by Louis Golino for CoinWeek ........
There are at most a handful of people in the world who possess the knowledge and expertise on Morgan Dollars that Q. David Bowers does. Part of that world class expertise comes from being a full-time professional coin dealer for more than half a century. It also comes from decades of writing about coins for his books and articles, which are more extensive and wide ranging than those of probably any other American numismatist and numismatic writer. It is for good reason that he is known as “the dean of American numismatics.”
If you collect Morgan dollars, his Red Books on Morgan dollars are or should be essential components of your numismatic library. Mr. Bowers has handled a very large number of Morgan dollars in his time, and in his work on the series, the reader has an opportunity to share some of that experience with so many dollar coins.
A fourth edition of the “Guide Book of Morgan Silver Dollars” has just been published by Whitman (www.whitman.com). It includes update pricing and certified coin information as well as historical information about the era and the role coins played and some new features.
As Publisher Dennis Tucker said, “Americans love to collect Morgan silver dollars. No other U.S. coin captures the popuular imagination so well. It conjures up the romance of the Old West, cowboys and riverboat gamblers, silver miners, and old-time politics, spanning some of the most dramatic years in American history, from 1878 to 1921.”
No classic American coin is more widely collected or recognized than Morgan dollars. There are many reasons why people collect them.
First, unlike many other classic coin series like Barber coinage, a large number of very high quality examples of Morgan dollars have survived, and that is largely because the Treasury hoarded bags of the coins. A very large hoard of bags were released between 1958-1963. There were also various other hoards such as the Redfield hoard.
In addition, Morgan dollars are endlessly fascinating to collect and study. There are all kinds of ways to collect them and many amazing proof, prooflike, deep mirror prooflike, and uncirculated examples in existence.
Morgans are also an excellent series for learning how to grade. There are numerous graded and ungraded examples in the market such as at a trade show that can be studied. Because of the large diameter and surface area, there is plenty of space, especially on the obverse, for marks and abrasions. A really choice coin, especially for that date and mintmark, is a sight to behold.
Another important reason why this series has such great appeal has to do with the vast differences in strike, luster, and overall surface quality specific to each particular coin. Some people study and collect die varieties, perhaps the most specialized area of the Morgan series, that was pioneered by Leroy Van Allen, author of the book's preface, along with his colleague George Mallis.
The making of very fine one-point distinctions with grades of uncirculated Morgan dollars has been going on for decades and is even done internally to three digits now at the grading companies. Even pros will disagree on a coin's exact grade, but it is critical to be able to tell the difference between an average MS63 example and a really top-grade MS65 or higher coin.
There are also factors that are typical of Morgans from each branch mint, and it is important for the Morgan collector and specialist to become familiar with them. Using this book to learn about these characteristics is perhaps the next best thing to actually studying lots and lots of dollar coins.
The book goes into great detail about what to look for in each coin in the series and provides a market analysis for each coin too. The reader can use the information to assess the relative scarcity of different issues and in some cases, identify coins that may be undervalued at the current price levels.
Since there have been so many value changes since the third edition, updated pricing information is very welcome. Prices are given in most cases for coins from VG to MS-67 plus estimates of the surviving numbers of examples in various grades – both the certified population and the overall field.
He discusses what to look for in terms of surface quality, what a collector or buyer needs to know about a particular date’s history like whether it was part of a major Treasury hoard and perhaps used to be a major key date, like the 1903-O coin, but later became much less rare when bags of the coins were discovered. The author also recounts numerous stories about other coins in the series.
In addition, Mr. Bowers knows the history of the period well and readers who want to know about more than just the coins can read about major events, hobby news, what life was like, and so forth for each year when a Morgan dollar was minted.
There is also information about varieties and cherrypicking the best coins, patterns and error coins, how to be a smart buyer, the minting process, the various Treasury hoards of silver dollars, and other issues.
A revised edition of Whitman’s Peace dollar guide book has also been released, and I will be covering that title as well.
Louis Golino is a coin collector and numismatic writer, whose articles on coins have appeared in Coin World, Numismatic News, and a number of different coin web sites. His column for CoinWeek, “The Coin Analyst,” covers U.S. and world coins and precious metals. He collects U.S. and European coins and is a member of the ANA, PCGS, NGC, and CAC. He has also worked for the U.S. Library of Congress and has been a syndicated columnist and news analyst on international affairs for a wide variety of newspapers and web sites.