Thursday, May 22, 2014

1878 Morgan Dollars

When I was a young boy in the 1950's, you could walk into any bank and the chances were good that the tellers had silver dollars. They were popular birthday gifts, but the recipients usually spent them (a dollar had a fair amount of value then), so they'd end up back at the bank. Or at least they would until a young collector like myself came to buy them.

One of the very first Morgan dollars I got was an 1878 7/8 TF Morgan.  I sold that coin in the 70's and there's a story that goes with it that I'll mention later, but the 7/8 TF really interested me. Although I had no idea at the time, there are dozens and dozens of varieties of 1878 dollars - dozens of the 7/8's and dozens more of 7 feather, 8 feather and other variations.

Those are just three.  Many more are listed at You could collect nothing but 1878 Morgans and have a massive (and expensive) collection!

I mentioned that there was a story behind the one I sold.

This was back when I was doing weekend coin shows with my brother-in-law in the 70's. We were setup in in Brockton, MA and I had the 7/8 TF in my case with a slightly high price on it, so not many had paid much attention to it.

Then along came this very intense guy who would remind you of Christopher Lloyd when he played Jim in Taxi. Maybe not so disheveled, but thin, with an angular build. I *think* I remember he was wearing workman's clothes like a electrician or a plumber might wear at the time. He asked to see that coin.

I opened my case and handed it to him. He got out his glass and studied the coin. He sighed and pulled out a notebook, studied that for a bit and then back at the coin. More sighing and deep inspections with the glass. Finally he put it down and said "I don't think I've every seen this variety before".

Of course that can be a foolish thing to say to a coin dealer. Many would snatch the coin back immediately and say "Hold on, that's priced wrong!" or maybe even pull it from sale entirely.

I'm not like that. I knew nothing about VAM varieties at the time (still don't know much, I'm working on that) but basically my attitude is that if someone knows more than I do, they deserve to cherry pick me. I hope that they'll educate me before they walk away giggling, but I'll bear no hard feelings either way.

So we talked about the 7/8 and Morgans in general for a bit. He explained how he had an extensive variety collection and I think he mentioned the VAM book, but I hadn't heard of it yet. He said he thought this coin was an unknown variety.

I sold him the coin. I think I asked him to let me know if it really was unknown (at that time, of course), but I never saw him again

Well, it turns out that there was a guy named Pete Bishal who was known as "The 1878 Nut" who matched that description.  That might have been him.  According to the folks at Vamworld, if it was him it was not an unknown variety - I had always wondered about that.

I found a picture of Pete at another thread - I'm still unsure as to whether the man who bought my 1878 was Pete or not, but I sure would like to know. Pete died some time ago, but apparently he left notebooks about his coins and his sons may publish them someday - who knows, maybe he tells a story of cherry-picking a young dealer in Brockton?

Note:  All my coins are in a safe deposit box.  I keep nothing in my home. 

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