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Eye Candy on Morgan Dollars



Toning on Morgan Dollars can serve a very good purpose.

Greetings all, I have long admired the 2009 grand prize winning ?Chappell Collection? of proof Morgan Dollars. Frosty devices on unmarked, mirrored fields combine to make this collection of Morgan Dollars a beauty to behold. Morgan Dollars of this quality are extremely rare though, since most have some degree of contact marks. Proofs aside, freshly minted Morgan Dollars were harshly handled. Fresh off the dies these dollars were thrown into boxes for inspection and then run through mechanical counting machines. Before shipment, they were poured into a 57-pound, 1000-coin cloth bag and then heaped on one another for transport to treasury vaults or banks. It is no wonder that most MS Morgan Dollars are peppered with contact marks.

When I look at a coin in its holder, I like to hold it far enough from my eyes to take in the overall beauty of the coin. Affecting eye appeal on the obverse of uncirculated Morgan Dollars are large unprotected fields around Lady Liberty?s bust that have varying levels of contact marks. Unfortunately, the contact marks on a low-grade (MS-60 to MS-64), blast white, uncirculated coin is very distracting, as my eyes primarily focus on the contact marks rather than the devices. This eye distraction takes away from the overall beauty of the coin, and the effect is even more amplified on proof-like coins. At times, I think a lightly and evenly toned AU-58 coin is much more attractive than a blast white MS-62 with multiple contact marks. Of course, white AU coins have problems of their own and often display an overt amount of hairlines. MS-65 and higher coins have significantly fewer contact marks and allow my eyes to take in the full beauty of the design.

The fact that affordable Morgan Dollars contain an excessive amount of contact marks has kept me from collecting this venerable series in the past. Of course, this was until I decided to collect a short set of New Orleans minted coins with rainbow-toned coins.

Sometimes, when a coin doctor wants to cover up surface imperfections, they will artificially tone a coin to try to cover them up. However, when nature over a period of 110 years or so ?Doctors? a coin this is OK and in some instances desirable (There is a NGC star MS-62 1885-O on Teletrade tonight that is currently bid at $825, while the FMV is $39.60). Toning is a process whereby sulfur in the air combines with humidity and chemically reacts with silver to produce a very thin film or patina on the surface of the coin. This transparent film of varying thickness in the order of thousands of an inch allows light to pass through, reflect off the face of the coin, and cancel certain wavelengths of light on the surface. This effect, which is the same effect that causes a sheen of oil on water to have a rainbow ?appearance? is called ?thin film interference?. When I hold a rainbow-toned at the correct angle relative to the light, my eye perceives the different colors reflected through the varying thickness of the patina on the surface of the coin. Distracted by the colors, my eyes often miss the contact marks to perceive the beauty of the devices through the colors on the coin.

All this brings me to the latest addition to my set. Last week I bought a rainbow-toned 1899-O PCGS MS-62 Morgan Dollar on E-Bay. When I got the coin, I noticed parallel horizontal scratches on Lady Liberty?s cheek from her mouth up to her eye. Furthermore, there was an unsightly contact mark in the coin?s field at 1:00. Now I could clearly see why this coin got its MS-62 grade, but why didn?t I see it in the listing picture? The answer is that my eyes were playing tricks on me through the colors on the coin. I went back to the listing and looked for the blemishes, and sure enough, there they were. All this goes to say that rainbow toning is the eye candy that distracts my eyes away from the surface blemishes and onto the devices of the coin where they belong. Had this coin not had this toning, you can be sure the surface blemishes would have been front and center. Until next time, happy collecting!





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