If you’ve ever been interested in collecting Morgan Silver Dollars, there’s no better time to start than now. First minted in 1878, the coin’s design is considered to be a masterpiece of engraving. As such, the Morgan Silver Dollar has always been popular with collectors. Combine that with the rising price of silver, and they’re becoming quite the sound investment.
Before you get out there and start hunting, though, you’re going to need to have a workable knowledge of coin grading. If this is your first foray into collecting, you may have no idea how to grade Morgan Silver Dollars, and that’s fine! The art of coin grading is a skill best learned through practice, practice, and more practice.
When grading coins, collectors employ the Sheldon numismatic grading scale. Running from 1 to 70, with “Poor” being 1 and “Mint State” being 70, this scale helps indicate the degree of degradation or wear on any coin in particular. At its most basic, there are a few key characteristics that collectors look for when grading coins. In this crash course, you’ll learn what to look for in a coin as well as how to grade Morgan Silver Dollars with it.
Date and Mintmark
The date and mintmark on a coin are basic pieces of production information included within the design. They tell you when the coin was made and which mint it came from. When learning how to grade Morgan Silver Dollars, being able to find the date and mintmark is crucial. On the lowest quality coins, Poor and Fair, the text will be barely present, sometimes even nearly faded away.
As you go higher in the scale, the information will become more and more legible. With Almost Good to Very Good coins the date will be clear, with varying degrees of wear on the text itself. Fine and above coins will display both clearly, with less and less flattening as you approach Fine, Almost Uncirculated, and Mint State. A mintmark and date are bare minimum details to look for when grading a coin, so ensure you can locate them before adding one to your collection.
In minting, the legend describes the lettering that circles around the coin. On a Morgan Silver Dollar, the legend consists of “E. Pluribus Unum” around Liberty’s head and “The United States of America” around the eagle. The raised nature of this inscription can lead to wear and degradation, the finer details of the words lost as they shuffle and shake within bags and wallets.
With a Poor or Fair quality coin, the legend will be completely or nearly completely gone. About Good to Good coins will still have a legible legend, although with some flattening and merging with the rim. On higher-grade coins, the legend should be clear and easily readable, clearly distinct from the rim.
Rim Wear or Blending
As a coin is circulated, the detail around the rim will tend to wear down. Heavy rim wear is commonly seen at About Good levels, blending and merging into the words in the legend. At Good, the rim will still display wear into the tops of the legend lettering and a few weak spots but is otherwise complete. Very Good quality coins will have a complete rim, with little or no weak points to be found. The more complete and distinct the rim of the coin, the better the grade it will have.
Detail on Liberty and the Eagle
A large part of determining how to grade Morgan Silver Dollars is paying a close eye to the finer details of the design. From Poor to Good, you’re largely painting in broad strokes. You’ll be looking for things like how the lettering has been worn away or how distinct the rim is.
The major details are all very important, but at higher levels, you need an eye for the minute parts of the coin. This is where you turn a more critical eye to the depiction of Liberty and the eagle. Unlike the boldly stamped legend or date, Liberty and the eagle both contain much more delicate features. By looking for what’s there—or, rather what should be there—you can more accurately grade a Morgan Silver Dollar.
Looking at Liberty, you should pay close attention to her hair. If you reference a Mint State version of the coin, you’ll see just how finely detailed her hair and face are. The smoother or flatter she appears, the lower grading the coin will earn. Likewise, with the eagle on the reverse. The details of the feathers and arrows in its talons can shift the grade depending on what remains. Be aware of certain high points on the design, like the hair just above the forehead of Liberty or the tips of the eagle’s wings, where wear is common on even higher graded coins.
Luster refers to the satin-like shine imparted to a coin through the minting process. This is usually only seen in coins graded at Almost Uncirculated or above, although small traces of it can be found on coins of Extra Fine grading. Even though luster is only found on rarer, well-preserved coins, it’s still an important part of how to grade Morgan Silver Dollars.
You can determine the quality of the luster on a coin by passing light over it at different angles. This will help you find any dull spots or break in the luster on the surface of the coin. A Mint State coin will have virtually no imperfections in its luster, whereas lower-graded coins will display either some breaks, wear, or no remaining luster at all.
The more Morgan Silver Dollars you look at, the easier it will become to grade them. It’s all about familiarity, knowing what the ideal version of the design is, and being able to assess how much the one right in front of you stacks up to it. And never forget, you’re not alone. If you’re ever at a loss for how to grade a coin, there are plenty of resources and experts out there. Like Swiss America, many professionals are more than willing to lend a hand.