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Silver Sleepers: Dollars and Halves With Potential
By Mark Benvenuto, Coins Magazine
July 14, 2010

This article was originally printed in Coins Magazine.
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One of the facets of this hobby that everyone loves is the sleeper—a coin that is undervalued. Honestly, is there anyone out there who doesn’t like to purchase a coin and then find it is wonderfully below what its value should be? Of course not. A good find is like getting a birthday present anytime during the year. Yet right now, with the economy having taken a few very hard, very recent hits, and the price of gold and silver being high, a person has to wonder if there are any sleepers left. I believe there are. Here, for your viewing pleasure, are three popular coin series and a few choice sleepers from each. Enjoy.



Morgan Silver Dollars

Morgan silver dollars are perennial collector favorites, and so it might seem that this is an odd place to look for sleepers. After all, one can imagine that every date and mintmark within this series has been looked at and examined over and over again. But even if that is so, there remain a few dates and mintmarks that have some growth potential. I’ve found several toward the end of the series that appear to fit the bill.

First, let’s established what might be called a high and low limit, as far as mintages and prices go. The high mintage is well represented by the 1890-O with almost 11 million coins to its tally. There’s no way a coin like this will ever be anything but common. Prices for this date are $23 in Extremely Fine and $63 in Mint State-60.

On the low end of things, the 1894 comes in with only 110,972 coins and price tags of $1,650 in EF and $3,650 in MS-60. No matter how the coin market moves, this date will always qualify as a key or semi-key date for the series.

Where the later Morgans start to get interesting is with the 1893. It stacks up only 378,792 coins and has price tags of $300 in EF and $700 in MS-60. It is by no means a cheap silver dollar, but look at the prices compared to the 1894. It is only about four times more common than that more scarce date, yet the prices have plummeted. It’s not all the way down there in price with the common Morgans, but there is some serious potential for the list prices to rise if the market heats up.

Another date where this appears is the 1899. Actually, with 330,846 coins produced on that final year of the 1800s, it’s a bit less common than the just mentioned 1893. Though its $220 price tag in EF and $295 price in MS-60 make it even more of a sleeper. Once again, it’s not a super cheap coin. But it has some serious growth potential should it wake up.

Now, perhaps a note of caution is in order here. If you are going to start paying hundreds of dollars for a single Morgan dollar, and you want to be sure of its grade, buy one that has been encapsulated by a third-party grading service (even if it is only an MS-60). It may seem obvious, but you don’t want to plop down several hundred dollars on a raw coin that you and a dealer both consider to be MS-60 only to find that when you try to sell it someone else thinks it’s an About Uncirculated coin. The expression “better safe than sorry” might have first been uttered with a situation like this in mind. Be cautious.

A further Morgan dollar that warrants a look is the 1893-O. It has only 300,000 coins to its total, and it is valued at $620 in EF and $2,250 in MS-60.

Now that may not seem like much of a sleeper, especially when compared to the 1893 with its comparable mintage. But keep in mind the prices for the low-end coin I mentioned at the outset, the 1894. When viewed in this light you can see that the 1893-O can still go up in value somewhat. The higher prices might simply be a reflection of that O mintmark.

Believe it or not, there is actually a Carson City silver dollar I can add to a sleepers list of Morgans. The 1893-CC was produced to the tune of 677,000 coins (which is actually pretty high for a Carson City run) and commands prices of $1,850 in EF and $3,450 in MS-60.

OK. That’s certainly not a cheap coin. But when it is compared to other CC-marked pieces, it comes out as a coin with some room to grow. As well, it doesn’t look too bad when compared against the other three we’ve already seen, considering how much of a premium people are willing to pay for any piece that comes out of Carson City.



Peace silver dollars

As mentioned, the prices for the Morgan silver dollars we just looked at weren’t all that inexpensive, even though the dates and mintmarks we checked out, I believe, do qualify as sleepers. If we want to stay with silver dollars, and want to get to more reasonable price tags that will let us sleep well at night, perhaps there are some dates to be had among Peace dollars. As before, we need a high and a low mark for the series. That’s pretty easy for this design which has 51.7 million coins tagged to the 1922 issue from Philadelphia and only 360,649 for the key date in this short series, the rather famous 1928. Common Peace dollars cost about $20 in EF and $25 in MS-60. That 1928 is listed as a $400 coin in EF and $495 in MS-60.

The next two dates within the Peace dollars that are the least common are the 1927 and 1927-S, each with just under 900,000 coins to its tally. The 1927 rings in with prices of $33 and $70 for the two grades I’ve focused on, and the 1927-S, with the marginally higher mintage, costs $35 and $148 in EF and MS-60, respectively.

In both cases these prices are very favorable when compared to the common-date coins, and much lower than the prices for the key date. These might be good pieces to add to your collection. The next two up on the totem pole of mintage figures are the 1934 and the 1927-D. They both run about $30 in EF, while the 1934 tags in at $120 in MS-60 and the 1927-D commands $148 for the same grade—even though it is somewhat more common. You see, the 1934 has 954,057 pieces to its name, while the 1927-D has 1,268,900. It seems then that there is one definite and one possible sleeper in this duet.

The last date in the Peace series that might qualify as a sleeper is the 1925-S. With 1.6 million coins, there might be too many of them overall for this to be a true sleeper. After all, 1.6 million of anything makes it pretty common. But with an EF price of $29 and an MS-60 price of $75, the overall costs are low enough that there may very well be room for this coin to go up in value in the future. Plus, adding one of these to your collection is hardly going to break the bank.



FBL Franklin half dollars

If all the nuances of grading and comparing mintage totals for Morgan and Peace dollars seems either too much or too boring for you, or perhaps the prices were a bit high for you, maybe the series to look at in some detail is the high end of the Franklin half dollars. This relatively short series of 50-cent pieces is intriguing in that there are quite a few sleepers squirreled away amid the very special full bell line specimens.

For anyone unfamiliar with the details of the series, the Liberty Bell that dominates the reverse of these halves did not always strike up to its fullest extent. Serious aficionados of these coins pay premiums for coins that show all the bell lines with none of them struck softly enough that there is blending from one line to another. Many coin price listings have a special column for a mint state grade with “FBL” listed with it. The prices I’m going to focus on will all be MS-65 FBL coins.

Two dates that are on the low end of the population reports when it comes to MS-65 FBL Franklins are the 1952-S and the 1953. The first is scarce enough that it commands a price of $1,500. That’s a lot of your own half dollars that you’ll have to part with to get your mitts on just one of these. Not much better is the second, the 1953 that is, with a $1,000 tag attached to it in MS-65 FBL.

Four-figure prices like that are enough to scare most of us away pretty quickly. After all, there are plenty of attractive Franklin halves that cost less than $50 (although they’re not FBL examples). But for those who want to dig deeper into the series, a pleasant surprise comes with the 1957. For a FBL specimen you only need to part with $100. That’s not too bad.

The 1958 isn’t much worse, as it carries a $110 label. The 1956 goes a little bit higher, to $125. The 1955 climbs a bit higher still, to $140. But even though the numbers are climbing, you can see that these four coins don’t have that big a spread. That’s good news for anyone who wants to put together a short set of extremely good looking Franklins that have the best possible strike.

I will add one more Franklin half to the FBL list, the 1948. It does cost $190, which is higher than the first four I listed as possible sleepers. But it is the first date of the series and that gives it a primacy of place. Should sleeping silver wake up, this coin could really jump. Now, a final word about the Franklins is probably in order. Whenever you go looking for sleepers you have to be patient. There’s no guarantee that any undervalued item is going to wake up at all and certainly none that it will wake up on command.

Whether you are an investment shark, or a pure collector, there do appear to be some attractive dates and mintmarks within three classic series of U.S. silver coins. Even though we are in tough economic times right now, there still may just be some excellent coins out there to be added to a growing collection—coins with some serious growth potential. Good luck growing your collection.



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