Morgans (such as the 1881-S) collapsed from over $2,000 bid to less than $200!

Unwilling to sell their beautiful dollars at those lower bid levels, the owners of those spectacular deeply mirrored Continental dollars simply took them off the market and, for the most part, put them back in their safety deposit boxes.

Over the last 15 years bid levels for MS-65 DMPL dollars have recovered some of their losses.  The common dates have rebounded from a low o f$175-$200 to the current level before significant quantities can be coaxed back on the market.

Until then, collectors will have to be satisfied with the occasional, infrequent appearance of one of those deeply mirrored dollars from the Continental Hoard.

MS-63 DMPLANACS, PCGS, NGC combined have slabbed about 650 1881-S Morgans in MS-63 Deep Mirror Prooflike.  Thanks to the Continental Hoard, many of these coins will have cameo contrast on both sides of the coin.  Those that are attractive for the grade will sell for more than the current Greysheet bid of $62.

MS-64 DMPL:  At ANACS, coins must have a minimum of four to six inches of clear reflectivity in the fields of standard typewriter printing on both sides of the coin.  Anything less means the coin is NOT a Deep Mirror Prooflike.

This is an important distinction because the bid level for the 1881-S in MS-64 DMPL ($220) is about three times the current bid level for an MS-64 Prooflike 1881-S ($72).  Don’t pay DMPL prices for Prooflike coins!

The three major grading services combined have certified less than 1,100 1881-S Morgans in MS-64 DMPL (versus over 5,500 pieces in MS-64 PL).

Currently, the 1881-S carries a sight-seen Greysheet bid of $220 in MS-64 Deep Mirror Prooflike.  Those exhibiting attractive cameo contrast may sell for $300-$350 or more.

MS-65 DMPL:  “It’s available.  It’s affordable.  It’s beautiful!”  That’s how a friend of mine once described the 1881-S dollar in MS-65 DMPL.  In good markets and bad markets this coin has always attracted the eye of those who are interested in owning a high quality coin.

ANACS, PCGS, and NGC combined have encapsulated about 600 1881-S dollars in MS-65 Deep Mirror Prooflike.  Thanks to the Continental Illinois Bank Hoard, a significant percentage of these coins display heavy cameo contrast on both sides of the coin.  Such coins can command a price that is well in excess of the current Greysheet bid of $515.


Ultra Deep Mirror

At ANACS, coins bearing the Ultra Deep Mirror superlative must have a minimum of 12 inches of clear reflectivity in the fields on both sides of the coin.

Prior to the Continental Hoard, this date was unknown to me with Ultra Deep Mirrors.  Thankfully, that hoard contained a small number of UDM’s with heavy cameo frost on the devices.

To date, ANACS has certified two 1881-S dollars in MS-63 UDM; four in MS-64 UDM; three in MS-65 UDM and two stupendous examples in MS-66 UDM!  I believe that every one of these 11 pieces came from the fabulous Continental Hoard!

What are they worth?  The MS-65 UDM’s might bring $1,000 or more under current market conditions.

And how about those MS-66 UDM’s?  Are they the same two coins that sold for $10,000 raw in 1984?


Toned 1881-S Dollars

Mirror surface 1881-S dollars exist with vivid red, blue-green or yellow-gold toning.  Those dollars that spent the better part of a century stored inside those mint sealed bags would have acquired some toning if they actually came into contact with the fabric of the bag.

How does this toning affect the value of a given dollar?  Those coins with particularly beautiful toning may bring several times bid!  Those with less attractive toning may sell for little or no premium.

This truly is an “eye of the beholder” scenario.



Best Grade for the Average Collector

Advanced dollar collectors eagerly pursue the 1881-S in MS-65 Deep Mirror Prooflike examples of the 1881-S dollar.  They can be purchased for a reasonable mark-up over the current bid price of $172.

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