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How the obverse of a Morgan dollar gets scraped

3 posts in this topic

This thread, and especially the two obverse photos, reminded me that few know why to obverse of Morgan dollars is often scraped and marred while the reverse can be nearly perfect.

Here's why.

At US Mints in the 19th century the vertical toggle presses had a fixed post for the reverse die on the bottom and the obverse was set into a moveable die chuck - kind of like a drill press. When a planchet was fed between the dies, they produced a coin with the obverse facing upward. The coin remained in this position as it was slid off the press and down a chute into a wooden box. As coins fell from the chute, most landed obverse up (since that's the way they started). The next coin did the same, and this meant that as coins fell and slid over each other, most of the hard contact from the edge of falling coins was taken by the obverse of coins in the receiving box. The common result were many coins similar to the 1884-CC in the linked post: nearly flawless reverse, scraped and marked obverse.

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There is some logic to that scenario, but I believe most of the contact marks suffered by Morgan Dollars occurred after they'd been bagged. These coins were moved frequently during the audits that typically resulted from a change of superintendent every few years. In later decades the bags were relocated to other facilities, prompting more contact between coins. Once entering the coin market, many bags remained intact, being traded and physically moved time after time. I believe the obverse bore the brunt of this abuse because it provided more exposed area, while the reverse has a much busier design which tends to resist marring, spreading the force of contact over many design elements. This seems to be true of most coins featuring obverse portraits and is not limited to USA issues.

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Overall contact marks, yes. But once in a bag all marks would be random. Coins were reviewed before counting and bagging, thus mixing orientation.

As struck, the coins were essentially "perfect." Abrasions are indicators of subsequent handling. The only place for preferential abrasion is in falling from press to receiving box, and related jostling prior to dumping on the reviewing tables.

While I agree that the smooth portrait on coins show damage more readily than detailed reverse designs, careful sampling of marks on both sides shows that there are really more on the obverse. That is, it is not merely a visibility issue but an actual difference in the number of marks.

As for this not being limited to large US coins, that is because until the mid-1960s, all the major world mints used Uhlorn-type toggle presses. The common thread was that the obverse design was the most important and that this die should be in the upper position, which was supposed to better bring up the portrait. Press and coin design similarities meant that large coins ended up with more obverse contact marks, just like US Morgan dollars. (The switch to horizontal coin presses eliminated obverse bias.)

Edited by RWB
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