Designer's 'M' Left Off of Only a Few Morgan
By Alan Herbert
there any Morgan dollars without George Morgan’s
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
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
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
Is heat involved in the practice of “sweating” a
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
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.