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Lord Baltimore Morgan Dollar Set
By Greg Reynolds

On Wed., July 30, a set of Morgan Silver Dollars traded at the ANA Convention in Baltimore for $2.035 million. Morgans were minted from 1878 to 1904, and again in 1921. While the focus here is on the nature of this set, options for acquiring Morgan Dollars that are dramatically less expensive will also be discussed.

Most Morgan Dollars are not expensive and a low-grade set can be assembled for less than $20,000. Indeed, there are many Morgan Dollars that are not rare in most grade ranges, but are extremely rare in MS-65 and higher grades; these are ‘condition rarities.’ A Morgan Dollar set becomes extremely expensive when the buyer seeks these condition rarities.

All of the coins in this set are graded as MS-65 by either the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) or the Numismatic Guaranty Corp. (NGC), except ten or so dates that are graded MS-66. Usually, a ‘date’ refers to the combination of the year on the coin and the location of the Mint that manufactured the coin.

This set had an 1880-O (New Orleans Mint) Morgan that is PCGS graded MS-65. While the PCGS has graded more than 7500 1880-O Morgans in total, including more than one thousand in MS-64 grade, only twenty-three have been graded MS-65 and zero have been graded higher than MS-65. This total of twenty-three may represent fewer than sixteen different coins, as some may have been re-submitted in hopes of receiving a MS-66 grade.

While finding an 1880-O is easy, finding one that is PCGS certified MS-65 may be very difficult. An 1880-O may sell for around $25 in EF-40 grade. Over the last two years, several PCGS graded MS-64 1880-O Morgans have been auctioned, and most realize a price in the range of $1495 to $2300. A PCGS graded MS-65 1880-O could bring anywhere from $18,000 to $40,000 at auction in the middle of 2008, though none have been auctioned since Jan. 2007.

Most (or all?) of the coins in this set were acquired privately rather than at auction. This set was assembled by an anonymous collector known as “Lord Baltimore.” He was guided by Bob Green, who is the president of Park Avenue Numismatics.

The first coin in the set was acquired in 2001. The last coin was obtained at the Winter FUN Convention in Orlando in January 2008.

This last coin is an 1895-O (New Orleans Mint) Morgan that is PCGS graded MS-65, and is currently valued at “$195,000” in the PCGS price guide, and at more than $200,000 by another leading guide. (Coins are graded on a scale from 0 to 70, including eleven “Mint State” grades from 60 to 70.) It is typical for an MS-65 grade Morgan to be worth three to five times as much as an MS-64 grade coin of the same date. The PCGS guide, though, values an MS-64 grade 1895-O at $87,500, almost half as much as an MS-65 grade 1895-O.

This same PCGS price guide values an 1890-O at $375 in MS-64, at $1850 in MS-65, and at just $29 in AU-55 grade. The Lord Baltimore set had an 1890-O and an 1890 Philadelphia Mint Morgan are both PCGS graded MS-65.

An 1890 Philadelphia Mint Morgan is worth $150 at most in MS-64 grade, yet, on five occasions, PCGS graded MS-65 1890 Morgans have sold for more than $2000 at auction. As the Lord Baltimore Morgan Dollar collection was offered as a set, Green did not price the coins individually.

This Lord Baltimore set contained a PCGS graded MS-65 1892-S, which may be the second scarcest business strike in the Morgan Dollar series, after the 1893-S. There are maybe fewer than ten thousand 1892-S Morgans in existence, certainly less than twenty thousand. Most, however, circulated. This date is very rare in grades of MS-60 or higher. The PCGS has only certified thirteen that grade MS-65 or higher. The last time that a PCGS graded MS-65 1892-S sold at ‘auction’ was in a DLRC Internet-Only event in October 2007, for $142,382! The Lord Baltimore 1892-S was valued at a higher level by the buyer of the set.

This Lord Baltimore Morgan set was missing only two dates in the Morgan Dollar series, an 1884-S and an 1886-O, both of which are not rare in lower grades, but are extremely rare in MS-65 or higher grades. A nice Very Fine-20 grade 1886-O is worth $30 or so. An 1886-O in MS-64 grade may have a retail value of around $11,000, while a true, solid MS-65 grade 1886-O probably has a retail value in the range of $175,000 to $275,000! The PCGS has graded just three as MS-65, and one ‘Deep Mirror Prooflike’ 1886-O as “MS-67.” The difficulty in acquiring an MS-65 grade 1886-O was a factor in Lord Baltimore ending his quest to finish the set.

Bob Green relates that there are three reasons why Lord Baltimore decided to sell his Morgan Dollar set.

1) “Neither a MS-65 [grade] 1886-O nor an 1884-S has been available in a long time, and we were not expecting either to be available soon.” Lord Baltimore “had a goal; he wanted to complete the set.”

2) “Although he is disappointed” that he did not complete his Morgan set, Lord Baltimore wishes “to go in a different direction and start a new set in an area that we believe is [currently] undervalued.” His new objective will be kept secret, for now.

3) Green emphasizes that Morgan Dollars “have gone up a lot over the past few years. Some Morgans have nearly doubled in value.” Green advised Lord Baltimore that “the Summer [2008] ANA was a good place and time” to offer this Morgan set. While Lord Baltimore is a serious, dedicated collector, “he is also an investor.” Green reveals that Lord Baltimore “paid just south of $1.5 million for this set,” and Green made only a “small profit” when the set was sold at the ANA Convention. So, it seems that Lord Baltimore netted in the neighborhood of a half million dollars.

Green also reveals that he “paid one million dollars for seven NGC” certified scarce date Morgans “at last year’s ANA Convention.” The Lord Baltimore 1893-S and his 1889-CC (Carson City, Nevada Mint) Morgan were among the seven, as were an 1893-O, an 1897-O and a 1901, all of which are NGC graded MS-65. For an 1897-O in MS-65 grade, the price guide Numismedia.com lists a wholesale value of “$42,500” and a “retail price” of “$56,500.” In the recent Heritage ANA auction, a different 1889-CC Morgan, which is also NGC graded MS-65, realized $287,500. An NGC certified MS-65 1893-S probably has a retail value of more than $500,000. The actual price of such an 1893-S dollar would depend, in large part, upon the aesthetic and technical characteristics of the individual coin.

Although Lord Baltimore did not entirely accomplish his objectives in building his set of Morgans, he did fulfill his goals when he collected Saint Gaudens Double Eagles ($20 gold coins). His set of business strike Saints is the second all-time finest in the PCGS registry. For years, it was called the “Lord Baltimore” set. After Lord Baltimore sold the set to Bob Green in March or April 2005, Green renamed it the “Park Avenue Collection.” It should not be confused with another set of Saints in the PCGS registry called the “Park Avenue 2 Collection” which is not the same.

The Lord Baltimore-Park Avenue [#1] Collection of Saints was retired from the PCGS registry on April 4, 2005. It was “100% complete” in business strike Saints and included the 1927-D that was earlier in the Richmond Collection. The 1927-D is the rarest Saint. Yes, my guess is that it is rarer than the 1933 Saint.

It is my impression that the Lord Baltimore-Richmond 1927-D was even earlier in the Charles Kramer collection, or at least included in the 1988 auction of the Kramer collection. It was certainly auctioned by DLRC in New York in July 2004. It is curious that the cataloguer of the Richmond 1 sale provided a roster of 1927-D Saints yet did not identify the Richmond 1927-D as one of those listed. Paul Simonetti reports that he bought it from Green, for more than one million dollars, during the summer of 2005 and sold it to a client. Simonetti was then employed by Superior Galleries and now works for Green at Park Avenue Numismatics.

As he did for Saints, Lord Baltimore originally intended, with Bob Green’s assistance, to enter and gradually complete a set of Morgans in the PCGS registry. Although this goal was not achieved, Lord Baltimore’s set of Morgans is listed, to some extent, in the PCGS registry. Therein, it is called the “Park Avenue Collection.” (Bob should employ some more imaginative names.)

The PCGS set registry only allows for PCGS certified coins. So, Lord Baltimore’s 1893-S and 1889-CC plus several other NGC certified coins are not included in that listing. Several dates in the Morgan Dollar series are extremely difficult to find in MS-65 or higher grades, especially in PCGS holders. Sometimes, these are not available for any price. Many other times, the owners of such coins ask for multiples of the values listed in accepted price guides. Therefore, when NGC certified MS-65 Morgans of several of the key and semi-key dates became available in 2007, Green grabbed them for Lord Baltimore, even though these could not be added to the set’s listing in the PCGS registry. Curiously, this collection was never entered into the NGC registry, where both NGC and PCGS certified coins are allowed. Why was it not?

While a set of certified MS-65 Morgans now costs more than $2 million, a complete set of business strikes that grade ‘Extremely Fine’-40 would probably cost less than $30,000. One coin, an EF-40 grade 1893-S, would account for $10,000, more or less, of the total. Besides some die varieties that are not readily apparent, there are no business strike Morgans that are very rare.

A set of business strike Morgans is easy to complete. Indeed, a set that contains a barely mediocre 1893-S and accepts some other key dates in grades less than ‘40′ may be built for less than $17,500! A set that contains Good-04 to Fine-12 grade Morgans, with some problematic representatives of the key dates, could be built for less than $9000. Prooflike Morgans and rare varieties cost extra, sometimes a lot more. Proof Morgans are a separate topic.

In terms of collectors seeking to complete sets, Morgan Dollars are the most popular of all coin types that were first issued in the 19th century. Indian Cents are a close second. Liberty Nickels are probably third.

This is the first time that I ever heard of a set of certified MS-65 (or higher) grade Morgans selling as a unit. Furthermore, it is noteworthy anytime an almost complete or otherwise logical set of U.S. coins sells for more than $2 million. Besides, information about the sales of expensive coins at auction is typically available at the websites of the leading coin auction companies, and in news publications like CoinLink. Usually, few, if any, collectors learn about epic private transactions. As Morgan Dollars are so widely collected, and many serious collectors clamor for high-grade Morgans, the sale of this Morgan set was certainly a major event at the Summer 2008 ANA Convention.

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