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1887 Morgan Dollar : A Collector’s Guide

1887 Morgan Dollar. Image: CoinWeek.
1887 Morgan Dollar. Image: CoinWeek.

Morgan dollar production continued at its Congressionally mandated pace in 1887, despite the fact that even 10 years into the series’ run it had failed to gain a meaningful place as a circulating coin for most Americans.

The 1887 Morgan dollar, known more officially as the Liberty Head dollar, is a silver coin struck at the Philadelphia Mint. The Philadelphia Mint struck 20,290,000 Morgan dollars in 1887 and bore the responsibility of striking all of the nation’s subsidiary coinage and a small number of gold coins, mostly in the $10 denomination. The New Orleans Mint struck 11,550,000 Morgan dollars in 1887 and nothing else, while the San Francisco Mint struck a small by comparison mintage of 1,770,000 Morgan dollars and devoted the rest of its time producing the bulk of America’s gold coins for that year.

The Morgan dollar gets its name from United States Mint engraver George T. Morgan, who designed the dollar coin in competition with then-Chief Engraver William Barber. The two had a generally cordial relationship, though numismatists throughout the generations have supposed that Barber may have been envious of Morgan’s talent as an engraver and treated him with some degree of unprofessionalism. This is not true.

Morgan was born in England and began working for the Mint soon after his arrival in the U.S. in 1876. He was brought on as an assistant engraver in October 1876 and then worked under William Barber. In addition to the Liberty Head dollar, Morgan has several coin design credits to his name, including the Columbian half dollar of 1892 and 1893 and an array of pattern coins designed in the latter half of the 19th century – perhaps most notably the never-released $100 Gold Union coin.

U.S. Circulating Coin Production in 1887 – The Morgan Dollar in Context

In 1887, the Philadelphia Mint handled U.S. coin production for all minor denominations, the silver dollar, and gold denominations up to $10 (with the exception of the half eagle, which was only struck for circulation at the San Francisco branch).

The table to the right illustrates current market levels relative to mintages in the grade of MS65. There are no “Gem” 65 coins known at present for the $10 and $20 denominations, so we substituted in the MS64 value.

Building a complete 1887 year set of circulation strikes in Gem or finest known 64s will set a collector back about $100,000 USD. However, this pursuit is well within the means of most interested adult collectors in the grade of MS62 or MS63. We estimate a choice set to cost about 1/4 to 1/3 of that price.

The 1887 Morgan dollar struck at the Philadelphia is, by a large margin, the most frequently encountered coin of the date to survive in Mint State. As such, the 1887 Morgan is the most affordable issue of the date by a large margin.

In Choice Uncirculated condition (MS63), the 1887 Morgan is slightly more common than the 1887-O and the 1887-S, but all three issues are affordable at this grade. For those interested in a superb Gem dollar for this date, the 1887 Philadelphia strike is likely the only viable option as the O-Mint and S-Mint 1887 dollars are both rare in grades over MS65.

In terms of strike quality, the 1887 is similar to the Philadelphia strikes of 1886. However, specialist collectors will note that 1887 issues often appear softer struck than their 1886 counterparts. This is not uniform throughout the issue but is a factor that collectors should pay attention to when seeking out a specimen for their collection.

How Much Is the 1887 Morgan Dollar Worth?

Tens of thousands of 1887 Morgan dollars survive in uncirculated condition, while many more likely survive in various states of wear. Given this coin’s low cost, most coin collectors prefer problem-free brilliant uncirculated or better examples.

Expect to pay between $40 and $50 for a lightly circulated 1887 Morgan dollar and between $90 and $120 for a coin professionally graded at the MS63 level by CAC, NGC, or PCGS.

From this level, the value of an 1887 Morgan dollar increases depending on the eye appeal and grade of the coin.

Previously, NGC reported two coins at the MS68 level, one of which was sold by Stack’s Bowers in 2008, for $32,200. That same coin brought $13,800 at a 2019 Heritage auction. Such is the risk that conditional rarities pose in the marketplace. If populations go up–as they have for this issue–prices usually go down as the top end of the market gains its equilibrium. For what it’s worth, that particular coin is no longer certified by NGC, as the service reports no examples higher than MS67 at the present time.

CAC has applied its sticker to 3,113 1887 Morgan dollars and has encapsulated 168 coins. CAC is a newcomer to the coin encapsulation business and we expect these numbers to increase in short order. At the present time, CAC has applied its sticker of approval on 107 coins graded by NGC or PCGS at the MS67 level with one additional coin graded MS67PL. The highest current grade for an 1887 Morgan dollar in a CAC holder is MS66, with five reported.

PCGS reports over 300 coins at MS67 to MS67+ levels with two examples at MS68. There is no recent auction data in regards to the two MS68 coins, but they are imaged on PCGS CoinFacts. A characteristic these coins share is that they both have flashy brilliance in the centers with a hint of toning along the periphery. In our opinion, one is clearly better than the other and we estimate that either one might sell for $30,000 to $35,000 at auction if market conditions are right.

A beautiful toned 1887 Morgan dollar in MS67+. Image: PCGS.

This is only part of the story of the 1887 Morgan dollar at the very top of the market.

As beauty is often “in the eye of the beholder”, the degree to which the 1887 Morgan dollar allows for collector specificity makes these grades attractive to a wide range of collectors. As such, price levels at the MS67 level vary from $3,800 on the lower end to $6,500 or more for the “right” coin.

Gem-quality coins at the MS65 and MS66 level open the issue up to a broad swath of type set and Morgan dollar set builders. As is the case with the Superb Gem 1887 Morgans, at MS65 and MS66, a wide range of options exist. With 50,000 coins graded at the MS65 level at PCGS and NGC combined, there are enough coins to satisfy current levels of demand. MS66 coins are more exclusive, but with a combined pop of over 7,000 coins, a collector with a budget of $300 to $400 can land on an attractive example within a month or two of entering the market.

Of course, variety collectors may find grade a secondary concern. For VAM hunters, the 1887 issue yields more than a dozen collectible varieties, some of which are quite striking. VAM 1A features a distinct die break at the bottom curve of the D that forms a “Donkey Tail“. VAM 2 is a naked-eye-visible overdate where the remnants of the digit “6” are visible under the final digit of the date. And so on.

Design

Obverse:

The obverse of the 1887 Morgan dollar exhibits the characteristic left-facing Liberty Head motif seen on all issues of this classic dollar series. The central Liberty bust wears a Phrygian cap encircled with a ribbon adorned with the inscription LIBERTY. Miss Liberty also wears a “vegetal” crown of wheat and cotton, which were two of the nation’s most lucrative natural agricultural assets in the 19th century.

The phrase E PLURIBUS UNUM is inscribed along the upper half of the obverse rim, and the date 1887 is centered at the bottom of the obverse adjacent to the rim. Seven stars appear between the left side of the date and the inscription E PLURIBUS UNUM, while six stars fill the gap between the date and motto on the lower right side of the coin. In total, the 13 stars represent the 13 colonies that combined to form the original Union of the United States. At the base of Liberty’s neck is the “M” monogram representing Morgan’s initial.

Morgan designed the Liberty head bust after the likeness of Anna Willess Williams, a Philadelphia schoolteacher who modeled for the coin. Williams received significant public recognition after her face appeared on the Morgan dollar, but she rejected the attention that was heaped upon her. She refused offers for acting roles and apparently had turned down an offer for marriage following her engagement to an unknown suitor. Before dying at the age of 68 in 1926, Williams, who sat for Morgan on the sworn condition of anonymity, rebuffed her single stint as a coin design model as little more than an “incident of [her] youth.”

Reverse:

The reverse of the 1887 Morgan dollar is dominated by a heraldic eagle, its wings spread across the upper half of the coin. Between the upper tips of the eagle’s wings appears the national motto IN GOD WE TRUST. The eagle clutches an olive branch in its right claw representing peace and in its left claw are three arrows symbolizing the nation’s ability to defend itself. The central eagle design is partly encircled by a laurel wreath.

Along the rim of the upper two-thirds of the reverse is the legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, with the tip of the eagle’s left wing (which virtually touches the coin’s rim) penetrating the space between UNITED and STATES; the right wing visually divides the words OF and AMERICA. The words ONE DOLLAR, seen at the bottom center of the reverse, are flanked by a single, six-sided star on either side of the denomination inscription.

Edge:

The edge of the 1887 Morgan dollar is reeded.

Designer

Engraver George T. Morgan was born in Birmingham, England in 1845. He emigrated to the United States and began work as an assistant to Mint Chief Engraver William Barber and continued to produce patterns and commemoratives under the administration of Barber’s son, Charles. Morgan himself became Chief Engraver in 1917. George Morgan died in 1925.

Coin Specifications

Country:  United States
Year Of Issue:  1887
Denomination:  One Dollar (USD)
Mint Mark:  None (Philadelphia)
Mintage:  20,290,000
Alloy:  90% Silver, 10% Copper
Weight:  26.73 grams
Diameter:  38.10 mm
Edge  Reeded
OBV Designer  George T. Morgan
REV Designer  George T. Morgan
Quality:  Business Strike

 

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CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes presents expert analysis and insights from Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker, the award-winning editors of CoinWeek.com.

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6 COMMENTS

  1. Back when the people DEMANDED Congress to include silver and Gold into our monetary system and the required mining of public lands to produce it.

    • Seriously, that ship sailed ages ago. There isn’t enough gold and silver in the world to supply coinage needs. Even if there were, you’d have to get every single country to agree on a fixed price for the metals or there’d be a repeat of 1933 or 1964 on steroids. And why should we destroy public lands?

    • For a coin like this you should work with a certified dealer. If may be a bit more expensive but you’ll be a lot safer. Steer clear of eBay.

  2. I have a coin I inherited .I can’t seem to get aatch anywhere.. but j do know it’s a morgan for she has the m at the bass of her neck . It’s a 5d gold coin.

    • George T. Morgan didn’t design any circulating $5 coins. You may have a pattern, or possibly a fantasy piece. A date and more-detailed description would help to ID it. If that doesn’t work you could take it to a certified dealer for examination.

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