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Grading Grading Hints on the Morgan Dollar

by Bill Fivaz, NLG (Presented by Mark Watson, WINS#13)

(Part 5 of 5)

As we've learned on the other series, eye appeal is the key factor in grading the Morgan Dollar. The following observations may apply to any series, but are especially applicable to Morgans.

Prior to slabs, a "new" coin was either UNC or GEM - if not one, it was the other. In the 1979 / 80 market madness, any coin better than an UNC was sold as a GEM… I bought them, you bought them, we all bought them.

ANACS started authentication services in 1972, with grading (photocerts) following in 1978, NCI (Heritage) came along in 1984, PCGS, the first to encapsulate coins, in 1986, NGC the next year, in 1987, and others such as SEGS and ICG followed.

Slabs have brought a definite degree of grading agreement among dealers and collectors, but still, with grading being so subjective, it is not perfect. The Nov 1988 CDN summary stated: "Grade numbers are not an absolute, and never have been… they are nothing more than "shorthand" for referring to a relative price between two relative grades." Like them or not, numbers are far better than the adjectival descriptions used by dealers prior to their use… sexy and provocative terms such as "wonder coin," "blazer," "wowzer," and my personal all-time favorite, "Godzilla!"

What we have learned in the previous three series may be directly applied to the grading of Morgan Dollars.

Look for a change of color on the high spots of the obverse and reverse (hair over Liberty's ear, eagle's breast) to denote wear. The obverse fields will also be an excellent area to show this color difference (loss of luster), as on the Walking Liberty half.

Eye appeal is critical, as on any series. If it doesn't look nice naked eye, you're not going to like it under the loupe.

Luster is the most important factor in eye appeal, and collectors that can recognize original luster are light years ahead of those who cannot. Different dates often have different types of luster, so learn what a particular date should look like and make your decision.

Being a large, heavy coin, it is susceptible to contact marks, especially after having been stored and shipped in $1000 bags. Remember that this is another portrait coin, with the prime focal area being the face, especially the cheek area. The location and severity of these marks are a major factor in determining a final grade in this series.

Strike is the least important factor, but must be considered. Certain Morgan Dollars, particularly most from the New Orleans mint, are weakly struck, and the services factor this into their grading formula. Excessive weakness will certainly reduce the grade of any coin.

Many numismatists have a mindset that any coin grading less than MS-65 is an inferior coin. There is quality in every grade. Should a MS-64, especially a high end MS-64, be considered a "good buy" compared to the one-point higher MS-65? In most cases, the answer is an emphatic "Yes!" What is a MS-64 coin? At first glance, it looks like a MS-65 (if it's your coin, it is a MS-65!), until you find that you have trouble selling it as such for a few months, and then the unwelcomed realization sets in that it's just a mark away or doesn't have quite enough luster for a MS-65.




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