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Collecting Silver Dollars

collecting-silver-dollarsWhile researching this subject online, we found little useful information about how a person that is new to numismatics might be educated in forming a collection of America's most widely collected series of coins, silver dollars. Although some Lincoln cent collectors might argue this point invariably everyone’s first point of discussion has something to do with a silver dollar.
Today, the only "silver dollars" that may be found in circulation are not real silver dollars at all, but are either cupro-nickel Susan B. Anthony coins, or the golden colored Sacagawea and Presidential dollars with a copper core and an outer coating of manganese-brass. Since the first silver dollar coin was struck in 1794, there have been seven basic types: Bust dollars 1794-1803 (the famous 1804-dated coins were actually struck in 1834 and later years), Seated dollars (including the 1836-1839 Gobrecht variations), 1840-1873, Trade dollars 1873-1885 (used for export only), Morgan dollars 1878-1921, Peace dollars 1921-1935, Eisenhower dollars 1971-1978, Susan B. Anthony dollars 1979-1999 (not inclusive), Sacagawea dollars 2000-date, and Presidential dollars 2007-2016. For our discussion here, we will omit the non-silver issues produced after 1935 as, although widely collected, they will have little numismatic value or prominence for many, many years.

Bust Dollars 1794-1804

Actually there are three distinct types within this category; the Flowing Hair variety 1794-1795, the Draped Bust Small Eagle variety 1795-1798, and the Draped Bust Heraldic (Large) Eagle variety 1798-1804. The premier year 1794 is considered the key date (aside from the obvious 1804), and is very expensive, even in low grades or a damaged condition. All the other dates are similarly priced starting around $1,000 for a Flowing Hair variety, and roughly $750 for a Draped Bust coin. These prices are not for damaged or cleaned coins which can often be purchased for somewhat less money, but are not necessarily good investments for the future. Of course, as the grade increases, so does the price. Advanced collectors often collect Bust dollars by specific die pairings (Bolender varieties).

Seated Dollars 1840-1873

This bold design originated in 1836 as the so-called Gobrecht dollar, named after the designer, Christian Gobrecht. The Seated Liberty design reigned supreme on not just silver dollars, but half dollars, quarters, dimes, and half dimes of the time. Most often, Seated dollars are collected as type coins like Bust dollars, however, occasionally a collector will aspire to assemble a date set (one coin of each date not including mintmarks). Key dates in the Seated dollar series are 1851, 1852, and 1858. An advanced collector attempting to acquire a complete set will need the exceedingly rare 1870-S as well as the other key date Carson City coins; 1871-CC, 1872-CC, and 1873-CC. Prices begin under $300 for a common date, evenly worn VG type coin (with or without Motto on reverse) and increase with grade.

Morgan Dollars 1878-1921

Designed by George T. Morgan, this silver dollar is arguably the single most widely collected series of U.S. coins due to the beautiful obverse and reverse designs that endured for so many years. Struck from 1878 to 1904, then once again in 1921, these dollars were produced to the extent of hundreds of millions of pieces, far more than were ever needed for circulation. In the early years, four different mints were utilized to strike Morgan dollars: Philadelphia (1878-1904), New Orleans (1879-1904), San Francisco (1878-1904, and Carson City (1878-1885 and 1889-1893). Denver was used in only one year, the final one, 1921. Each of these mints has its own history, it is own aspect of interest, and its own excitement. Morgan dollars are collected by type, date, mintmark, and sometimes die variety (VAM varieties). Today, approximately 100 different date and mintmark varieties are considered to constitute a basic set of Morgan dollars from 1878 to 1921, and of these, more than half are readily available in Uncirculated condition for less than $100 per coin, many for much less than that. Only a handful are sufficiently rare to cost more than $1,000 for a Mint State example. With little effort, dozens and dozens of Morgan dollars from all five mints can be acquired and enjoyed for a nominal cost.

Peace Dollars 1921-1935

The Peace dollar was designed by Anthony De Francisci and produced for circulation from 1921 through 1928, and then once again released in 1934 and 1935. De Francisci's design for the new Peace dollar featured a portrait of his 23 year old wife, Teresa, as Liberty for the main device on the obverse. In late December 1921, the Mint struck 1,006,473 new Peace dollars. The first coin produced was personally delivered to President Warren G. Harding on January 3, 1922, also the date the new dollar coin was released for general circulation. Peace dollars were struck at three mints: Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco, and all 24 dates and mints are readily available today in circulated and Mint State grades. The key dates are the 1921, 1928, and 1934-S, however, in high Mint State grades (MS65 and above) a number of dates can get quite expensive. Some consider the 1921 a separate one-year type as it was struck in high relief. All later issues were struck in lower relief to extend die life and boost production. As a side note: 316,076 Peace dollars were struck at the Denver Mint in 1964, but never released. The Mint directed that all be destroyed, however, rumors persist that a few pieces escaped the melting pots and are now in private collections, as they are illegal to own.
Dallas Gold and Silver Exchange continues to provide a full-service approach to numismatics; detailed, useful information for the novice to the advanced collector. For further information about this article, or any other numismatic venue, please direct your inquiries to: Dallas Gold and Silver Exchange, [email protected] 11311 Reeder Road, Dallas TX 75229, 888-741-4549.

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