Grading Morgan Silver Dollars: A Comprehensive Guide


Have you ever wondered how to accurately grade Morgan silver dollars? Grading these coins involves following the established standards for identifying different levels of wear. Additionally, recognizing a mint state coin, which shows no signs of wear, is crucial for determining its true value. In this article, we will provide you with a step-by-step guide on how to properly grade Morgan silver dollars, combining both technical and subjective approaches. So grab your magnifying glass and let’s begin!

Understanding the Grading Process

Grading a Morgan dollar requires a careful examination of various factors. Technically, you need to assess the amount of imperfections on the surface caused by wear. Simultaneously, you need to evaluate the coin as a whole and consider its overall appeal, including factors like even color and the absence of distracting marks. To help you better understand the grading process, we will provide detailed descriptions for each level of grade.

Uncirculated Condition

Uncirculated Morgan dollars are coins that remain in the same condition as when they left the mint. There should be no signs of wear on the surface. To identify these coins, you need to check if the mint luster is still intact and if there are no signs of smoothing or loss of texture. Here are some specific areas to inspect:


  • Look closely at the hair near the forehead line, just above the eye. Check for any smoothness or loss of mint luster.
  • Examine the hair above the ear and the wave of hair below the ear. Both should retain their mint luster.
  • Inspect Liberty’s cheek, as it is prone to wear. A smooth surface or loss of texture indicates wear, while intact luster across the entire area confirms the mint state condition.
  • Pay attention to the cotton blossoms for any signs of flattening or dullness.
  • Judge the luster on the very top fold of Liberty’s cap.


  • Examine the center of the Eagle’s breast. Lack of detail may be present due to the height of profile, but there should be no dulling or smoothing, which would indicate wear.
  • Check the edges of the wings near the shoulder. They should retain mint luster, while the tips of the wings are more susceptible to wear.
  • Focus on the area of the Eagle’s head, particularly above the eye, beak, and neck feathers. These areas should exhibit bright texture and luster.
  • Look for any signs of dulling or smoothing in the central areas of the legs. The feathers should show fine details without any flattening.
  • Make sure the talons remain rounded and that the mint frost is still visible.
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Extremely Fine Condition

A Morgan dollar in extremely fine condition exhibits light wear across the entire surface. Liberty’s cheek may have lost its mint frost, and small flat spots may replace the rounded tops of the high areas. Despite this wear, many collectors value silver dollars in extremely fine grade due to the retention of key details. Here’s what to look for:


  • Check the hair above Liberty’s eye for flattened areas. While some strands may have merged, the overall appearance should still be well-detailed.
  • Observe the area above the ear, where a worn flat area may be developing. The wave of hair behind and below the ear may also show some flat spots, although many fine strands should remain.
  • Inspect Liberty’s cap, which may be flattened overall but should still retain separation of the folds and from the cotton blossoms.
  • Observe the cotton blossoms for minor flatness along the upper edges. The leaves should have worn only along the outer edges, with central details remaining.


  • Evaluate the eagle’s breast, paying attention to the fine feather details. Some merging and slight wear may be present, but the contoured appearance should still be apparent.
  • Examine the legs of the eagle, which should display ample detail with only flattening along the inner edges.
  • Look at each talon, noting any distinct flat spots on the uppermost area. The original detail may be missing, but the talons should remain separated and distinct from one another.
  • Minor areas of flattening may be present on the top of the eagle’s head, beak, and center of the neck.
  • Ensure that the feathers of the wings remain separated and well-defined.

Fine Condition

A Morgan dollar in fine condition shows visible wear that has caused areas of flatness on the surface. However, due to the depth of the design elements, many details still remain strong. Here’s what to look for:


  • Examine Liberty’s hairline above the forehead, which may display wide flat areas. However, there should still be a clear distinction between major waves of hair.
  • Look for a full hairline separated from the forehead and minor fading near the cheek.
  • Observe Liberty’s cap, which may appear flattened overall but should still retain separation from the cotton blossoms.
  • Note that leaves above and below the cotton blossoms should remain outlined, with only slight merging with the cap.
  • Above the headband, grains of wheat should be separated, and the leaves should be well outlined.
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  • Evaluate the eagle’s breast, which may appear flattened, but there should still be separation from the legs.
  • Examine the wing feathers, particularly at the ends, which may have become smooth. However, the majority should remain separated, with only minor merging observed at the upper portion of the wings.
  • Note that the eagle’s legs should show flattening from wear, with small roundness on either side.
  • The leaves of the laurel wreath from below the eagle up to the sides may have some smoothness but only minimal merging.

Good Condition

A Morgan dollar in good condition may be at the lower end of the grading scale, but it still retains ample detail, giving it a pleasing character. While there is visible wear, the coin is far from being “worn out.” Here’s what to look for:


  • Observe the merging of Liberty’s hairline with the forehead. Most of the lines separating the hair strands above the forehead and to the ear may have merged.
  • Ensure that the rim remains separated from the date and lettering, even though it may appear weak and faded in some areas.
  • Note that the entire outline of Liberty should be complete and raised from the field. Any fading into the field indicates a coin in less than good grade.
  • Check that the date and all lettering are complete and full.
  • The eye, ear, lips, and outline of the cotton blossoms above the ear should all remain visible.


  • Look for a bold outline of the eagle, which should be separated from the field, lettering, and rim.
  • Observe the feather details in the lower half of the wing close to the body, as they should still show both vertical and horizontal lines.
  • Ensure that the rim is complete with areas of faint separation from the field. The lettering should also be complete and not faded into the rim.
  • Strong separation of the rim from the lettering indicates an initially well-struck coin and solid grade for a Morgan dollar.

Accurate Grading Morgan Silver Dollars = Value

Grading Morgan silver dollars accurately is crucial for determining their true value. To achieve this, two approaches can be helpful. Firstly, adopt a conservative judgment when assessing the wear and surface preservation of the coin. It’s important to know what details were initially part of the design and make an objective comparison with the current condition. Avoid forming optimistic judgments based on faint details that may not be fully present.

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Secondly, put yourself in the shoes of a collector and judge the coin as if you were about to spend money on it. For example, when assessing Liberty’s hairline, ask yourself if the line is absolutely there, thus deserving a higher grade. By combining technical knowledge and a collector’s perspective, you can confidently assign an accurate grade and determine the value of your Morgan silver dollar.

Recognize and Judge Eye Appeal of Your Morgan Dollar

In addition to technical grading, aesthetics also play a significant role in the worth of a silver dollar. The overall eye appeal of the coin contributes to its allure for collectors. As time passes, silver dollars may develop natural toning due to exposure to the elements. This toning can range from a soft grey color mixed with blue or tan tints to a dark charcoal shade. However, personal tastes vary, and deeply toned, dark Morgan dollars may not be favored by all collectors.

When assessing eye appeal, take a closer look at the coin’s surface and judge any distracting marks. While small marks are common for coins the size of a silver dollar, larger marks that catch the eye require critical evaluation. For example, in the face area of Liberty, you may find sharp, large cuts or abrasions that affect the overall appearance. An accurate description of the coin should include details like “nice original color and lightly worn with a grouping of abrasions to the cheek and chin of Liberty.”

Similarly, when examining the reverse of the Morgan dollar, you may encounter noticeable marks, such as a deep and comparatively large mark in the center of the eagle’s breast. The impact of such marks on the coin’s value becomes clearer when compared side by side with another coin without similar marks.

To ensure an accurate assessment of your coin’s value, handle it with care and avoid adding or removing anything from its surface. Cleaning the coin is unnecessary and can potentially damage its value.


Grading Morgan silver dollars requires a combination of technical knowledge and a collector’s perspective. By following the guidelines provided in this article, you can confidently evaluate the wear and overall appeal of your coin. Remember that accurately grading your Morgan silver dollar is essential for determining its true value in the market. So take your time, closely examine each detail, and enjoy the fascinating world of coin grading!

Morgan Silver Dollar

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