How to Grade a Morgan Silver Dollar

By Kent Ninomiya

The value of a Morgan Silver Dollar is largely dependent on the coin's grade. A Morgan Silver Dollar must meet certain criteria to be considered a specific grade. Grades include AG (about good), G (good), VG (very good), F (fine), VF (very fine), EF or XF (extra fine), and AU (about uncirculated). There are also many grades within the uncirculated category. They are designated by MS (mint state) and a number ranging from 60 to 70. MS-60 is considered UNC (uncirculated). MS-65 is considered BU (brilliant uncirculated) and MS-70 is considered a perfect coin. Very few coins are considered perfect.

Take a look at the rim of the Morgan Silver Dollar. If any part of the design is worn into the rim, the coin is AG (about good). The rim must be distinct from the date, design and lettering to be a higher grade.

Examine the hair on Liberty's head and the feathers on the eagle's wings. If there is little or no detail in the hair or feathers, the coin is G (good). Hair and feather detail are required for the coin to be considered a higher grade. Use a magnifying glass to see the details, if needed

Focus your attention on the hairline on Liberty's face and the feathers on the eagle's wings. If the hairline and at least 75% of the feathers are not defined, the coin is VG (very good).

Take a harder look at Liberty's hair and the eagle's wing feathers. If you cannot see all the hairlines on Liberty's head and full detail on all the feathers on the eagle's wings, the coin is F (fine).

Look closely at the feathers on the eagle's chest. If you only see a few feathers or no feathers at all, the coin is VF (very fine). Chest feather detail varies quite a bit from year to year and strike to strike, but as a general rule, breast feathers must be seen clearly for a coin to rise above VF.

Ponder the high points of the Morgan Silver Dollar. These are the hairline along Liberty's forehead, the feathers on the eagle's chest and the eagle's right wing tip. If you see wear then the coin is either EF (extra fine) or AU (about uncirculated). At this point grading becomes more subjective. Different people may grade the same coin differently. In general, if the coin has mint luster remaining it will grade higher.

Consider the entire appearance of an uncirculated Morgan Silver Dollar. To be uncirculated a coin must show no signs of wear and have much of its original mint luster. Keep in mind that these coins were shipped in bags so bag marks are to be expected. Some strikes were weak and lacking detail. Neither of these things are considered wear. That being said, an uncirculated coin's grade is still determined by how pristine it is. This is incredibly subjective. Even expert coin graders do not always agree on the grade of an uncirculated coin. In general, if a Morgan Silver Dollar is bright, free of wear and has few marks it will be BU (brilliant uncirculated).

About the Author

Kent Ninomiya is a veteran journalist with over 23 years experience as a television news anchor, reporter and managing editor. He traveled to more than 100 countries on all seven continents, including Antarctica. Ninomiya holds a Bachelor of Arts in social sciences with emphasis in history, political science and mass communications from the University of California at Berkeley.