The Underground Success Story: Collecting Circulated Morgan Silver Dollars
by Al Doyle for CoinWeek -
Six and seven-figure “trophy” coins and top-tier Registry sets are the stuff of headlines and splashy stories, but such high-end items are in a completely different universe than where the average collector resides. Since the market for coins in the $1 to $250 range is much broader than the elite level, what is one of the biggest sellers in the working-class neighborhood of numismatics?
One series – more specifically, the least expensive pieces in that group – have had a significant positive impact on the bottom line of thousands of coin dealers. In some cases, this overlooked series has made the difference between profitability and closing the doors. It may be a totally off the radar subject, but circulated Morgan dollars are a mainstay and even a passion for numerous collectors.
Think basic when entering the world of “circ” Morgans. Raw coins make up the vast majority of purchases, and collections are usually housed in Whitman folders or similar products. Some hobbyists step up to a sturdy Capital Plastics display case.
Slabbed pieces may not remain in their sonically sealed holders, as they are sometimes cracked out and placed with the rest of the collection. Going for broke in this segment of numismatics might mean adding a few Extra Fine cartwheels to a lower-grade set or even going all the way to a smattering of MS-60s mixed with “used” coins.
There’s no lack of enthusiasm just because the circulated Morgan specialist often operates with limited funds. These are the people who hang out at the local coin shop picking up a precious silver dollar or two on a regular basis.
“Circulated Morgans allow you to be a collector while investing in silver,” said Louis Fogleman of The Coin Shop in Farmington, N.M.. “It sometimes takes a little education to learn about prices and mintages, but people understand that quality costs more for higher grades. You take time to explain rarity in dates, and customers understand about prices.”
Even though he is known for a large inventory of type coins, Gary Rosencrans of Gary’s Coins & Stamps in Wisconsin Rapids, Wis. also does a steady business in circ Morgans.
“I have a lot of guys who collect circulated Morgans,” Rosencrans said. “When it comes to the number of coins sold, Morgans are up there with Lincoln cents for the most popular series. I buy two to four circ Morgan sets a month over the counter.”
The market for dated Morgans has expanded with the rise of the internet.
“I sell 200 VF and EF Morgans a month to a guy who puts them on eBay,” Rosencrans said. “He doesn’t sell them in bulk as an investment. They go one at a time to collectors.”
It may not be easy to pigeonhole those who pursue circulated Morgan dollars, according to Vic Turner of The Coin & Collectables Shop in Kenner, La.
“Even though people do tend to like New Orleans Mint Morgan dollars around here, we get a little bit of everything,” Turner said. “Price has a lot to do with what an individual will collect. Fine and Very Fine Morgans are very popular.”
Complete date sets become costly with keys such as the 1889-CC, 1893-S and 1894, but there are other ways to collect circulated Morgans.
“Rather than buying every date, people collect year sets with one Morgan from each year,” Fogleman observed. With 27 coins (1878 to 1904 and 1921) in a year set, a few scarcer dates can be added to the collection without undue financial hardship.
There is another way to build a short set of Morgans, and those who take this route are very focused on 13 dates.
Sets composed entirely of the Carson City Mint issues and their distinctive “CC” mintmark are a popular option. While the made in Nevada Morgans are less common than those struck at Philadelphia, San Francisco and New Orleans, meeting this goal isn’t an impossible task.
“I do a lot of CC sets,” Fogleman reports. “Even though the CCs are scarcer, circs are pretty available at shows. A lot of people have more than one Carson City set because the love the mystique of the old wild west, or they’re building sets for their grandchildren. For some collectors, CC Morgans are a never-ending process. When they build a set, the coins have to match in appearance.”
“Circ CCs are really hot,” Rosencrans said. “I can’t come close to buying enough of them.” Capitol’s Nevada-shaped display case is a popular option for Carson City enthusiasts.
If the funds are available, this might be a good time to go after the key circulated Morgan dollars.
“Some of the tough dates have gotten cheaper over the past three years,” Rosencrans said. “I sell a lot of 1893-S Morgans in the Good to VG range.”
Even with the occasional key, circulated Morgan dollars are primarily an area for the person whose budget is closer to Ralph Kramden than Ralph Lauren.
“Not everyone collects gold or MS-65s,” Fogleman said. “With circulated Morgans, you can start small and build from there.”