Heritage World Coin Auctions
Long Beach Signature Sale 1368  13-16 Jun 2024
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Lot 3055

Starting price: 10 001 USD
Price realized: 230 000 USD
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Morgan Dollars
1893-S $1 MS63 PCGS. The 1893-S Morgan dollar is the acknowledged business-strike key to the popular series and Mint State examples are prime condition rarities. In his Silver Dollars and Trade Dollars of the United States, Q. David Bowers notes:

"In Mint State the 1893-S dollar is the most desirable coin in the Morgan series. Over the years it has acquired a special aura, a fame all its own. The offering of even an MS60 coin at auction will inevitably cause a flurry of excitement. When an MS63 or finer coin comes up for bidding, all bets are off - and anything can happen."

Heritage Auctions is privileged to present this impressive MS63 example in this important offering.

1893 - A Landmark Celebration and Economic Turmoil
Several important events took place on the international scene in 1893 that had a profound effect on the history of American numismatics in general, and the Morgan dollar series in particular. The World's Columbian Exposition was held in Chicago in 1893, to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' voyage to the New World. Dedication ceremonies for the event were held on October 21, 1892, but the fairgrounds were not opened to the public until May 1, 1893. The fair continued until October 30, 1893, with more than 27.3 million visitors and delegations from 46 countries attending. The fair was a financial success and interest in coin collecting was greatly increased by the issuance of several commemorative coins that were approved by Congress and sold to the public to raise funds and promote the fair. The 1892 and 1893 Columbian Exposition half dollars and the 1893 Columbian Exposition "Isabella" quarter heralded the start of the popular U.S. commemorative series that greatly increased public awareness and interest in coin collecting in coming years.
In addition, Augustus Heaton published his ground-breaking study on mintmarked issues in 1893. Heaton's Treatise on the Coinage of the United States Branch Mints made detailed information on branch mint issues widely available to collectors for the first time, greatly increasing numismatic interest in the specialty. Heaton briefly mentioned the 1893-S Morgan dollar in his book, but not enough information was available by the time of publication to cover the issue in detail.
Unfortunately, at the same time interest in U.S. numismatics was being stimulated by these events, the world was entering into a period of far-reaching economic turmoil that would not be seen again at this level until the Great Depression. The Panic of 1893 had its roots in the economic policy of bimetallism that was practiced by the United States and many other countries at the time. The Sherman Silver Purchase Act of 1890 (and the Bland-Allison Act of 1878 before that) required the U.S. government to purchase large amounts of silver for coinage every year and issue Treasury notes redeemable in either gold or silver. Specifically, the Sherman Act authorized the Treasury to purchase 4.5 million ounces of silver each month, which amounted to almost the total output from the Western mines at the time. This measure artificially propped up the price of silver, which had been driven down by the increased supply following the discoveries of the Comstock Lode and the later finds in Colorado. With the price of silver steadily falling on the world market, holders of Treasury notes naturally sought to redeem them in gold, which was only increasing in value. Foreign investors and creditors insisted on payment in gold, further exacerbating the situation. This resulted in a dangerous depletion of government gold reserves. The collapse of the Pennsylvania and Reading Railroad and a subsequent stock market crash added to the chaos and national unemployment increased exponentially, with the loss of more than 4 million jobs. Eventually, more than 500 banks would close and over 15,000 businesses would fail. Accordingly, Congress repealed the Sherman Silver Purchase Act on November 1, 1893. Freed from the mandate to produce and store the unneeded millions of silver dollars, all active U.S. Mints drastically reduced production of Morgan dollars in 1893, and mintages remained depressed for several years. Against this background of increased collector interest and dwindling supply, the legendary 1893-S Morgan dollar was produced.

1893-S Morgan Dollar Mintage and Die Varieties
Due to the ongoing financial crisis, the San Francisco Mint struck a series-low business-strike mintage of just 100,000 Morgan dollars in 1893. The coins were all delivered in January, before the full extent of the economic downturn was understood. According to the Annual Report of the Director of the Mint, 30 pairs of silver dollar dies were prepared and sent to the San Francisco Mint for use in 1893. Until recently, most numismatists believed a single pair of dies was used to strike the entire mintage. This conforms well with research by Leroy Van Allen and A. George Mallis that indicates the San Francisco Mint could strike an average of 121,930 silver dollars from a single pair of dies during this time period. However, new research published on the VAMWorld website confirms that a single obverse die was actually combined with two reverse dies to accomplish the production.
The obverse die exhibits a diagonal line from the upper edge of the T in LIBERTY across the crossbar. This line is visible on genuine examples in grades down to the VG level and is an important diagnostic, since many counterfeit examples have been created by adding a mintmark to an 1893 Philadelphia Mint specimen, or altering the date on an 1883-S or 1898-S example. The obverse die shows the date positioned further right than normal, with the 3 placed slightly high. A pair of tiny die gouges are located on the left foot of the R in LIBERTY and there is a faint, nearly horizontal die scratch between the first cotton leaf and the lower wheat stalk. The reverse dies are differentiated by the placement of the mintmark, with VAM-1 showing the letter oriented vertically and positioned slightly closer to the ribbon bow than the letters DO in the denomination. The VAM-2 variety shows the mintmark tilted slightly to the right and positioned a little closer to the letters in the denomination than the ribbon bow. The present coin represents the elusive VAM-2 variety.
The 1893-S was a well-produced issue and Mint State examples are generally sharply struck, with satiny mint luster and relatively few bag marks. Even worn examples usually show good detail. While several Mint State examples show some prooflike qualities, fully Prooflike or Deep Prooflike coins are extremely rare. Currently, only a single Mint State Prooflike specimen has been certified, an MS62 Prooflike example at PCGS (4/24).

Delayed Distribution and Gradual Recognition
The 1893-S Morgan dollar is an elusive issue in all grades today, in the context of the series. Mint State examples are celebrated rarities. The overwhelming majority of examples seen exhibit moderate wear on the design elements, with the most common grade being VF30. From this, it would seem likely that the issue was released into circulation in the late 19th century and suffered the usual wear and attrition over the years. However, some factors argue against this scenario.
There was little commercial demand for silver dollars in 1893, even in the hard-money economy of the American West. Auction appearances of the issue were few and far between in the early 20th century and the coins received little notice in numismatic publications of the time. Writing in The Numismatist in 1925, Morgan dollar collector E.S. Thresher reported searching diligently for an example of the 1893-S since 1919, without success. These circumstances indicate there was only limited distribution of the 1893-S near the time of issue and it is likely that many of the coins held in government storage were melted under the provisions of the Pittman Act in 1918. Q. David Bowers speculates that the remainder of the small mintage was probably released into circulation in the Mountain West in the 1920s and remained there for some time without attracting much notice among collectors. A number of worn specimens turned up in mixed bags of other dates as late as the 1950s, but no large finds or hoards have ever been reliably reported. By the time of the great Treasury releases of the 1960s, the government stockpile was largely depleted, as no bags or large groups were found, although a few worn single examples turned up.
Despite the predominance of circulated specimens, a handful of Gem, or better, examples exists today. PCGS and NGC have combined to certify a total of 67 coins in all Mint State grades, including an unknown number of resubmissions and crossovers (4/24). Nine of those submissions are graded MS65, or better. The earliest auction appearance we have found for the issue is in lot 696 of the William Friesner Collection (Edouard Frossard, 6/1894), where the cataloger simply noted, "1893. Uncirculated." Friesner was the Superintendent of Public Schools for Los Angeles and he specialized in collecting branch mint silver and base-metal issues at an early date. It is likely that he ordered this specimen directly from the San Francisco Mint in 1893. Prominent numismatist John Colvin Randall obtained a high grade specimen from the untested remainder of coins submitted to the Assay Commission in 1894, which was later owned by super collector Louis Eliasberg and now grades MS65 PCGS. The cataloger of the Norweb Collection speculated that the MS66 NGC Norweb coin had been acquired from the Assay Commission in a similar manner. Other Uncirculated examples that surfaced at an early date include the "Uncirculated. Mint luster" specimen H.O. Granberg exhibited at the 1914 ANS Exhibition and sold the following year in lot 1132 of the United States Coin Company's auction of the Collection of a Prominent American, and the "Uncirculated, bright" specimen in lot 55 of the William Woodin Collection (Thomas Elder, 3/1911). It is likely that the extremely rare Gem, or better, coins we know about today were originally acquired directly from the San Francisco Mint or the Assay Commission, and carefully preserved by early collectors like these.
Prominent Morgan dollar specialist John Love reports that a group of 28 Uncirculated 1893-S dollars surfaced in an original Mint bag of primarily 1894-S Morgan dollars that came into a bank in Great Falls, Montana in the early 1960s. The bag was probably packaged early in 1894, and included this small number of coins from the previous year. Love purchased five coins from this group and reports they were sold off one or two at a time over a period of twenty years. Love thinks the coins would probably grade MS63 or MS64 today. Probably many of the Mint State examples in today's market, including the present coin, originated in this group.
Collecting Morgan dollars did not become widely popular until the 1930s and the numismatic community was slow to recognize the elusive nature of the 1893-S. The issue went largely unnoticed in the numismatic press for many years. As seen by the brief descriptions afforded to even high-grade specimens in early auction catalogs, the 1893-S did not cause much excitement in its early public offerings. Prices realized were uniformly small, ranging from the $1.10 realized by the Friesner coin in 1894 to the $4.00 brought by the Woodin specimen in 1915. As late as 1939, a Fine-graded coin in B. Max Mehl's auction of the William B. Hale Collection realized only $2.00 and the 1939 Standard Catalogue of United States Coins listed the price of an Uncirculated specimen at just $3.50.
Things changed dramatically in the following decades, however. It seems likely that the growing popularity of the Nevada gaming industry created increased demand for Morgan dollars in the Western part of the country, causing banks to order more bags from the government stockpile. This, in turn, increased the number of coins in circulation and stimulated collector interest in the series. B. Max Mehl noted the dramatic change in interest in the 1893-S in his description of the coin in lot 589 of Jack Roe's remarkable collection of Morgan dollars in 1945:

"1893 Uncirculated, with full mint luster, perfect in every respect. A real rarity. Very limited coinage. Just to illustrate how some of these rare mintmarks have not been appreciated, this coin catalogs for $20.00, yet I offered $55.00 for a specimen and did not get it. It brought $75.00. And even this record price will, I am sure, seem insignificantly low when collectors wake up to the real rarity of this coin. It is worth and should bring well into the three-figure mark. Considering the number minted, it is next in rarity to the 1870-S which recently brought over $1,500.00."

Mehl's estimates proved prophetic, as the coin realized $132. The Atwater coin sold the next year for $185, and prices realized have continued to grow exponentially ever since. Recent sales include the MS63 PCGS specimen in lot 4155 of the FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2024), that realized $444,000. The finest-known MS67 PCGS example was reportedly purchased privately by the owner of the Coronet Collection for $1.1 million in 2008.

The Present Coin
This spectacular Select specimen exhibits sharply detailed design elements throughout, with a faint peripheral die crack from the second U in UNUM through the first three stars on the right. The lightly marked surfaces show subtle highlights of sea-green, jade-gray, lavender-gray, and amber toning, with satiny luster underneath. A circle of brilliant white surrounds star 2 and some minor roller marks on Liberty's neck can serve as a pedigree marker. The overall presentation is most attractive. This coin will be a welcome addition to the finest collection or Registry Set. The 1893-S Morgan dollar is listed among the 100 Greatest U.S. Coins. Population: 10 in 63, 10 finer (4/24). From The Citizen Bold Collection.


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