ALL ABOUT TONED MORGANS
If you've ever wanted to learn about or better your knowledge regarding toned Morgan Dollars, you've come to the right place. Rainbow toned Morgans have been admired for years by a wide variety of different numismatists, and for good reason. Beautifully toned Morgan Dollars are a form of art—art created by Mother Nature herself. Many collectors not only appreciate the beauty of these coins, but they also value the vast amount of history and unique stories behind them.
Toned Morgan Dollars are often coins that a collector keeps after selling almost everything else from his or her collection because they are extremely beautiful and often irreplaceable. No two toned Morgans are exactly alike, and if you ever find yourself in possession of one, you'll likely find that it's difficult to put down. There are millions of blast white Morgan Dollars in existence, but only a few hundred toned Morgans with the exceptionally beautiful colors that collectors cherish. Unfortunately, back in the 60s, 70s, and even 80s, dealers used to dip these coins to remove the toning because the market hadn't yet recognized their beauty. Most of the remaining high-end examples are not only spectacular, but they have amazing histories and pedigrees of past collections that they have been a part of. It seems natural that an avid numismatist also has a knack for history, and the history behind toned Morgans is amazing. Just imagine tracing a Morgan back through past owners to the very person who originally discovered it in a bank bag!
Many of the high-end coins are so recognizable that they are known by names given to them by their owners. It is much easier to reference "The Moose" than to reference "the 1881 S Rainbow Toned Morgan in an MS68+ holder." On this page you can learn about the history behind how these unique coins toned in the ways that they did, how to distinguish between natural toning and toning produced by artificial methods, how to price toned Morgans, the physics behind toning, the various types of toned Morgans, and much more. To navigate this page, feel free to jump to certain sections or to read the entire article in one go. If you have any questions or suggestions, don't hesitate to contact us here.
History of Toned Morgan Silver Dollars
Designed by George T. Morgan, the U.S. Mint first began producing Morgan Dollars in 1878 under the Bland-Allison Act, which required that the U.S. Treasury buy a certain amount of silver and release it into circulation. After the Mint began production, they continued to produce Morgan Dollars until 1904, after which they took a 17-year hiatus until 1921 when the silver dollars were minted for one final year. Morgans consist of 90% silver and 10% copper, a standard ratio the U.S. Mint had been using for silver coinage since 1794, and the same ratio that continued to be used until 1964.
Morgan Dollars were struck at several different mints, including San Francisco, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Carson City, and Denver (only in 1921). A mint mark found on the back of a Morgan denotes which mint it came from—S for San Francisco, no mint mark for Philadelphia, O for New Orleans, CC for Carson City, and D for Denver. At the time of production, far more silver dollars were produced than were needed for circulation, so excess coins were stored in $1,000 U.S. Treasury canvas bags, and many of these sat untouched for decades. In the early 1960s, the U.S. Treasury began selling off some of these bags to the public to clear out their vaults, and the remaining bags eventually became property of the General Services Administration (GSA), which were sold to the public in the 1970s.
What people didn’t realize until these bags were opened, however, was that some of the coins that sat near the fabric of the bags had toned beautifully over the decades that they had sat undisturbed. These bank bags had been laced with trace amounts of sulfur in order to prevent rats from ripping into them, and it was this sulfur that reacted with the silver surfaces of coins and caused a thin silver-sulfide film to form. This film refracts light and is what causes us to see beautiful colors—a phenomenon known as thin-film interference. The specific colors we see depend on the thickness of the silver-sulfide film, as certain colors get reflected and others get absorbed when light hits the coin. The variation in thickness was caused by the way coins sat in the bags—many sat at an angle, causing the sulfur to reach certain portions of a coin’s surface with differing concentrations.
Interpreted by our eyes and brain as "Blue"
A common misconception is that toning is similar to the rusting of iron as a result of oxygen exposure, but that isn’t the case. The thin film that develops on silver coins and reflects beautiful colors is only caused by exposure to sulfur, while silver-oxide actually appears as a grey haze on the coin and typically makes a toned Morgan appear dull.
(To read more about the physics behind toning, toned Morgan collector Doug Kurz wrote a fantastic article about thin-film interference, and dealer Brandon Kelley compiled the information onto a webpage, which you can find here.)
Other Ways Morgans Toned
Beyond canvas bags, some Morgan Dollars were stored in tissue paper, envelopes, albums, and tab booklets, all of which also caused coins to tone. Back in the day, most paper and cardboard had trace amounts of sulfur within them, so coins stored in envelopes or albums (especially Wayte Raymond albums), often developed toning that progressed inward from the rims in a bullseye/target pattern. Some coins—especially those stored in envelopes—toned on both sides, although these examples typically have a lot of haze on them and are difficult to find with vivid colors.
Other Morgans, especially those with Prooflike or Deep Mirror Prooflike qualities (strong reflection in the fields due to being some of the first coins struck on freshly polished dies) were stored in tissue paper to preserve their delicate surfaces. Old tissue paper also used to contain sulfur, and this sometimes caused beautiful patterns to form on coins' surfaces that mimicked the tissue paper they were wrapped in.
A few Morgan Dollars were stored in booklets or albums that had a plastic tab holding them in place, and these booklets—surprise surprise—also contained sulfur and could cause toning to occur (you might be noticing a pattern here). These so-called 'tab toners' are difficult to find with bright and beautiful colors, but they have a characteristic line of blank space across the coin that mimics the tab that sat over that area during storage.
Other Morgan Dollars were taken out of bank bags and stored in coin rolls, which could also cause coins to tone. Many people believe that these coin rolls came directly from the mint, but certain national and regional banks rolled the coins after the fact (it is extremely difficult to find intact original rolls anymore, and nearly all rolls available for sale today are not original, such as those on eBay). Some people also put Morgan Dollars into hand-rolled rolls, and the paper from these formed wild psychedelic patterns. However, the vast majority of these so-called End of Roll toned Morgans also tend to have subdued colors.
Distinguishing Natural Toning from Artificial Toning
It’s no secret that in today’s market, toned coins often fetch substantial premiums. Consequently, “coin doctors” are getting better and better at mimicking toning in a variety of different ways, and passing those coins off as being naturally toned. Unfortunately, this is making it more difficult for collectors to distinguish between natural toning (NT) that developed over decades of undisturbed storage, and artificial toning (AT), which is toning that has been accelerated or has developed on a coin in ways other than through long-term storage in bank bags, albums, envelopes, tissue paper, or coin rolls. Artificial toning is achieved in far shorter periods of time than natural toning, and is considered extremely undesirable by seasoned collectors who value the natural creation of Mother Nature.
Fortunately, there are certain ways to distinguish between a coin that is NT and one that is AT by looking at patterns exhibited by naturally toned coins. It can be very difficult to make these distinctions at first, but once you look at enough naturally toned Morgans, it becomes easier to develop an eye for them and to pick out the artificial examples. Eventually, they'll stand out like a giant red flag.
1. Color Progression
One of the best ways to tell if a coin is naturally toned is by looking at the color. This is something that is extremely difficult to replicate because the levels of humidity NT coins were stored in and the amounts of sulfur they were exposed to were extremely specific.
The most common color progression that bag-toned Morgans exhibit is:
Peach → Powder Blue → Bright Yellow → Magenta → Royal Blue → Emerald Green → Burgundy→ Deep Teal → Plum → Charcoal
For a more precise and scientific look at the color, Doug Kurz (the collector who assembled the Sunnywood Collection of Toned Morgan Dollars) created a color progression chart with colors commonly seen on natural bag toners outlined in the typical order that the colors appear:
When Morgan Dollars were struck, the blank silver planchet was compressed between two dies on either end that pressed the metal into the crevasses of the die, creating the coin's design. In certain areas on Morgan Dollars—especially near the date and stars—the metal was stretched as it fit into the crevasses that formed those designs on the coin. When the coins toned, the areas where the metal stretched were not as prone to the formation of a silver-sulfide film, so these areas were left untoned creating a pattern that looks like the toning was pulled away from them.
While not all naturally toned Morgans exhibit the pullaway effect, any that do are almost certainly natural because this phenomenon is extremely difficult to mimic. When coins are artificially toned, the chemical exposure is much greater than normal in order to get the toning to develop in a much shorter period of time, so the areas where metal was stretched during striking tend to get toned as well. However, in recent years coin doctors have become better at faking even this effect, especially when exposing coins to sulfur gas in controlled amounts (known as 'gassing' a coin). Because of this, it is important to pay attention to not just pullaway or color progression as separate factors, but to look at the coin in its entirety and consider multiple indicators of natural toning.
3. Elevation Chromatics
This term, first coined by toned Morgan dealer Brandon Kelley, refers to how different colors sit at different elevations on a coin’s surface. Any given coin has high and low points within the design, and when toning occurs naturally, the same exact colors don’t appear on both the high points and the low points. On Morgan Dollars, one of the best places to look is at the word LIBERTY. If this area is toned, the toning will almost always be a different color or shade of colors within the crevasses of LIBERTY as compared to the surrounding area:
In addition to the word LIBERTY, the hair of lady liberty (the bust you see on a Morgan Dollar) has a lot of higher and lower points in it, so that is another place one can look to for this phenomenon. The same is true with the stars and date on a coin, and even the lettering. Because those areas are elevated above the fields, a naturally toned Morgan Dollar will have different colors on those high points as compared to the surrounding area. It is very difficult to replicate this through artificial methods, and this is why AT coins typically exhibit the same color flowing across high and low points as if they weren’t there. Stand-out elevation chromatics are not only an indicator of natural toning, but are actually quite desirable by collectors because of how nice the colors look.
With grading companies like PCGS and NGC imaging more and more of their coins and even keeping auction records of past sales, it is highly advisable to look up the certification number on a coin you may be considering even though the coin may be graded (AT coins do get by the grading companies sometimes, especially the very deceptive examples). Not only do most AT coins continue to tone once they are already in a holder because the toning was created through unstable methods, but coin doctors are now able to gas coins already in certified holders and toned them in that way. This is especially true of older slabs, which tend to be even less air-proof than more modern versions. Simply looking up the certification number of a coin and/or searching auction archives on Heritage Auctions or Great Collections for the coin can reveal a lot…
Cert # entered into Cert Verification
Sold in 2019
Sold in 2004
(This is a coin that popped up for sale in 2019 that appeared to have scarce red-orange toning on the obverse. However, a quick search of past auction records revealed that this same exact coin sold at auction several years prior as blast white! Recall that it took the presence of sulfur to tone a Morgan Dollar, and sulfur is not present in any plastic certified slabs. This is a blatant example of a coin that has been exposed to sulfur gas in order to cause the artificial toning, even though the coin was already in a holder).
5. Other Problems
Many coins that have been artificially toned by an amateur often have other issues, such as cleaning. The easiest way to tell if a coin has been cleaned is to look closely at the fields for small hairlines, or to look around the stars and date for a difference in the surface of the coin as these areas are typically too small to clean. Cleaning can also be a problem with NT coins, but it is far more common on AT examples and by looking for signs of cleaning, you also avoid buying a coin that won't be graded by a third party authentication company due to improper cleaning (as well as questionable color).
Another thing to look for is the condition of the coin. If it is very well worn and has toning, you can be sure that it didn’t tone in a bank bag because all of those coins were uncirculated. Nice album toning is still a possibility with lower grade coins, but it's rare.
What Contributes to a Toned Morgan’s Value?
As with determining whether a coin is naturally or artificially toned, it is important to consider many factors together when determining a toned Morgan's value. Overall eye appeal is the most crucial factor, but what influences eye appeal can be broken down into several categories:
Of course, this is one of the most important factors to consider. Not only does the overall look of the color matter, but certain specific colors are considered rare and desirable to collectors because they are very seldom seen due to the specific levels of humidity that were required for them to develop. Emerald or Bright Green, Pumpkin Orange, Magenta, Fuchsia, Red, Royal Blue, and Turquoise are all considered desirable. The big money comes when these colors are present in large amounts on a coin (and they don’t have to all be present on the same coin at once).
2. Luster/Surface Type
This is one of the biggest elements that affects how much pop a coin’s color has. Luster can come in several types, but when a coin has liquid luster, it can make all the difference for how vibrant the color is.
Cartwheel: This type of luster looks like a wheel of luster-bands rolling around the coin when it is tilted around in the light. This is most abundant on coins made by the San Francisco (S) mint, especially from 1879 to 1882. Even within this category of coins, the luster can vary. Certain coins that have absolutely incredible luster are known as “luster bombs,” and a toned Morgan with that amount of luster is extremely beautiful and desirable.
Velvety: This type of luster is more subdued, and is quite typical of Morgans minted by the New Orleans (O) mint and the Philadelphia mint, particularly from 1880 to 1887. It tends to make the color on a coin appear less vivid than those with cartwheel luster, but some examples exhibit deep color that is very pronounced. Most coins from the Battle Creek Collection are of this luster type because most coins in the hoard were from 1885, 1886, or 1887, and these coins have some of the best and brightest colors to be found on Morgans with velvety luster.
Prooflike and Deep Mirror Prooflike: Technically speaking, this actually isn’t a type of luster but rather a product of certain coins being some of the first struck by freshly polished mint dies. These coins don’t have much luster in the typical sense, but instead they have incredible mirrors in the fields that resulted from the mint heavily polishing the dies that stuck the coins. Only the first several dozen coins stuck tended to have mirrors, and when these coins also happen to be toned, the mirrors add a level of depth that is incredibly desirable by collectors. The fields make the color glow, and Deep Mirror Prooflike examples are particularly rare to find with color but are stunningly beautiful.
Bowl: This luster type is very scarce and highly desirable. On Morgans, the luster (and mirrors, which tend to also be present) curve up toward the rims creating a bowl-like effect. This combination of blazing curved luster with curved mirrors makes the color pop off the coin by a factor of ten, making them striking in appearance. This effect seems to be more common on 1882 S Morgan dollars, but there are a few 1880 S and 1881 S Morgans with bowl luster that are also amazing.
A large number of toned Morgans have more than just a silver-sulfide film on them. On top of that film, many coins also developed a silver-oxide layer, which clouds the color on the coin. Recall that silver-sulfide and silver-oxide are two completely different things. Silver-oxide is a semi-translucent layer on top of the film of silver-sulfide that produces the color we see on toned coins. This silver-oxide film tends to mute the light reflected by the silver-sulfide film, diminishing the pop factor of a coin significantly. Be wary of some images of coins, because they can easy hide this haze. In hand, you can’t miss it.
4. Which Side of the Coin is Toned
Each coin has two sides, the obverse (the side with the date) and the reverse (the back). With any coin, obverse toners are considered far more desirable than reverse toners, and reverse toners sell for less than half the price that similarly toned obverse toners would go for. The reason for this is mainly because the reverse of most coins, especially on Morgan Dollars, is flatter overall than the obverse, which makes it much easier for coins to tone on the reverse. This is why there are far more reverse toned Morgans with incredible colors on them than there are obverse toners, and this is what contributes to the higher value placed on obverse toners when they do have those colors. There is also something to be said about the aesthetics of having color be present on the side of the coin people most often look at—the side with the date and the bust.
When a select number of coins toned, they sat right up against the bank bag they were in and the textile pattern of the bag was mirrored by the toning. Textile toned Morgans are extremely desirable in virtually any grade and with virtually any color. While some lower-end examples can still be found for reasonable prices, monster toned Morgans with textile toning can fetch astronomical figures because this pattern is so desirable.
Even more scarce are coins that sat in folds in the bank bags or up against the places where the bag was sewn together. These coins not only have textile patterns, but some even have imprints of thread on their surfaces.
6. Special/Unique Patterns
There are some coins that just have something special about their toning that adds tremendous eye appeal and value in the eye of a collector. Some examples include album toners with a perfect bullseye/target effect, double crescent toners with a “Cat’s eye” pattern that resulted from how other coins were positioned on the surface of the coin, and wild end of roll toners with kaleidoscope-like toning. Still others may have even more unique patterns, such as an arch or a cross shape in the toning.
In some cases, text can even be imprinted onto the surface of the coin. This can result from a coin sitting up against text from an album page for a long period of time, or even up against something inked onto a bank bag.
As the story goes, this Morgan Dollar sat up against the cloth of a bank bag labeled “The Bank of South Dakota,” and it happened to be sitting right on the letter ‘h’ in the word ‘South.’ This letter got imprinted into the toning pattern from the inside of the bag, and you can even see the cross of the letter ‘t’ on the rim of the coin next to the 'h.' Something like this is remarkably desirable—I have never seen another example of a bag toner with a letter imprinted in the toning like this one, and it is undoubtedly what led to it selling for a strong four figures.
7. Strike/Toning Breaks
This tends not to be the most important factor when it comes to a toned Morgan’s value, but to serious toning enthusiasts, a good strike plays a major role in overall eye appeal. Strike is measured by how sharp the detail on a coin is, which is most evident on the high points in Liberty’s hair on the obverse of a Morgan Dollar, and on the eagle’s breast feathers on the reverse. A good strike can go a long way in increasing a toned Morgan’s value, especially when it comes to higher-end examples. Smooth color that has virtually no breaks in it is always considered more desirable than the same toning with splotchy breaks. We see breaks in toning most often on those same high points of a coin. Coins that were stored in albums and envelopes tend to have this splotchy type of toning. Unless the color is extremely vibrant, this can hurt a coin's overall value.
Because of the minting process in certain years and in certain mints as well as the overall mintage numbers in those years and mints, certain dates are difficult to find with attractive color. The rarity of the date itself due to a low mintage and the rarity of attractive toning in general can together create a very valuable and desirable coin. New Orleans and Philadelphia minted coins from 1879 to 1882 are difficult to find with toning, and the same is true of most coins minted after 1890 (including San Francisco and Carson City mints). The year 1921 is also difficult to find with nice toning regardless of the mint mark, as is the year 1878.
9. Grade/Surface Preservation
Although color tends to be the primary factor that determines a toned coin’s value, grade can have an impact as well. It is certainly possible for an MS63 toned Morgan to be worth more than an MS67 Morgan because of color, but when comparing a monster toned MS63 or MS64 Morgan to a monster toned MS67 or MS68, the grade can make a massive difference in value. This is often because higher grade Morgans have far fewer distracting marks than an MS63 or MS64, they tend to have more luster than lower grade coins, and the strike tends to be much sharper. The most expensive price paid for an MS64 Morgan? I know of one that sold for $10,000 via a private deal. The most expensive price paid for an MS68+ Morgan? The current auction record is $60,000, but I wouldn't be surprised if that number was far higher via a collector-to-collector sale.
10. The Holder
Believe it or not, the holder a coin is in can actually contribute to the coin’s value. This concept is somewhat controversial, as many collectors swear by the mantra “buy the coin, not the holder.” Nevertheless, the market has spoken, and it is clear that the rarity of a high-quality toned Morgan Dollar combined with the rarity of a particular coin holder does in fact add to a coin’s value.
Take this coin for example. It is housed in a PCGS rattler holder, and has a gold CAC sticker to boot (meaning it is of very high quality for the grade and would still earn a green CAC sticker at the next highest grade). If this coin were in an MS65 or even MS66 regular holder, it would likely still sell for less than in this rattler holder with the gold CAC sticker, to the right collector of course (yes, even the sticker adds tremendous value because very few Morgans earn the gold). This same phenomenon is true for coins housed in early NGC holders, known as fatties.
A Closer Look At Color Progression
The main color progression of bag-toned Morgan dollars has five main cycles that the toning goes through, which help to group certain toned Morgans together.
Color Progression of Bag Toned Morgans
(Compiled by Brandon Kelley)
Thin-Film Interference Rendition of Bag Toned Morgans
(Created by Doug Kurz)
The thin-film interference color progression can be broken down into three main spectrum groups: pastel, neon, and black.
The pastel spectrum represents the earlier stages of color progression—typically stages one and two. Pastel toners tend to have light and delicate colors, and many examples are quite lustrous because the silver-sulfide film is so thin. Many of these coins have a sunset look to them, and certain examples with clear colors and a lot of luster can be very beautiful.
The neon spectrum represents the middle portion of the color spectrum, and it tends to be very thin on most toned Morgans. Examples with a wide band of neon toning are extremely desirable and nothing short of spectacular. Some coins in this spectrum group have a vibrant turquoise color that is truly beautiful and very difficult to find in any amount, like the example above.
The black spectrum represents the final section of the color spectrum (stages four and five). These coins begin with the greens of the neon spectrum and progressively darken until they reach a charcoal color. Examples with nice luster and a good spread of colors are striking in appearance, especially when they are also prooflike due to the level of depth that the mirrors add.
Types of Toned Morgans
These coins exhibit the pastel spectrum almost exclusively on their surface. The colors tend to be very light and delicate, but with the right luster, this group of coins looks like a beautiful sunset is being displayed over their surfaces. These coins tend not to extend into the monster level because the colors are too light, but nevertheless they can be very pretty toners that collectors cherish.
This pattern of toning appears as bands of color passing through the color progression on the surface of the coin. Although this type of toning is relatively common for mint bag toners, not very many examples have toning that covers the entire surface of the coin and most only exhibit a small portion of the color spectrum. However, when the color fully covers a coin's surface and the luster is abundant, the coin looks amazing.
This is one of the most desirable types of toning, characterized by an imprint of the textile pattern of the mint bag that the coin was stored in. Although these can be found for reasonable prices, when the textile pattern is abundantly present and is paired with vivid colors, these coins can fetch astronomical prices. These are some of the most exceptional toned Morgans out there, and all are considered desirable.
Now this is something you don't see every day. It is very rare for a bag-toned Morgan Dollar to tone completely on both sides, simply because typically only one side sat against the cloth of a bag. However, if a bag was moved partway into the toning process a few coins may have flipped over, and while the already toned side continued to tone the other side began to develop toning as well. If both sides of the coin touched the bag because of this movement, or because the coin sat in a bag fold, it would develop textile toning on both sides. This group of coins is incredibly rare—I have only ever seen one such example.
This is the most common type of toning to find on original mint bag toners. This pattern is reminiscent of a crescent moon shape of color against the edge of the coin, and it was caused by the presence of another coin on top of the one that toned. This other coin blocked a certain portion of the Morgan from toning while the exposed portion developed its color. Although a great deal of these coins exist, coin's with the right colors are highly desirable. This is especially true of coins that had only a small portion of their surface blocked by another coin, while the rest was able to tone beautifully, like the one above.
As the name implies, these coins have more than one crescent pattern on them due to the presence of multiple coins that covered certain portions of the coins' surfaces. These are far more difficult to find than regular crescents (especially obverse toned examples), and the pattern is highly desirable among collectors. Although most of these coins tend to only have two crescents, some have even more. Above is a spectacular example of one with three crescents, dubbed "Ninja Star" for obvious reasons. I know of a couple coins that have not one, not two, not three, but four crescents!
These types of coins can exhibit multiple crescents flowing across the coin one after another. They were formed but a second coin shifting at multiple points during the multi-decade toning process, causing several crescents to form consecutively as the newly exposed area began toning. If the second coin completely uncovered the first, one could end up with a fully-toned specimen such as the one pictured above.
This is a very rare type of toning which features both a crescent pattern and textile where the second coin would have covered the first. This pattern was formed by a second coin sitting atop the first to make the crescent, and then subsequently sliding off to allow the canvas bank bag to lay on top of the first coin's surface. Over many more years, the presence of the bank bag would have imprinted the textile pattern where the other coin used to be. I have encountered less than half a dozen examples with this characteristic.
These coins are similar to double crescents in that they consist of two crescent patterns, but the arcs are inverted creating an eye shape from the two arcs. This was caused by the presence of one coin that formed one arc, and then a subsequent shift of that coin from a bag being moved or shaken, and the movement of the same coin or a second one onto the opposite side, forming the second crescent.
Quite difficult to find, this group of coins is reminiscent of a crescent pattern, but the horseshoe shape is more narrow than the arc caused by another coin sitting directly on the toned coin's surface. This pattern was most likely the result of the coin sitting at an angle with its rim against the bag, and the bag fabric sat closer to the coin at the center of the horseshoe than at its edges, causing the toning to progress further at that center point.
This group of toners doesn't have any particular color or pattern on it, but instead the colors flow across the coin in wild and irregular patterns that are typically the result of being in contact with scrunched up folds in a bank bag (and occasionally with threads). These coins are quite difficult to find with really nice colors, but the few examples that exist are quite amazing.
This is an extremely desirable type of toning which features the impression of one or more threads in the toning. Bank bags were sown together down just two sides of the bag, which made for a very small area where coins could acquire this type of toning if stored in the right conditions. The threads can also be present in combination with other types of toning, such as crescent or variegated. I am aware of less than a dozen examples.
Because the U.S. Mint used to heavily polish the dies that struck coins, the first few dozen coins that were struck often had mirrors in the fields that were highly reflective. In order to protect the mirrors, some of these coins were stored in similar ways to proofs and were placed in tissue paper, which happened to contain trace amounts of sulfur back in the day. Others toned while still in the bank bag. When these coins toned, they created some of the most spectacular toners imaginable. Although prooflike coins have only moderate mirrors, they add a massive pop factor to the color. Very few prooflike toners exist, so all are desirable and ones with deep colors are absolutely amazing.
Deep Mirror Prooflike
These coins are prooflike toners on steroids. Deep mirror prooflike Morgans were some of the very first coins struck by freshly polished dies—so much so that the mirrors are reflective at over six inches away (unlike prooflike coins which tend to reflect between two and four inches away). This extra level of reflectivity required to earn the DMPL or DPL designation makes these Morgans far scarcer than prooflikes. The fact that toners on their own are rare combined with the scarcity of Morgans with deep mirrors makes DMPL toners exceedingly rare. With good coverage and rainbow colors, these coins are nothing short of spectacular.
Coins that are nearly monochromatic are toned a majority of one color, but also have a small band of another color present. These are sometimes referred to as polychromatic toners, although the word polychromatic means the presence of more than one color, so the term can be used to represent any multi-colored coin.
This type of toning is characterized by a coin with uniform color covering its surface. The color itself can vary depending on how long a coin was exposed to trace amounts of sulfur, where exactly it toned (bag/album/envelope), and the level of humidity that the coin was in during the time that it toned. Because of these variations, monochromatic toning is more of a blanket term, as there are several monochromatic Morgans that are themselves considered types of toning.
This is an extremely rare and highly desirable form of monochromatic toning. Morgans with this type of toning have a fiery magenta color covering the entire obverse of the coin, sometimes mixed in with spectacular pumpkin-orange hues. These required very specific levels of humidity to tone this way, and there are very few examples out there. Fireball coins are absolutely stunning, but I only know of about seven obverse toned examples that would qualify.
As the name implies, these coins are toned a beautiful blue color and typically don't contain other colors, although they can sometimes be mixed with a burgundy or a red, depending on which portion of the color progression cycle the toning stems from. Blueberry toners are considered desirable, but the vast majority are subdued and the toning is from the second cycle and therefore not as deep. However, if you can find examples with blazing luster and a deep third cycle blue, these coins can be quite spectacular.
Even those who are toning veterans likely haven't heard of this classification of monochromatic toning before, but that's because I've coined the term here for the first time. Cyan monochromatic toners are a mixture of blue and green toning and are extremely rare. Often accompanied by magenta toning around the profile and date/stars, this group of coins is remarkably beautiful. The specific shade of cyan depends on whether the coin is more blue than green or more green than blue, but either way they are quite remarkable. I'm only aware of five such coins.
This is a very scarce and more desirable type of monochromatic toning, characterized by an emerald-green or forest-green color covering the entire face of the coin (typically the obverse). Morgans required very specific levels of humidity in order to tone brilliant green colors, and they are therefore quite difficult to find. Green toning is considered desirable in any amount, so a Morgan fully toned green with outstanding luster is always in demand among toning enthusiasts.
End of Roll (EOR) Toned
End of roll toners toned by sitting at the end of a coin roll against the folds of the paper rolls that had trace amounts of sulfur present in them. Overtime, the sulfur reacted with the coin and because of the paper folds on the surface of the coin, it toned in wild psychedelic patterns that look almost like a kaleidoscope in many cases. Most EOR toners tend to be hazy and the colors are usually not very vivid, but examples that do have bright colors and blazing luster are stunning.
Many of the Morgan Dollars stored in envelopes have toning that originated at the rims of the coin and traveled inward to the center of the coin. These types of coins also tended to tone on both sides due to contact with sulfur-infused paper touching the coin on either side. Many examples tend to be splotchy and have subdued colors, but highly lustrous coins with little or no silver-oxide haze can be quite attractive.
This type of toning flows around the coin in circular patterns, creating a target-like pattern on the coin. This is very characteristic of album toned Morgans because the sulfur diffused into the center of the coin from the rims that touched the cardboard of the album. Like most album toners, these tend to be more subdued and splotchy in nature, but cleanly toned examples can be exceptionally beautiful, particularly when they also have a sharp strike and a lot of luster.
These Morgan Dollars have an untoned band across the coin due to the coin's storage in an album that had a tab holding the coin in place. As you might imagine, the storage in an album also meant that many of these coins developed a bit of a haze on them just like the majority of album and envelope toners. The vast, vast majority of tab toners tend to be reverse toned because the tabs on most tab-booklets were placed on the back to allow the obverse to be displayed without a tab blocking any of the details. For this reason, obverse tab toners are quite scarce, and finding an obverse tab toner with non-hazy color is exceptionally difficult.
Pricing Toned Morgan Dollars
Pricing for toned Morgans is highly subjective as one collector may like a certain color or pattern and find it appealing, while another collector may value it less. However, the auction market is the primary indicator of a toned Morgan’s value based on the overall eye appeal of a coin. Here is an outline of what toned Morgans of various qualities typically sell for, assuming they are common dates:
Low-end: $50 - $100
Low-mid: $75 - $175
Mid-end: $150 - $300
Mid-high: $300 - $1,000
High-end: $1,000 - $5,000
Monster: $5,000 - $40,000
Godzilla: $40,000 - The sky’s the limit
(Godzillas are usually graded MS67 or MS68 to warrant the massive price, but there are lower-grade examples that could qualify).
Famous Bank Bag Hoards Containing Toned Morgans
Although it is very rare nowadays, a few major hoards of unopened U.S. Treasury bank bags have been discovered since the 70s, usually when their owner has passed away and the collection is inherited by a beneficiary. In some cases, these bank bags secretly contain spectacularly toned Morgan Dollars that have remained undiscovered for decades.
Battle Creek Collection
Although not the largest hoard of Morgan Dollars ever discovered, this collection became famous for the incredible quantity and quality of toned Morgans that originated from it. The hoard itself consisted of 10,000 Morgan Dollars contained in ten $1,000 U.S. Treasury bags. Two bags consisted of Morgans from 1885, two bags were from 1886, six were from 1887, and one of the 1887 bags contained a small number of 1904 O Morgan Dollars that are believed to have been added to a partial bag of 1887 Morgans at the Detroit Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank in the 1920s. This is based on the fact that each bag had a tag on it from the Detroit Branch of the Chicago Federal Reserve, dated in the 20s.
When these coins were sold by the executor of the owner's estate, buyers only knew that they contained Morgan Dollars. No one had any idea that inside where over 1,000 beautifully toned coins that would eventually bring record prices at auction. Dennis Steinmetz, owner of Steinmetz Coin & Currency, successfully purchased the bags. Shortly after the purchase, he opened them to send the coins in for certification and grading, likely hoping for nothing more than some high grades and perhaps a few Prooflike/Deep Mirror Prooflike examples. Instead, what he discovered were 1,606 Morgan Dollars with extraordinary eye appeal, the vast majority of which were beautifully toned.
This group of coins was sent to NGC for encapsulation where each was pedigreed under the name "Battle Creek Collection" as the coins were originally discovered in Battle Creek, Michigan. Of the 1,606 coins that received this pedigree, 1,359 also received an NGC star designation for outstanding eye appeal (either for beautiful toning or for prooflike surfaces on one side of the coin). 247 of the coins still received the pedigree because they also had original toning, but this group graded lower than MS63 so they were labeled as "Brilliant Uncirculated" and didn't receive a star designation as the star wasn't assigned to lower graded coins at the time. The remaining 8,394 coins from the hoard were also graded but did not receive a pedigree or star designation. The highest graded Battle Creek toner at the time was a lone MS67 star Morgan, which currently resides in the Aurora Borealis Collection.
In 2005 and early 2006, the toned Morgans from the collection were sold in a series of four main auctions and one supplementary auction by Superior Galleries, and many of the toners were so spectacular that they brought record-breaking prices for a common date toned Morgan Dollar at the time. The highest price paid for a Battle Creek Morgan in the Superior Galleries sale? $12,650 for an 1887 MS66 star Morgan aptly named "Record Setter" by its current owner, Aurora Borealis.
"Highest Graded Battle Creek"
Continental-Illinois Bank Hoard
Remarkably little is known about the Continental-Illinois Bank Hoard, especially considering it was one of the largest hoards of Morgan Dollars ever discovered and contained some of the finest toned Morgans in existence. The Continental-Illinois Bank of Chicago had held much of its cash reserves in the form of silver dollars for many years until it was forced to liquidate them in the early 1980s after falling upon hard times. This group of coins contained an estimated 1.5 million Morgan Dollars in 1,500 bank bags and was acquired by Ed Milas of Rarcoa. About 500,000 of the coins were AU and dated from 1878 to 1885, with the majority being 1879-O, 1880-O, 1881-O, and 1882-O minted coins. The remaining 1,000,000 examples were Brilliant Uncirculated and the dates spanned from 1878 to 1904. Such a massive amount of high-quality silver dollars, with BU examples most abundantly dated 1879-S, 1880-S, 1881-S, 1882-S, 1883-O, 1884-O, 1885, 1885-O, 1886, and 1887, would have drastically lowered prices for Morgans if they came on the market all at once, so naturally Milas chose to keep the hoard's magnitude a secret.
Few people knew about the hoard at the time, but the coins were marketed over several years through Dr. George Vogt of Colonial Coins who handled approximately 500,000 BU specimens, and through Leon Hendrickson of Silver Towne who handled 350,000 BU coins and almost all 500,000 AU examples. By 1984 much of the hoard had been sold off and rather than harming the market, the increased supply of gorgeous S-mint coins actually spurred investment into silver dollars and numismatics as a whole.
In September of 1986, a small group of 80-S, 81-S, and 82-S coins from this hoard was auctioned through Superior Galleries, many of which were beautifully toned and possessed immaculate super-GEM surfaces. This offering was followed up by a larger offering of 211 pieces in the February 1987 L.W. Hoffecker Sale, also by Superior. This group contained spectacular toned and blast white examples of 79-S, 80-S, 81-S, and 82-S Morgans which fetched staggering prices for the time. The quality was exceptional—several toned coins from this group have since been certified as high as MS68+.
As dealer Leon Hendrickson of Silver Towne recounted in an interview Q. David Bowers, the acquisition and distribution of the hoard was "one of the greatest numismatic events to ever transpire." And to think that at the time, almost no one even knew it existed.
1881 S PCGS MS68+ CAC "Killer Tomato"
Considered the finest toned Morgan Dollar to come out of the Continental Bank Hoard by both technical quality and eye appeal, and one of the absolute finest toned Morgans in existence
1879 S PCGS MS67+ CAC "Pizzazz"
One of the coins from the 1987 L.W. Hoffecker Sale by Superior Galleries (lot 1471) where it realized $1,540. Most recently this same coin brought $23,000 at auction in 2017
General Services Administration (GSA) Hoard
Unlike the Battle Creek Collection that was owned by a private collector, the GSA Hoard was a group of Morgan Dollars released by the U.S. Treasury in the 70s and early 80s. A major portion of the hoard, which consisted primarily of Carson City (CC) Morgan dollars, was sold in a series of five sales by the Treasury from 1972 to 1974. Over those two years, 1.96 million coins were sold to the public, significantly devaluing many of the common dates for higher grade CC Morgan dollars (1882-1884 in particular). This was because many of these coins were fully uncirculated examples that had sat in bank vaults for decades on end.
The uncirculated Carson City coins were placed in plastic holders that read "Carson City Uncirculated Silver Dollar," while the coins the government believed were not Brilliant Uncirculated (BU) were either placed in plastic holders that simply read "Carson City Silver Dollar" or were sealed in soft packs. A few coins in the hoard were not Carson City dollars, so those were identified as "United States Uncirculated Silver Dollar." In 1980, another million coins were sold in two more sales that the government had deemed as not BU.
Among this hoard, there were a large number of toned Morgan Dollars that were released to the public. Although Carson City Morgan Dollars typically toned in more splotchy patterns than dates like 1880 S or 1881 S, there were still some spectacular examples. Ironically, one of the highest graded GSA dollars (an MS68) was simply marked "Carson City Silver Dollar" because the government thought that the toning on this particular coin classified it as a non-BU example.
Pedigrees and Provenance
Something most collectors absolutely love is to know exactly where a coin they own came from and who owned that coin in the past over its history. This sequence of past owners and knowledge about where a certain coin came from is known as the coin's provenance. Many of the most notable and rare coins have a history going back to almost the year they were made, because even back then certain collectors paid close attention to mintage numbers and overall scarcity of a certain date. While attaining a long provenance is difficult for just about any common-date Morgan Dollar (except for those with exceptionally high grades), because toned Morgan Dollars are so unique they often have a considerable provenance of past owners and collections that they have been a part of.
A pedigree is a direct way to keep track of provenance. Major grading companies like PCGS and NGC often denote large or especially high-caliber collections with a pedigree, writing the name of the collection on the coin holder. This is what NGC did for the Battle Creek Collection, and this has been done for several other collections of toned Morgan Dollars as well. Below is a list of some known pedigrees for toned Morgans in particular:
Battle Creek Collection
Northern Lights Collection
Aurora Orban Collection
T. Cork Estate
There are many other pedigrees that denote Morgan Dollar collections in general that also contain some toned Morgans, such as the Binion Collection and Mapes Casino Hoard. Although many collections have a clear-cut pedigree, some major toned coin collectors never received a written pedigree on their coins but their names can still add tremendous value to a coin in the toned Morgan world. These include several legendary collectors and dealers:
Below are the top 10 most expensive monster toned Morgans that have ever sold at auction. Most of these are common dates, but a few coins are also highly graded tougher date coins—something that contributed significantly to their values.
Morgan Dollars History
Toned Morgan Dollars Information
Doug Kurz, Sunnywood Collection
Battle Creek Collection History/Information
Continental-Illinois Bank Hoard History/Information
GSA Hoard History/Information
U.S. Treasury Hoard/New York Bank Hoard History/Information
Legend Auctions Archives
Aurora Borealis Collection
Across the Spectrum Collection
Phil Arnold, Photographer for PCGS
Todd Pollock, Photographer for BluCC Photos
Doug Kurz, Sunnywood Collection