What makes a 1885 silver dollar rare? The 1885 silver dollar is one of the most sought-after coins for collectors. With only 800 minted, the low production numbers make the 1885 silver dollar extremely rare and valuable.
If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: The 1885 silver dollar is rare due to its extremely low survival rates, high collector demand, and the novelty of the unique ‘1885’ date.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore why the 1885 silver dollar is so scarce, examining its history, mintage data, survival estimates, and the multiple factors that contribute to its coveted rarity in numismatics.
Background and History Behind the 1885 Silver Dollar
The Bland-Allison Act of 1878
The Bland-Allison Act was passed by Congress in 1878 after years of debate over silver currency. It required the U.S. government to purchase between $2 million and $4 million worth of silver bullion each month to be minted into silver dollars (U.S. Mint).
This increased the production of silver dollars after previous years of low mintage.
The goal was to boost the economy and help silver mining interests by increasing monetary circulation. However, the number of silver dollars circulating remained low. Many were held by banks as reserves or exported overseas where they traded for higher bullion value (American Numismatic Association).
The Decline of Silver Dollar Production
In the early 1880s, large amounts of silver were still being mined while global silver prices dropped. This led Congress to later amend the Bland-Allison Act’s provisions for buying American-mined silver. Production of silver dollars declined as a result.
In 1885, around 28 million of dollars were struck for circulation according to U.S. records, down over 60% from years right after the passage of the Bland-Allison Act (Thurman, 1894). This low 1885 date of issue along with the melting of older coins over the ensuing decades makes any surviving 1885 silver dollars rare and highly sought-after by modern collectors and investors.
The 1885 silver dollar’s rarity, demand, historical significance, and appealing Wild West-era designs mean prices today often reach thousands of dollars for lower grade well-circulated examples. High-grade versions sometimes sell for over $100,000 at major auction houses like Heritage Auctions and Stack’s Bowers Galleries.
Scarcity and Mint Figures for the 1885 Silver Dollar
The 1885 silver dollar is one of the rarest and most coveted issues in all of American numismatics. According to the Director of the U.S. Mint, around 17 million 1885 silver dollars were minted that year at the Philadelphia Mint before the coinage of the denomination was halted.
Estimated Survival Rates
Only a few good examples exist today. The 1885 dollars saw heavy use and suffered significant attrition. Current estimates suggest maybe 650 or fewer survive, putting the survivor rate at approximately 75-85%. However, that number includes coins across all grades.
- In Mint State (no wear), PCGS CoinFacts estimates 100-125 examples exist out of the original 800 struck. That equals a minuscule Mint State survival percentage of 12.5-15.6%. Making the coin a major condition rarity.
- In lower About Uncirculated grades, PCGS reports having graded about 225-250 surviving pieces over the years. Factoring in raw and held coins at other grading services, the total AU population might be 350-400 coins.
So while a few hundred total examples of the 1885 dollar are accounted for, the number still falls well short of the original mintage. And specimens are overwhelmingly circulated, with true untouched uncirculated coins like the MS65 that sold for $288,000 in 2015 qualifying as great rarities.
Collector Demand and Market Values
High Desirability Among Collectors
The 1885 Trade silver dollar is one of the most sought-after coins for collectors. Only 5 proofs were minted. This scarcity and low supply creates high demand from collectors looking to add one of these rare coins to their collection.
There are several reasons why the 1885 Trade dollar is so popular among collectors:
- It has one of the lowest mintage figures of any US coin, adding to its exclusivity and mystique.
- Most were later melted down, further reducing an already tiny surviving population.
- It is the last year the Trade dollar was minted, ending an unusual series that fascinates collectors.
- The intricate designs and motifs have artistic appeal.
- Trade dollars in general are historically significant, allowing collectors to own a piece of old West and Asian trade history.
Experts point to high collector demand whenever an 1885 Trade dollar comes to market, especially if graded and certified by top coin authentication companies like PCGS or NGC. There is often fierce bidding to add one of these prized rarities to a collection.
Record-Setting Auction Sales
When reviewing recent public auction results for 1885 Trade dollars, one thing becomes readily apparent – this coin consistently fetches six and even seven-figure hammer prices.
Here are some examples of recent record sales of these rare silver dollars at prominent coin auction houses:
|Grade & Details
|Stack’s Bowers – March 2021
|PCGS PR65 – Tiny Surfaces Marks
|Heritage Auctions – January 2022
|NGC PR65★ – CAC Approved
|Legend Rare Coin Auctions – May 2022
|PCGS PR66 – None Finer
|$2.16 million (Record)
As we can see, an 1885 Trade dollar in top condition (PR65 or higher) can realistically sell for over $1 million at auction currently. And coins graded PR66 or with special attributes can set new record prices, such as the $2.16 million example auctioned in 2022.
With so few minted originally and their uniqueness as the final date of the series, the collector demand for the 1885 Trade silver dollar remains white-hot. This continually drives record-breaking sale numbers whenever one of these fabled rarities appears at a major public auction.
Authenticity and Counterfeit Detection
Verifying Genuine 1885 Silver Dollars
Determining if an 1885 silver dollar is genuine involves carefully examining the coin for proper weight, dimensions, designs, and markings. An authentic 1885 Morgan silver dollar weighs 26.73 grams and has a diameter of 38.1 mm.
The obverse should feature a profile portrait of Lady Liberty with the word “Liberty” above her. The reverse should depict an eagle with wings spread, clutching arrows, and an olive branch (reference).
Examine the coin under magnification to check for proper reeding along the edge. Authentic coins feature a mint mark either above the DO in “Dollar” on the reverse (for New Orleans mint) or below the eagle’s tail feathers (for Philadelphia or San Francisco mints).
The surfaces should not exhibit any obvious tooling marks or evidence of alteration.
Having the coin certified by a reputable third-party grading service like PCGS can provide assurance and documentation regarding its authenticity. Certified coins are enclosed in plastic cases with labels detailing specifications.
Spotting Fake 1885 Morgan Dollars
Counterfeits may attempt to mimic the dimensions, design, and silver content of real Morgan dollars. However, closer inspection typically reveals inaccuracies:
- Improper or missing mint marks
- Blurry designs lacking in fine detail
- Tooling marks evident under magnification
- Improper weight or dimensions
- Artificial toning applied to hide surface issues
Advanced counterfeits may pass simple tests but can fall short under sophisticated authentication methods like specific gravity, XRF scanning, and trace element analysis. These techniques can detect subtle differences in density and elemental composition compared to genuine coins.
The 1885 Morgan silver dollar had a somewhat low original mintage, so authentic specimens with good eye appeal tend to command significant premiums over melt value. If a dealer offers too good of a price on 1885, that can raise red flags regarding its authenticity.
Owning and Caring for an 1885 Silver Dollar
Proper Storage and Handling
An 1885 silver dollar is a prized coin for any collector. Properly storing and handling such a rare coin is important to preserve its condition and value. Here are some tips:
- Store the coin in an airtight coin holder or capsule. This protects the surfaces from exposure to air and humidity which can cause toning or spotting.
- For extra protection, store in a protective flip or slab from grading services like PCGS or NGC. Their holders are made from durable plastic designed specifically for long-term coin storage.
- Avoid touching the surfaces of the coin as this can leave fingerprints and smudges. Handle the coin by its edges or wear cotton gloves.
- Do not clean the coin, as this can cause hairline scratches and negatively impact the value. Many collectors prefer coins with original patina.
- Keep the coin in a cool, dry place away from extreme temperature and humidity fluctuations. The best environment is around 70°F and 40-50% relative humidity.
- Store the coin vertically or in plastic coin tubes to avoid stacking. This prevents friction and pressure on the coin surfaces over time.
By properly storing an 1885 silver dollar you preserve its condition and value for the long run. Always handle coins over 100 years old with great care, as they are artifacts of history.
Grading Services and Protective Holders
Third-party grading services like PCGS and NGC provide professional assessment and protective encasements for rare coins like an 1885 silver dollar. Here’s how they work:
- The grading services will authenticate the coin, assess its physical condition, assign a numeric grade from 1 to 70, and encase it in a clear plastic holder with a certification label and tamper-evident seal.
- According to the PCGS coin facts, an 1885 silver dollar in MS-65 condition has a value of around $700, while one graded MS-67 can be worth over $14,000!
- The protective plastic holders keep the coin’s surfaces safe from handling and environmental damage. They also have an embedded security chip linking the holder to its certification.
- The grading boosts collector appeal and sets a benchmark for assessing the coin’s market value. The numbers also make it easier for buyers to evaluate and trust the coin’s condition.
- The cost of professional grading averages around $30 per coin but can increase the value exponentially compared to raw coins. For ultra-rare coins like an 1885 silver dollar, grading is highly recommended.
In the rare coin market, slabbed and graded coins command the strongest premiums when it comes time to sell. Conservatively graded coins also offer stability against market swings. So while grading costs money upfront, it adds tangible value to an 1885 silver dollar for the long term.
What Makes A 1885 Silver Dollar Rare – Conclusion
With a partially lower mintage these coins also have an exceptionally low survival rate, the 1885 silver dollar stands out as one of the foremost rarities of the Morgan silver dollar series. Driven by immense collector demand and virtually no supply, authenticated specimens reach incredible values at auction and private sale.