TIP OF THE DAY

Where Have All the Morgans Gone?
By Jay Pastor
From Page 26
May, 2002 issue of Lost Treasure
Copyright © 2002 Lost Treasure, Inc. All rights reserved.

I don’t imagine you’ve found a Morgan silver dollar recently while coinshooting a park or schoolyard? No one carries them around as pocket change. And if you did get one that way, would you put it back into circulation? Probably not. Neither would I. People who come across these coins immediately squirrel them away, even if it causes them some discomfort or inconvenience. That’s what I did with two I received in 1953 at a San Francisco restaurant. I had dinner at a buffet on Lombard Street called The Chuck Wagon. The meal was a treasure in itself. But there was an extra reward. For three bucks, you received a platter the size of a manhole cover that you could pile up with slices of prime rib, mashed potatoes, and other good things. You paid as you entered. If you gave the cashier a five-dollar bill, he handed you two silver dollars in change. Even in 1953 these coins were unusual, although they were more common on the West Coast than in the east. It was fun to get them, a good business promotion on the part of the restaurant, and the first time I had ever owned a Morgan dollar or, for that matter, any silver dollar. I was a GI at the time and usually short of cash. Did I spend the two dollars at the PX for a carton of Luckies (something I wanted badly at the time)? I did not. In fact, I still own the coins (or, at least, two of my grandchildren do). People hung onto these novelty coins even when silver wasn’t worth more than a dollar an ounce.Since they were first introduced, Morgan dollars and Peace dollars didn’t circulate much. Collectors grabbed them and stored them in tubes or albums. Non-collectors stuck them in cigar boxes, gave them to the kids as birthday presents, or hoarded them in mason jars and tobacco canisters. Morgans were more of a curio than a medium of exchange. Think about it. When was the last time a checkout clerk handed you a Morgan dollar in the supermarket?There are several good reasons why Morgan dollars have always circulated sluggishly. Paper money had been around since the decade after the Civil War. Silver certificates could be exchanged for bullion at will. The bills were lighter and more convenient than large, heavy coins. The coinage law of 1873 had no provision for a standard silver dollar. If paper wasn’t accepted, businessmen used gold dollars at home and Trade dollars for foreign transactions. The Morgans didn’t appear until 1878.So, why bother with them? The Treasury Department had millions of Morgans in reserve. During the chaotic decade following the Civil War, a kind of monetary Civil War took place. The northern states wanted convenient paper money (greenbacks). The southern and western states, skeptical about the stability of paper, preferred hard cash (silver and gold). There was also a conflict between those advocating the gold standard and those pushing for bimetallism (both a silver standard and a gold standard). Silver, however, was becoming a glut on the market. The Comstock Lode in Nevada cranked it out by the carload, and the price of bullion dropped accordingly. It dropped even more when several important foreign countries, prominent in international trade, went on the gold standard and rejected silver coins.So, who did want them? The most logical customer for this surplus silver was the United States government. The Treasury Department was in the process of developing methods to redeem fractional paper notes (issued temporarily right after the war to make up for a coin shortage) by replacing them with silver coins (not only dollars, but smaller change as well, even a 20-cent piece). Eventually, large as it was, the surplus silver started to dwindle. When the pendulum swung the other way, and the silver bullion supply finally became exhausted in 1904, the Treasury discontinued minting silver dollars. The Carson City mint had already closed in 1893. Nevada mining activities had also stopped years ago. The supply of silver bullion had to be renewed.Under the Pittman Act of 1918, during WWI, over 270 million Morgans were melted down. But, for some strange reason, after the doughboys returned, minting of Morgans was resumed (most were retained by the Treasury). The Morgan design was later replaced by De Franciscis Peace Dollar. You don’t see many of those in circulation either. Yet both Morgan and Peace dollars are plentiful. Almost anyone you meet over the age of 60 has a few in a drawer somewhere. Dealer catalogues and coin shops are full of them. And metal detector users often find caches of silver dollars buried at marked sites in the ground or hidden within the walls of homes. It’s a bit of mild insanity that seems to be self-propagating. However, it is an important fact to bear in mind. The coins don’t circulate, but they are out there waiting for a treasure hunter to discover.I’ve found a fair number of Morgan dollars during my treasure hunting years, but fewer than a handful were individual coins that had been casually lost. And even some of the individual ones had undoubtedly been owned, shortly before I found them, by children who got them as treats from Grandpa. Grandfathers, in particular, seem to like to give them to the kids who immediately lose them. The rest came from caches. Considering the current price of silver and the huge prices commanded by those in mint state collector-condition, there’s some reason for people to save them now. But, sadly for those who prize them, most of the Morgans that the old folks hang onto and consider valuable treasures are merely bullion coins that will not bring more than four or five dollars apiece in the market. Yet its accumulations like these that can pay off for a coin shooter. There’s always the possibility that a few of them might be rare. Statistically, however, any given hoard won’t contain many collectors’ items. In addition, most coinshooters don’t discover such hoards, because cache hunting requires a different approach than conventional coinshooting. Research is essential. Written permission from landowners is needed. You use larger search coils, sometimes specialized detectors for outdoor work and hand held machines for indoor searches, little or no discrimination, and long handled shovels. You also need a lot more patience. But ardent cache hunters have no doubt the results are worth the effort, and usually don’t even care to discuss it. Cache hunting is a hero’s journey, best shared with others of the same persuasion.No matter how you come across them, however, it pays to inspect every Morgan and Peace dollar for collector interest. Most won’t pass the test, but there can be surprises. Criteria include condition, special dates, special mintmarks, mint errors (mis-strikes, multiple strikes), and unusual attractive features such as toning and frosting. Any Morgan, for example, with a Carson City mintmark (CC) is valuable. Even worn ones can be worth $100 each. An 1889 Morgan with a CC mintmark can bring you over $400 dollars in Very Fine condition and more than $16,000 in Mint State 63. Needless to say, the likelihood of finding an MS-63 coin isn’t great. But treasure hunters, by nature, are optimistic and surprisingly successful.Coins with rare dates are also valuable. A 1928 Peace dollar with some wear (VF-20) is worth over $100 and one in MS-63 condition, about $300. That’s because only 360,649 were minted. This may sound like a large quantity, until you realize that 51,737,000 Peace dollars were minted in 1922. Check all Morgans and Peace dollars you find in a coin guide such as Yeoman’s “Official Red Book.” You’ll learn that collectors prize sharply struck, bright, un-cleaned coins with attractive toning (reds, yellows, blues), a beautiful sort of tarnish that takes years to form. But there’s also a market for the less elegant coins.As you inspect these dollars for numismatic value, wear plastic gloves (a small precaution that can prevent surface damage). Don’t allow the coins to hit each other and store them in acid-free containers. Separate the numismatic coins from the bullion ones; treat them like the prizes they are. Don’t forget to save a few for your own collection. They’re handsome coins even if they don’t circulate. And don’t give up on the Morgans - they’re out there. 




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