Pull up a chair and let's chat about the 1903-O
Morgan Silver Dollar. This little guy (or should we say little gal?)
has one of the most unique price trend histories of the entire universe
of United States coins, so it is worthy of an article all unto itself.
Morgan dollars were minted continuously from 1878 to
1904, and then again in 1921. For decades following the conclusion
of the Morgan series, they were not collected feverishly like they are
today, although there was some significant numismatic value associated
with a handful of dates.
As a prelude to understanding the journey of the 1903-O, first consider
the 1893-S. It is one of the rarest and most valuable of all the Morgan
dollars. In "normal" or "typical" Uncirculated grade (what we call
MS-60 today), the value trend history of the 1893-S Morgan dollar has
been **most** impressive:
In pure financial terms, that's an annual
compounded rate of return of
10.66% since 1950 (that's 65 years!!). Don't we all wish we had a few
of these stashed away somewhere? In any condition, the long term growth
has been stellar, though over the last few years, the 1893-S has
stumbled a bit in lower circulated grades. Don't fret -- the recent
retreat in value actually represents an opportunity for collectors.
[Not to sidetrack the primary topic of this article, but you can get in
on the temporarily reduced prices of the 1893-S on eBay
-- please know
I get a small commission if you buy something]
Now let's turn our attention to the 1903-O Morgan in MS-60. Once upon a
time, it was held in very high esteem by collectors, on par with the
1893-S. Let's take a look at retail values of the 1903-O in MS-60 from
1950 to 2015:
Things were going along swimmingly well from
1950 (and before) to 1960,
but by 1965, values for the 1903-O absolutely cratered, falling 93%.
WTH happened? The scan below is from the 1966 Redbook (released in
1965), showing the
1903-O had fallen to $35.00 in Uncirculated condition.
There is a logical explanation. According to
mint records, a plentiful
4,450,000 silver dollars were struck at the New Orleans Mint in 1903,
meaning it wasn't exactly a rare coin coming out of the starting gate.
Yet most coin dealers had hardly seen a 1903-O Morgan dollar,
especially in Uncirculated condition. Why were there so few examples
seemingly in existence? Where did they all go? Did they perish in the
great silver dollar meltdowns or what? Whatever the cause, the law of
available supply and demand pushed the 1903-O to the highest echelon of
Morgan silver dollar rarity and value.
October 1962 is best remembered for the Cuban
Missile Crisis, when the
world teetered on the verge of global nuclear war.
That same month,
another event, much less threatening, exploded in the numismatic world
with the fury of 100 atom bombs: the Treasury Dept was
releasing to the public millions of Morgan dollars, heretofore hidden
away for decades in government vaults. Many of them were still sealed
in their original mint bags, consisting of 1000 coins each.
By November, there were rumors that "some"
1903-O dollars were included in
the hoard, but soon it was apparent there was a flood of them hitting
the market. Hundreds of thousands of them actually, just as shiny and
new as the
day they were struck. Numismatic scholars no longer had to theorize on
the fate of the "M.I.A." 1903-O dollars. They now knew many of them
never left the
As the supply of 1903-O dollars went from virtually zero to bountiful
abundance, prices plummeted rapidly. What was once selling for $500 to
$1500 fell to $15.00 or less retail within literally a few days. Some
were even fishing them out at banks for face value. Anecdotes abound
this day of unsavory characters moving swiftly to sell 1903-O dollars
at "bargain" prices to buyers who had not yet heard the latest news of
the Treasury release.
The 1903-O was not the only "rare" Morgan Dollar whose identity was
altered. For example, the of 1898-O and 1904-O suffered similar fates,
though not nearly as dramatically as the 1903-O.
The October 1962 Treasury release of Morgan Dollars and the publicity
it generated ushered in what some would call the modern age of Morgan
Dollar collecting. Prior to this event, most Morgans were unloved,
unwanted, and ignored. Their profile now elevated, collectors started
to take more interest in Morgan Dollars, and why not? They had a lot
going for them: historically interesting, esthetically pleasing, a
healthy supply of quantities, dates and varieties to study, with a
bona fide rare dates mixed in.
By 1965, a typical Uncirculated 1903-O was "redbooking" at $35.00. No
longer was this erstwhile rarity to be envied, but neither was it the
very low end, either. It's fair to say the 1903-O had finally found
its correct equilibrium.
In 2015, a 1903-O in MS-60 condition sells somewhere in the $400 range.
Not bad, when one considers nearly half of the Morgan Dollar dates sell
for $100 or less in the same grade. You can choose from a wide assortment of available 1903-O examples on eBay.
But think about this... the 1903-O was once the equal of the lofty
1893-S. Today, it takes about $150,000 to purchase an 1893-S Morgan in
MS-60 Uncirculated condition. Had not the Treasury Department rained on
it's parade, the 1903-O would probably be cruising at above $100,000
today. What a difference a few hundred thousand "discovery" coins
You can extensively study the long range pricing
history of the Morgan
Dollar series by visiting a series of Coin Value Tables we've
researched for our online audience. There is no charge to use the
tables, and no strings whatsoever. We have a downloadable PDF report
available with the same data as the Tables, plus some bonus features.
There is a small charge if you'd like to download the PDF.