Grading Peace Dollars

By Ron DrzewuckiModern Coin Wholesale …..
 

As a professional coin grader for most of my career, I can tell you that for as complex as the Morgan dollar is – and it is – the Peace dollar really takes the cake for being a difficult coin to grade.

It’s not that graders don’t know how to grade Peace dollars. Of course they do. It’s just that this coin, more than any other silver dollar, requires the grader to balance pros and cons.

There are beautiful Peace dollars that are virtually flawless, just like there are masterpieces in the Louvre. But similarly, that type of coin pops up very infrequently.

For the rest of the coins in the series, grading is a give-and-take.

It’s important to accept this before you move too far into the series. It’s also why the question “which grade of [insert coin series here] should I collect?” requires a good understanding of what exactly you’re getting yourself into with any coin at each grade.

Sticking with our populist friends MS-63 and MS-65, let’s start with the obvious: price.

ms63peace1
A Peace dollar in MS63. Note the prevalence of abrasions.

At MS-63 there are difficult coins but no real stoppers. All of the key dates can be found for a couple thousand dollars and most of the rest cost a little over spot to a couple hundred dollars. This isn’t a set that you complete by accident in MS-63, but it’s doable for most collectors.

The story takes a turn at MS-65. Whereas at MS-63 you have four $2,000 to $3,000 coins to contend with, at MS-65 you have 15 coins at $1,500 and up; three of them approach $10,000 and two sell for between $20,000 and $30,000. So clearly, if you’re buying at this grade with the intent to complete the set, you’re putting a significant investment into your numismatic portfolio.

What do you get at MS-63?

At MS-63, you’re looking at a coin with a number of contact marks in the fields and devices–some more egregious than others. The coins can be originally brilliant or brilliant from being dipped. Luster can be strong, creamy, or dull. Strike can be weak to moderate. The condition of the dies will vary. In the common dates (1922, 1923, and 1925), you’ll easily be able to do better. For scarcer dates (like the aforementioned 1928, 1934-S and 1924-S–plus the 1927-S), good luck.

At MS-65… well, much like a teenager’s relationship status, it’s complicated.

Let’s get this out of the way first: there are ugly Peace dollars correctly-graded at MS-65. There are even correctly-graded specimens in MS-66 that would still need to sneak up on their bath water. Grading this series is about allowances, and every grader tries to weigh (as accurately as they can) the high and low points of a coin.

What are they? Connoisseur collectors want a clean face. They want a nice strike. They want the bird to be clear of any major hits. They want the fields on the obverse to be clean as well.

They want it all.

(And they collect Peace dollars? Coin collectors are such masochists sometimes, aren’t we?)

Unfortunately, even CAC-approved 65s (66s, too) may be weak in any one of these areas and still be a nice coin. Most Peace dollars aren’t hammered well (look at that hair again). And most Peace dollars have been knocked around during their time in mint bags and on the casino floor.

ms65peace
A typical example in MS65. Better examples for the grade will come at a premium.

A true gem-quality 65 with “+” eye appeal will cost you well over published guide. There’s just not enough of them around to satisfy demand, especially in the rare dates.

I recently made a number of high-grade rare date Peace dollars and I don’t think they’re going to be sticking around too long.

So as a buyer, and one going into the series in a big way, the best thing to do is exercise that patience I ramble on about and talk to an expert. I can’t stress that enough. Set reasonable goals and be straightforward with what you want. That way, we can both enjoy the hunt.

One last thing…

Grading coins is an “art”, not a “science”. Not everyone is going to see the same thing when they look at a coin (we’ll assume good faith for our purposes here), and graders are no different. There are a number of overgraded Peace dollars out there in MS-65 so be careful. Being a price buyer on high-end coins is a great way to lose money–especially when you try to sell the coins and they don’t have the market appeal that you thought they had.

On some issues, like the 1928-S, the difference between a 64 and a 65 can be upwards of anywhere from $10,000 to $15,000. Is that the kind of chance you want to take?

-Ron
 


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