Low-Mintage Period Morgans
BY PAUL GREEN
Naturally, there were some high and low mintages for the Morgan dollar which was produced for nearly 20 years. However, there was one very distinct period, from 1893 to 1895, when Morgan dollar mintages were well below normal. That makes it no accident that some of the more difficult-to-find Morgan dollars will carry a date of 1893, 1894 or 1895.
Sometimes there will be a year of low mintages for a certain denomination. Or we’ll have a year like 1921, when most denominations had low mintages because the mints were busy with a heavy production of Morgan and Peace dollars. But rarely do you see a period of low mintages for a specific denomination, like in 1893-95 for Morgan dollars. However, there was a very good reason for the low numbers.
By 1893, there was no need for more Morgan dollars. The 1892 totals showed that there were more than 357 million sitting in the Treasury, while almost 7.5 million were in banks as reserves, and just under 50 million were in circulation. So, in terms of conducting commerce, there were enough Morgan dollars.
That was not the reason for the drop in mintages, however. Instead, it was because in 1893 the silver purchasing clause of the Act of July 14, 1890 was repealed. What that meant was that additional silver to make more dollars could not be purchased, and at least for a time, the era of large Morgan dollar mintages was over. This would last for three years, and today those three years read almost like a list of the hardest-to-find Morgan dollars.
The impact was immediate and dramatic, as is seen with the Philadelphia issue of 1893. This coin was not on track to have a large mintage anyway, but with 378,000 pieces struck by April 28, Morgan dollar production ceased at Philadelphia and was never resumed that year. That made the 378,000 mintage of 1893 one of the toughest of the Philadelphia Morgan dollars – although it was recognized quickly. So over the years, when an 1893 was found in circulation, or whenever an original bag appeared, collectors would save some. That keeps the 1893 at a reasonable price today despite its low mintage.
Much the same happened in New Orleans, where 300,000 Morgans were produced in January, and none after that. The 1893-O also was saved when found in circulation, as there are worn examples found in the market today. In Mint State the supply disappears, and even the coins there tend to be heavily bagmarked and poorly struck, making the 1893-O a low mintage date that is even harder to find in Mint State than its mintage suggests.
The key business strike Morgan dollar is the 1893-S, and it followed the pattern with its entire mintage of 100,000 produced in January. With that low mintage, the 1893-S was bound to be a key date. It appears to have circulated in some numbers, as usually the 1893-S can be found in Very Fine condition. In Mint State, it is a significant rarity – but it is tough to locate in any grade.
The only facility to produce Morgan dollars in 1893 after the end of April was Carson City, where production continued through May. However, this was the last year of coin production at Carson City, making it possible that they were trying to use up silver. Whatever the reason, for the only time in its history, Carson City had the highest Morgan dollar mintage of the year, at 677,000 pieces. While not readily available (the 1893-CC was not found in numbers in either the Treasury or Redfield hoards), the 1893-CC was saved when encountered. This made it a better date, but one that most can expect to find and afford.
The trend continued in 1894, when Philadelphia had a business strike mintage of just 110,000, making the 1894 the second-lowest-mintage regular-issue Morgan dollar. As might be expected with its low mintage, the 1894 is definitely a better date Morgan dollar. In Mint State, it’s tough enough to locate that some collectors are considering one of the 972 proofs as an alternative to the nearly impossible-to-obtain top grade examples in Mint State.
With a mintage of 1,723,000, the 1894-O had a higher mintage than most dates of the period, although that is still a low total for New Orleans. The problem today with the 1894-O is that collectors did not heavily save the date when it appeared. With relatively few Mint State examples, and the fact that the 1894-O was poorly made, it makes finding a top grade Mint State example a real struggle. However, in lower Mint State grades the 1894-O can be found.
The 1894-S is a low mintage date from San Francisco, with only 1,260,000 coins struck. The fact that San Francisco made better quality Morgan dollars than New Orleans is apparent when comparing the 1894-S and 1894-O, as the majority of the time they are direct opposites in terms of quality. The 1894-S is not available in large numbers, but those that exist tend to be very nice. Today, most collectors can hope to include an attractive 1894-S Morgan in their collection.
The final year of the low-mintage period produced three different dates which are all – for one reason or another – very difficult to locate, especially in high grades. In the case of the 1895 from Philadelphia, high grades exist mainly because of the 880 proofs struck. As was the case with proofs, had the 1895 not been saved in large numbers, it would be even more expensive today. But with perhaps 600 still known, the 1895 is a high-priced – but possible to find – date.
With just 450,000 struck, the 1895-O was another low-mintage date from New Orleans. What we find with the 1895-O is that an unusually large percentage seem to have been placed in circulation, as they are available in circulated grades. It is in Mint State where the 1895-O becomes a significant rarity. Many dates of Mint State Morgans became available with the release of bag after bag from the Treasury, especially during the early 1960s, but 1895-Os were never found in those bags. As it had not been saved prior to that time under the assumption that they would be made available, it left everyone with a surprised look on their face and no 1895-Os in their hands. Today, it is an available date in circulated grades and a great rarity in MS-65.
The 1895-S is another case of a low mintage date (only 400,000 were struck) that was not saved in numbers. In fact, reports of bags of the 1895-S are few and far between. And to complicate matters, the 1895-S – while decently made – tends to come with a large number of bagmarks. As a result, while it’s available in limited numbers, it is a very difficult date to find in top grades without bagmarks.
In 1896, mintages would again rise to more normal levels. While there are significant Morgan dollar rarities which are not from the 1893-95 period (like the 1889-CC) the fact remains that if you are attempting a Morgan dollar collection, it is the dates from 1893-95 that will present the biggest challenge. This was truly the period for low-mintage Morgan dollars.