1878 7 Feather, 1878 8 Feather, 1878 7/8 Feather. These issues come with a few too many marks and lustre that is seldom found blazing. These are difficult issues to find in eye appeal 9 or 10.
1878-CC. Too many little marks plague this date.
1879. Very difficult to find with bright blazing lustre. Marks are also a problem. I haven't had a gem in stock for a long time!
1880-O. Die rust and poor planchet preparation equal poor lustre. Marks are a problem, too. Finding a gem is a difficult task.
1880-CC. Die rust and marks account for the many inferior specimens in the marketplace. Gems are very difficult.
1886-O. For a coin with a mintage of 10 million pieces, it is amazing there are not more mint state examples around. The combined NGC and PCGS populations are: MS-60 (242), MS-61 (310), MS-62 (497), MS-63 (387), MS-64 (136), MS-65 (0).
Compare these numbers to the 1887-O at almost the same mintage. Four times as many 1887-Os have been certified as 1886-Os. The reason for this is unclear.
Dull lustre and a scruffy look characterize the 1886-O. The best deal, in my opinion, is MS-60 to MS-62 and if you hold out for a gem, you may never find one!
1887-O. This issue can be difficult for strike, but with a little work a well-struck example can be found.
1890. Most come with soft, dull lustre. Occasionally you can find this issue bright and sharp.
1891-O. With this date we begin a string of "O" mints with bad to terrible strikes. The 91-O strike ratio appears to be 70% bad, 30% good, so there is a good chance of finding a decent strike.
A word of caution -- a good strike on these poorly struck "O" mint issues will never look as good as some of the sharply struck dates, such as 79-S, 80-S or 81-S.
1892-O. This issue is the worst "O" mint for strike. Once in a while a piece appears with a good strike in MS-64 or MS-65, but never with a great strike. It is best not to get hung up on this one, because it may drive you nuts!
1893-CC. More than half this issue comes with a very poor strike. The other half comes with lots of marks. This doesn't leave much room for a nice example, does it? Patience will win out, as the occasional nice coin turns up.
1893-O. Not a terrible strike, but certainly not great -- kind of in the middle. Lustre can also be a problem. Combine this with the fact that 93-O is a really scarce coin in mint state, and you have your work cut out for you.
1894-O. Similar to the 93-O, just a little worse. Marks can be a problem. Plus there are few mint state examples around to choose from. This is an especially hard issue for good eye appeal in MS-60 to MS-62.
1895-O. Look for strike to be OK, not great. This issue suffers from dull lustre and few mint state examples to choose from. Since mint state is a very difficult task, this issue might be better approached at AU-55 to AU-58.
1896-O. Most pieces were struck from rusted dies, so lustre is a major problem. Strike is neither good nor bad; marks are usually a problem in MS-60 to MS-62 grades.
There have been plenty of coins certified in MS-60 to MS-62, so the trick is finding one you like!
1897-O. This is similar to 96-O, but lustre on this issue is somewhat better. Again, you may have a difficult time locating a specimen in MS-60 to MS-63 you can live with.
1901. This is my candidate for "Worst Made Morgan Dollar." Here you find greasy dies, poor lapping of the dies, improper pressure of the presses, and poor quality planchets.
If you feel confident you can find a nice coin in this date, think again. I have never seen one and most of the gem sets of Morgan Dollars contain a Proof instead of a Mint State example.
This issue must be considered completely separate from the rest of the series. What I recommend you look for is a coin that is much better than normal for the date. I don't often find examples like this, but rest assured that when I do, it will be the best that is available. In this issue MS-62 is the grade to shoot for.
1901-O. I know this is a common coin, but it is especially hard to find in gem MS-65 or MS-66. Some rusty dies and plenty of marks make a gem difficult in this issue.
1902-S. Improper lapping of dies left lines running through the obverse and/or reverse on lots of specimens. Strike can be a problem too, so a gem is mighty hard to find.
1904. Dull grey is not a look generally preferred in the Morgan series, but describes most of the coins in this date. There are just a few around with bright lustre, so have patience when looking for this issue.
1921 P, D, and S. This year marks a redesign. Who knows why, but the mint made a really ugly design.
On the obverse the profile is slightly different, and the hair is quite different from previous issues. Hair detail runs strong and weak within the same die. The reverse is a catastrophe: the breast feathers seem sculpted with a butter knife, leaving almost no detail.
The "P" and "D" mints are the best struck for the date, but both issues are plagued with marks.
The "S" mint is the true disaster. Here we find poorly lapped dies, lousy strikes, and soft, dull lustre. Sound appealing? Gems are few and far between, although I have had one in MS-65. This was the last issue Wayne Miller found for his gem set of dollars!