The Top Five Morgan Silver Dollars by Daniel J. Goevert
Why waste everyone's time? Let's skip the appetizers and get to the meaty stuff right now: The Morgan silver dollars poised to increase the most in value in the years ahead are the 1895, 1892-CC, 1894, 1878-CC, and the 1883-CC. Pretty bold prediction, eh? At this point, the reader now has three options: (1) Stop reading and act upon this information, (2) Stop reading and get on with life, or (3) Continue on, evaluate the analytical approach to identify the "Top Five" Morgan dollars, and then implement a variation of (1) or (2) above. If you've gotten this far, we encourage you to continue on with option (3).
First, a little background info on the Morgan silver dollar…
The Morgan silver dollar is today one of the most popular of all collector coins. First minted in 1878 following the passage of the Bland-Alison Act, the new dollar was named after its designer, George T. Morgan. Political pressure by powerful silver mining companies, in a gambit to stabilize the price of their commodity at artificially high levels, created the impetus driving the legislative action. Bland-Alison led to the overproduction of silver dollars, resulting in millions of these unused "cartwheels" languishing in bank and Treasury vaults. Indeed, few coins have ever been released under more dubious circumstances than Morgan silver dollars. Minting continued until 1904, and then again for one more year in 1921, when the series finally came to a close.
For decades thereafter, Morgan dollars were largely snubbed by hobbyists. Many dates, including those in mint state condition, could be obtained for as little as $1.00. This situation shifted dramatically in 1962, when the US government began selling original 1000-piece silver dollar Treasury bags to the public at face value. Stories of rare dollar finds circulated widely, touching off a veritable Morgan mania. Within a matter of months, all but a small fraction of the federally owned coins were transferred from government vaults to private hands, consequently expanding the Morgan dollar collector base far beyond anything seen previously.
Since then, Morgan silver dollars have proudly perched themselves atop the catbird seat of the numismatic world. Their physical size, availability, beauty, and historical significance have consistently attracted herds of new buyers. Numerous boom-turned-bust cycles have come and gone, sometimes driven by pure speculative motives, but from a long-term perspective, most Morgan dollar prices have trended somewhat positive.
Unlike some controversial promoters in the past, I do not propose purchasing Morgan silver dollars simply as investment vehicles. However, for collectors hoping to satisfy their numismatic yearnings AND acquire coins destined to be worth substantially more in the future, Morgan dollars do present a few opportunities. As noted above, as a whole, Morgans have gained moderately in value over the years. The crucial challenge, then, is to identify which members of this series have enjoyed the best growth patterns in the past. The underlying logic is clear: coins that have demonstrated the strongest gains over a long period of time are the coins best positioned to show similar price advancements with the continued passage of time.
In order to measure past performance and thus visualize Morgans most likely headed toward a bullish future, I developed a systematic approach. First, I researched individual Morgan dollar retail prices as they existed in 1950, for a broad range of conditions, and entered this data on a computer spreadsheet. Moving forward in time, values from the years 1980, 1995, and 2000 were likewise recorded. Finally, estimated selling prices in 2005 were juxtaposed with counterpart data from those earlier years. Because grading terminology has evolved over the 55 year period, certain assumptions were made to progressively track price movements throughout the time spectrum (e.g. an "Uncirculated" value in 1950 is equivalent to the "MS-60" of today).
For each date and condition, compounded annual return rates were computed from 1950 to 2005. [Editorial note: compounded annual return rate is the accepted yardstick for comparing investment performance. Of course, coins do not grow at a guaranteed uniform rate, such as bonds do, but if a coin is purchased at a certain price, and that price is compared with the value of the coin at some later date, the compounded annual return rate can be calculated for the time period in between]. Return rate computations were made from 1980 to 2005, 1995 to 2005, and 2000 to 2005. For each Morgan dollar, the data was placed in tabular format. Next, I calculated a "composite" score for each date by averaging all the compounded return rates computed for that date. I then ranked all the "composite" scores. The Morgan silver dollars with the highest scores are as follows:
So, it would appear, based on past performance over a period of 55 years, the 1895 is the Morgan silver dollar with the best hope of appreciating significantly in the years ahead, followed by the 1892-CC, 1894, 1878-CC, and 1883-CC. Not surprisingly, dollars of the Carson City Mint occupy 13 of the top 16 positions, thanks to persistent collectors scrambling for bona fide artifacts of the romantic American West. On the opposite end of the rankings, Morgan silver dollars having the bleakest long term prospects include the 1898, 1899-O, 1884, and the 1888-O, followed by the 1897 coming in dead last with a score of 2.66.
Anyone whose dual objective is to acquire Morgan silver dollars with a bullish future ought to begin looking at the "Top Five" above. Purchase coins in the best condition you can afford, but be sure the coins are clean, problem-free, and CERTIFIED by a reputable grading service. Be prepared to hold for at least five years. Morgan dollars have skyrocketed in value in the last three years, so some cooling off may be in order before the next upward cycle.
If a polling firm were to survey the population of US coin collectors, it is very possible that Morgan silver dollars would win the vote as the most appealing coin in American coinage history. These beautiful coins have been the heartbeat of the hobby for many years, with no retreat in sight. Ironically, these same coins spent the better part of a century hidden away in government vaults, unseen, unwanted, and unloved. My, how times have changed!
Daniel J. Goevert
US Coin Values Advisor