Gem 1893-S Morgan Dollar
1893-S $1 MS65 NGC. The 1893-S Morgan dollar is a numismatic
icon today, but its beginnings were humble. The issue owes its
lofty status to two watershed events which occurred in 1893 and
profoundly impacted the fortunes of silver dollars in general and
the 1893-S in particular: The financial Panic of 1893 caused a
drastic reduction in the silver dollar mintage totals, and the
publication of Augustus Heaton's work on mintmarks spurred
collector interest in a previously ignored area of branch mint
numismatics. The effects of these events were not fully realized
for many years, but their consequences were decisive in molding the
history of the 1893-S.
Iconic Rarity in This Favorite Series
The 1893-S boasts a series-low mintage of 100,000 pieces as a direct result of the mandated reduction in silver coinage brought on by the financial panic. The small supply was undoubtedly reduced in later years by the extensive melting carried out under the provisions of the Pittman Act. The vast majority of coins seen today are in VF grades, indicating the issue must have circulated in some quantities for an extended period of time, but exactly when the coins circulated is something of a mystery. Q. David Bowers tells of the difficulty numismatist E.S. Thresher experienced trying to locate an example for his collection. Writing in 1925, Thresher complained a six-year search had failed to produce a single specimen of the desired date. Auction appearances of the 1893-S were rare in the early 20th century. An example in "good" condition was offered as part of lot 118 of the Lepere, Coleman, Zimmerman and Wilcox Collections (S.H. and H. Chapman, 2/1904). A superior piece, described as "Uncirculated, bright" was featured as lot 55 of the Woodin Collection (Elder, 3/1911). Aside from a few terse descriptions such as these, the auction record is bare during this early era. The evidence indicates the 1893-S was seldom encountered during the time period and did not circulate widely. Possibly the same economic factors that prompted the low mintage of silver dollars in 1893 resulted in the issue's limited release. The coins were simply unneeded in the regional economy of the time and were only gradually released into circulation, most remaining in bank vaults until after 1925. Perhaps rising demand in later years, due to factors such as the demand from the Nevada gaming industry, resulted in the gradual release of the hoarded dollars. Collector interest in Morgan dollars was low before the 1960s Treasury releases made the denomination popular. The long-stored mintage of 1893-S silver dollars probably circulated in the Rocky Mountain region without attracting numismatic interest during the second quarter of the 20th century, so that most survivors are moderately worn today. The supply was apparently exhausted by the 1960s, as no significant quantities surfaced in the Treasury releases.
The effects of Heaton's treatise on mintmarks were only gradually felt among Morgan dollar collectors. A few astute collectors were aware of the importance and rarity of the 1893-S at an early date and did not hesitate to pay significant premiums when an example was offered. One unknown collector purchased the "Uncirculated gem" specimen in lot 288 of the World's Greatest Collection (Numismatic Gallery, 1/1945), for $75 on a $25 estimate. Heaton's work eventually spread the popularity of collecting branch mint coins to all denominations, creating great demand for scarcer issues like the 1893-S. Unfortunately, by the time the enthusiasm became widespread, few examples of the 1893-S remained in Mint State. Experts estimate perhaps 100-200 Mint State examples survive today, mostly in lower Uncirculated ranges. Today the long-neglected 1893-S is recognized as the key date of the series and holds its place as the most valuable Morgan dollar.
Only one die pair is known for the 1893-S silver dollars. The existence of one die pair, with specific obverse identification features, makes authentication a simple process. In the past, many counterfeit 1893-S dollars have been made by adding an S mintmark to an 1893 dollar, or altering an 1898-S to resemble an 1893-S. The following two obverse die characteristics will distinguish the genuine 1893-S dollars from those counterfeit or altered pieces that lack such characteristics. First, a raised diagonal die line begins at the left top of the upright of T in LIBERTY just below the crossbar and angles up to the right across the crossbar, meeting the extreme top of that letter nearly above the right upright of the same letter. A continuation of the die line (or a second, nearly parallel die line) can be seen between the left and center leaves above the Y. The die line remains visible on all examples except those with the T worn away. Some examples have dirt filling the letters that must be removed before authentication is possible. Second, a small rust mark or die lump can be seen within the left foot of the R, nearly resembling tiny "rabbit ears." Like the diagonal die line, this die lump or rust mark can be seen in nearly any grade encountered, as long as the R remains visible.
Like the 1889-CC and a few other issues, there have never been reports of large quantities of Mint State 1893-S Morgan dollars on the market. Dave Bowers comments:
"Apart from 20 Mint State coins said to have been found in a bag in Great Falls, Montana, and reported by Wayne Miller, I do not know of any group of high-grade coins found in the 1950s or later. However, Walter Breen reported that Harry Warner, once active in the bulk sale of silver dollars, had handled a full bag. If so, then we may all be surprised and delighted someday if these appear."
Meanwhile, Bowers estimates the total existing population of 1893-S Morgan dollars in all Mint State grades is between 61 and 83 coins. Such figures are consistent with current population data. PCGS records 37 submissions of Mint State coins, including five in MS65 and one in MS67. NGC records 27 Mint State grading events, with just two in MS65 and one in MS66. Bowers states that about half of the known Mint State population has some prooflike characteristics, yet only a single PCGS example has received a designation of Prooflike, an MS62 PL coin. One AU58 Prooflike is known at NGC (3/13).
The present Gem ranks as one of just seven submissions that NGC and PCGS combined have certified in MS65, plus the one MS66 at NGC and one MS67 at PCGS. Although a specific Condition Census of these coins has never been attempted, so far as we know, it seems reasonable to suggest that the true population includes four or five MS65 coins. Both sides have fully brilliant silver-white luster and a faint champagne tint with satiny fields and frosty devices. The hair over Liberty's ear is a bit indistinct as usual, and the breast feathers are slightly merged, but the remaining detail on both sides is sharp. A few tiny marks are present on Liberty's cheek, but the surfaces otherwise are excellently preserved.
Ex: Sanderson Family Collection / FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2009), lot 5025, which realized $299,000.(Registry values: P10, N14284) (NGC ID# 255U, PCGS# 7226)
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