In 1970, Congress authorized the General
Services Administration (henceforth called the GSA) to sell to the
public nearly three million Morgan Silver Dollars held in Treasury
Department vaults. The GSA is an agency of the federal government that
oversees the purchase, supply, operation, and maintenance of federal
property, buildings, and equipment. The GSA is also responsible for the
sale of surplus matter.
The first GSA task was to inventory the silver dollar hoard. This was
no small task, since every one of the three million coins had to be
handled and evaluated individually. With the help of numismatic
consultants, each dollar was placed into one of the following groups:
Thus, over 95% of the GSA hoard was from the Carson City Mint, and
nearly all of them were deemed to be Uncirculated. That so many of them
were like new surprised no one, since many hundreds of the silver
dollar mint bags -- containing 1000 coins each -- were never opened. Of
the total Carson City output of Morgan Silver Dollars, 72.5% of them
were preserved in this remarkable stockpile.
The Carson City Mint count, broken down by year, was reported as
Distinctive, clear and black hardened plastic
holders were manufactured to house coins placed in the Uncirculated
categories. Dollars that we judged to be circulated (a much smaller
quantity) were distributed in
thin, "soft pack" flexible plastic sleeves, shielded by blue envelopes.
The GSA planned a series of mail bid auctions. Minimum bid prices for
each date were set, with limits placed on the number of dollars any
bidder could purchase.
The first sale began on October 31, 1972. Three dates were available
for purchase: 1882-CC, 1883-CC, and 1884-CC. The minimum bid was
$30.00. The first GSA sale resulted in a liquidation of 700,000 coins.
Additional sales were held in 1973 and 1974. At
the conclusion of the
sale ending on June 30, 1974, there remained one million unsold silver
dollars in government vaults. GSA officials were disappointed with the
perceived lack of interest from the public. Imagine the frenzied
Internet bidding if such a program were held today!
Another round of GSA sales were held in 1980. At that time, silver
bullion prices were rapidly rising. In this environment, the leftover
dollars sold quickly, with the final sale drawing to a close in July,
1980. At that time, what we view today as the legendary GSA Morgan
Dollar program, entered the history books forever.
Overall, the sales grossed $100 million dollars. The net proceeds were
deposited into the U.S. Treasury.
At the time, many owners considered the GSA holders as a nuisance.
Almost immediately, coins were cracked out of their government issued
holders for easier transportation/storage, and later, for third party
Recall that the vast majority of GSA dollars were deemed to be
Uncirculated. In the early 1970's, grading had not evolved to the level
of specificity we use today. What we might call MS-60's were lumped
together with MS-67 examples. Most buyers had no control over what they
received. As the years wore on and MS quality increasingly influenced
pricing, it was clear some original GSA dollar buyers were luckier than
others, in that they randomly received coins that today reside at the
upper end of the grading scale.
In 2004, one of the leading coin grading companies, Numismatic Guaranty
Corporation (better known as NGC), began grading GSA dollars in their
original holders. The NGC grade was designated by a sticker affixed to
the GSA holder. This move also had the benefit of accumulating
population data, i.e. how many of each GSA dollar dates were being
graded, giving us some data for assessing survivorship and scarcity.
As the GSA dollars continued to establish an
identity of their own,
many collectors were willing to pay more for a coin in an original GSA
holder. For example, an 1890-CC in a GSA holder could sell for more
than the same coin in another holder. Taking note of this, beginning in
around 2006-07, several major coin publications started providing
separate lines for GSA dollars in their price guides.
How much of a premium are collectors of today willing to pay for a
Morgan Dollar housed in an authentic GSA holder? Let's analyze the 10
core dates of the GSA sales, consisting of all the Carson City dollars,
with the exception of the 1889-CC, 1892-CC, and 1893-CC (only one
example of each of these three dates was found in the three million
Combining and averaging price data in November 2014 from a variety of
better known numismatic publishers, this is what we found:
In lower Mint State grades, the GSA premiums are
small for the Carson
City Dollars dating from the 1880's, the most common dates of the
hoard. This smallness disappears as you progress upward along the MS
scale. For example, for the 1884-CC in MS-60, the GSA premium is barely
a trickle, at 2.5%. However, in MS-67, the added value for an example
in an original GSA holder skyrockets to 228%!
For "CC" mintmarked coins from the 1870's and 1890's, the GSA premiums
are staggering, across the entire MS spectrum. Some GSA dates are
selling for multiples of their non-GSA equivalents. For example, in
September 2014, an 1879-CC Morgan Dollar in its original black plastic
holder sold for $42,770.90. The ballpark price for the same date in
similar quality not housed in a GSA holder is closer to $30,000.
[Side note: The GSA dispersed most of their 1879-CC dollars in
February 1974 for an average winning bid of $478.39].
GSA Dollars sellers tend to get higher prices if they have the original
shipment materials intact, including the numbered certificate. As is
always the case in collectibles, the better the condition, the greater
Now that we've established GSA premiums are real, let's now focus on
why the premiums exist. As is nearly always the case in collectible
values, the law of Supply & Demand comes into play.
First, let's discuss the supply. As we have already mentioned, GSA
plastic was not well-liked by dealers or collectors for decades and
were discarded with great regularity. No one has an exact number, but
it seems certain GSA holder survivorship is relatively small compared
to the original quantity issued. Thus, not only are there not many GSA
dollar holders surviving, their number is a very undersized subset of
the total universe of Morgan Dollars. Absolutely, the supply of GSA
dollars is quite limited.
Next, consider the demand. Morgan Dollars are popular collectibles to
begin with, but now factor in additional layers of desirability: GSA
holders are genuinely scarce, and the vast majority of them house coins
from the esteemed (especially in the eyes of collectors) Carson City
Mint. Buyers are willing to pay a premium if they are convinced the
extra investment will sustain its value and possibly increase over
time, thus driving demand. GSA premiums have been around for a long
time now, so there is little risk to buyers of being caught up in a
Personally, I think there may be another element boosting the status of
GSA dollars. My observations here are totally unscientific, just a gut
feel on my part. I was born in 1959, which puts me on the tail end of
the Baby Boom generation. Boomers today make up a significant portion
of the U.S. coin collector base. Speaking for myself, GSA dollars evoke
emotion, summoning up memories of my youth and of a nation society long
gone. I believe I am far from alone in my feelings.
For me, GSA dollars are a visible connection to the past. reminding me
of a simpler, carefree time in life. During the few short years when
the GSA Dollar program was active, personal computers, email, smart
phones, and political correctness were things no one had ever heard of.
Heck, if I had to, I could still operate a rotary phone, Polaroid
camera, or a slide rule. Can you Gen X'ers and Millennials dig it?
By the millions, Americans flocked to movie
theaters to watch "The Sting" or "Paper Moon". I was there too. Rarely
did I miss an episode
of "The Brady Bunch" or "Sanford and Son". Even today, when I reminisce
on Fred G. Sanford, a warm feeling overcomes me and I may burst out in
laughter, or shed a tiny tear or two.
The lyrics "Don't Rock the Boat, Baby" helped break the boredom of a
teenager mowing his grandparents' lawn on
a hot summer day. Back then, my favorite baseball team, the "Big Red
Machine" was a perennial contender to reach the World Series. Johnny
Bench, Pete Rose, and those guys, they were really BAD. (translation:
back then, BAD, when used in this way, actually meant GOOD) Ahh, those
were the days.
There's more. If you look on the inside of a GSA box, you'll see a
greeting from Richard Nixon. Just hearing the former president's name
unleashes a torrent of memories. Remember when all three TV channels
carried the Watergate hearings live? At times, the non-stop coverage
was frustrating because there was nothing else to watch on TV. Now I
remember the headlines nostalgically, though at the same time I wonder
where have all the presidential investigative reporters gone today?
The final Apollo lunar mission. The end of the
Vietnam War. The
jubilant return of American POW's. The Saturday Night Massacre. The
OPEC oil embargo. Streaking. Vice-President Gerald Ford. The
Resignation. All are wistful remembrances occurring in parallel with
the GSA program.
By now, some of you groovy cats are probably wanting me to close the
shades; this old toad is just too far out. I should just buzz off and
split the scene, since I am really out to lunch on this one (sorry,
more 1970's lingo).
knows sentimentality has nothing to do with what's going down with the
GSA dollars, correct? In reality, those of you who hold that belief are
right on: the presence of GSA premiums are based on fundamental
economic principles, not emotion. That's good news for collectors. Yet
at the same time, I don't think I'm completely full of jive, either. I
would like to hear what others have to say on this topic.