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Designer's 'M' Left Off of Only a Few Morgan Dollars
By Alan Herbert

Are there any Morgan dollars without George Morgan’s initial?

Other than a few possibly without the “M,” due to a filled or abraded die, there are, according to Breen: “three known 1878 proofs, with 5 berries on olive branch.”

Were others besides Victor D. Brenner criticized for putting their initials on U.S. coins?

James Earle Fraser got flack over the incuse “F” on the Buffalo nickel. The design also was criticized because it lacked a depiction of Liberty.

I think the 1982 half dollars with no initials are a rip off. It looks like someone deliberately scraped them off.

While you may have seen a coin that was altered outside the Mint, on the genuine pieces the abrasions are really die scratches. Actually, the die scratches help prove that the surface of the die was abraded away, removing the designer’s initials in the process. Under a microscope, die scratches are in relief (raised), while abrasion of the coin would be incuse.

Isn’t it a good idea to open and check proof sets received from the Mint?

There’s no premium for an unopened box. It was a fad at one time to leave the boxes unopened, but con artists filled them with rocks and resealed them. It’s always a good idea to check for damaged or defective coins, holders, etc. Of course, you also want to check for valuable minting varieties too.

What is a matte proof surface?

It differs from a mirror proof in that it is applied to the already struck coin. The coins are variously sandblasted or pickled to produce the roughened surface. Some may have had the planchets treated as well, but the effect of this on the struck surface is dubious.

Is it correct that a convicted counterfeiter produced early U.S. coin dies?

Abel Buel had his ear cropped and was branded on the forehead for altering five-shilling notes. Later, he did most of dies for the Connecticut coins and in 1786 he cut the dies for the Fugio cent.

Is heat involved in the practice of “sweating” a coin?

This is one form of sweat that has nothing to do with heat. The ancient and dishonorable practice of sweating coins involved nothing more than putting several coins in a bag and shaking them violently so that tiny fragments of the gold or silver would be chipped or abraded, and then salvaged. The minute loss of weight allowed the sweated coin to be returned to commerce at full value, while the sweater had his fragments for the profit.

Can you quote the figures on those 1964-D Peace dollars that were struck at Denver?

The tally shows 30 trial strikes, 76 die-adjustment strikes, and 316,000 coins struck in anticipation of circulation. The Mint wound up skirting the issue by declaring all of them “trial strikes” and melted them down, refusing to even furnish an example for the Smithsonian collection. As a result, the Mint doesn’t even have a genuine example to compare if one of the coins ever turns up. I suspect that the Mint may have a pair of master dies carefully stashed away for this purpose.

In a question you discussed the problem of counting reeds on the edge of a coin. What about an optical comparator?

I’m familiar with them. However, while it’s possible to pick up a used one fairly cheaply ($400 and up), it would probably be beyond the means or needs of virtually every collector. It’s more of a tool for the dedicated specialist or someone who is doing a lot of authentication work. Needless to say, I wish I had access to one. They are also quite handy for comparing coins to identify matching die characteristics.


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