Morgan Dollars are one of the most popular collector coins ever produced. With a total mintage of 86,730,000 pieces across the board, there isn’t a shortage of Morgan Dollars, though there are some very scarce dates and varieties. These are one of the easier coins to grade, partly due to their large size and fairly routine wear patterns. Here is a simple guide to grading circulated Morgan Dollars:
A Good or G4 Morgan Dollar will generally have a full rim, full date and most of the detail will be visible. There may be some letters touching the rim on either side. Very little hair detail will show on the obverse, and the bottom wing feathers will start to show.
VERY GOOD (VG8)
A Very Good, or VG8 Morgan Dollar will show a full rim on both sides. On the obverse more hair detail will begin to show, and the hair curls will start to get more definition. On the reverse, more wing feathers will start to show, though there will be weakness at the top, particularly the top of the left wing feathers. The leaves on the wreath will start to show more definition.
A Fine, or F12 Morgan Dollar is a step above a Very Good. On the obverse, more hair detail will show on the forehead area, and the hair curls will have deeper definition. On the reverse, the right wing should have complete feather detail. The left wing will have most of the feathers visible, though the top 1/4 of the wing will not show full defintiion. If it is complete, you are usually looking at a VF20. The wreath below the eagle will have more definition when compared to a VG8.
VERY FINE (VF20)
A Very Fine, or VF20 Morgan Dollar begins to show even more detail. As you can see when comparing to a F12 specimen, the obverse has more hair definition throughout. The reverse should show full or very nearly full wing feathers on both sides. Pay special attention to the left wing feathers as this is a key grading point. The upper 1/4 of the wing should show all of the wing detail lines, though some may be faint. Often F12 Morgan Dollars are graded and sold as VF20’s. The neck feathers will begin to show some detail, and the eagles breast, while normally does not show any feathers at this grade, will start to show more relief.
EXTRA FINE (XF40)
An Extra Fine, or XF40 Morgan Dollar will begin to show more of the full detail of a Morgan Dollar. On the obverse, all hair curls will show, though there will be even wear on the high points. On the reverse, the wing detail will be sharp on both sides. The neck feathers will usually be complete, though this can be soft due to striking. The breast feathers will usually begin to show, usually just on the edges of the eagle’s breast. Luster may begin to show on some specimens.
ABOUT UNCIRCULATED (AU50)
An About Uncirculated, or AU50 Morgan Dollar is just that, about uncirculated. Light wear will be visible on the high points of the coin. Usually, generous luster will present, though this can vary due to factors such as toning. Luster is not a necessity for an AU50, however most specimens will have luster. All the hair curls will be sharp on the obverse, though there may be weak areas in the hair curls above the ear, as many coins were weakly struck in this area, especially “O” mint (New Orleans minted) Morgans as pictured above. The reverse will show sharp neck feathers and most of the eagle’s breast feathers will also show.
An Uncirculated Morgan Dollar can range in grade from MS60 to MS70, though no MS70 specimens currently exist. All detail will be crisp on both sides, the mint luster will usually be vibrant and there can be absolutely no trace of wear. Mintstate Morgan Dollars are graded by various factors, though the biggest factor is the number of marks on the coin, which are called bag marks. The fewer bag marks on the coin, generally the higher the grade. It also depends where the bag marks are located, as bag marks on the cheek count more against the grade of the coin.
Note: Due to strike, the hair curls above the ear and breast feathers can often be weakly struck. To properly grade a Morgan Dollar, you need to examine all of the detail of the coin, as these areas can make a Morgan look like a lower grade specimen.
True grading is much more technical since the grading system runs on a point system from 1-70, and these are only a few of the grades listed. There are many in-between grades such as Good-6, VG10, F15, VF30, XF45 and more. However, these are the major grades that are used in grading and should be helpful if you are just starting out.