By Steven Cochran for Gainesville Coins ……
The 1888 Morgan silver dollar is best known for its interesting die varieties. For collectors of rare varieties and error coins, this is certainly a key date in the Morgan dollar series.
What is an 1888 Silver Dollar Worth?
Here is a table of average prices for 1888 Morgan dollars in various grades. Included are two popular 1888-O Morgan varieties: “Scarface” and “Hot Lips“.
A total of 19,183,000 dollars were minted in Philadelphia in 1888. Average prices can be deceiving on this mintage, as quality varied widely in Philadelphia that year. That is a problem more often associated with the branch mints – New Orleans especially.
Regardless of where they were minted, all Morgan dollars contain 0.77344 troy ounces of pure silver and measure 38.1 mm in diameter.
The 1888-O silver dollar saw a mintage of 12,150,000 coins. Like most silver dollars from this mint, many of the 1888-O Morgans show abrasions from rough handling in storage bags.
Due to the average weak strike on this coin–another trait unfortunately seen on many New Orleans Morgan dollar mintages–1888-O Morgans in higher grades go for a bit more than their Philadelphia counterparts.
The Hot Lips and Scarface Morgan Dollars
The big claim to fame for the 1888-O is that the mintage includes two of the most famous (and favorite) Morgan dollar varieties: The “Scarface” and “Hot Lips” dollars.
Both of these are considered VAM Morgan dollars. VAMs are special die varieties that are extremely appealing to coin collectors, with “VAM” being an acronym of the names of the numismatists that discovered and documented many of the variety coins: Leroy Van Allen and A. George Mallis.
Each variety is identified by a number. Another less well-known 1888-O variety is the “Shooting Star“.
The 1888-O “Scarface” Morgan Dollar
The “Scarface” Morgan dollar was caused by an obverse die break that starts at the upper-left edge, near the dot between the E and PLURIBUS. The crack runs diagonally down and to the right, making a “scar” across the nose and cheek of Liberty. The length and depth of the crack/scar can vary, depending on how close the die was to failing completely when the coin was struck. This variety is catalogued as VAM 1B.
The 1888-O “Hot Lips” Morgan Dollar
The “Hot Lips” Morgan dollar displays a heavy doubled die that is most pronounced on Liberty’s lips. On some examples, a complete second set of lips can be seen over the original top lip. This coin was a large factor in taking VAMs mainstream. It is classified as VAM 4.
What is a “doubled die”?
Coin dies are made by impressing the design into the die using a die hub. Until very recently, it took several impressions to completely transfer the design onto the die. If the die shifted slightly during this process, you could get a second, offset impression of the design. If the error isn’t caught and the die is put to use, then the resulting “doubled” design was transferred to the coins made with it.
How Much is an 1888-S Morgan Silver Dollar Worth?
Only 657,000 dollars were struck at the San Francisco Mint. This low mintage makes the coin relatively scarce compared to the Philadelphia and New Orleans Morgans struck the same year (not counting the “Scarface” and “Hot Lips” varieties).