Identification and Diagnostics of Proof, DMPL, PL Morgan Dollars
(Don't Let Ebay Sellers Fool You)
The above picture is a Morgan Dollar designated by ANACS as a DMPL (Deep Mirror Proof Like) coin, and most people would agree that this coin displays all the characteristics required to obtain a DMPL status.
The picture below is an 1880-S designated DMPL by PCGS, and PCGS has one of the most conservative guidelines for giving a coin DMPL status. While this PCGS specimen is obviously DMPL, it's all in the photography that the appearance lacks the same quality of the above coin. This fact brings us to a problem with ebay auctions.
Pictures can be taken poorly or outright manipulated to make a coin appear DMPL or PL when it's not (This applies mostly to ungraded or raw coins, but not exclusively). The reason? DMPL and PL coins are obviously more desirable and realize higher premiums than Morgan Dollars without a PL or DMPL appearance. These sellers realize some buyers are uniformed and hoping to purchase a raw specimen for a better value than a graded specimen, either to send it to a reputable grading company or a turn around profit, or just to get a super deal. It's a very common, but often disastrous, occurrence at ebay for many bidders.
It's just that very few collectors understand the qualifications of DMPL and PL coins, and quite frankly, most people don't take good coin pictures; but not to always blame the photographer because each coin has characteristics that reflect light differently. These unique characteristics will always affect the outcome of a photograph. However, the sellers have a responsibility to reveal any details of a coin that's not readily apparent in their photos.
Also, many coins, no matter how talented the photographer, just don't translate with a good DMPL appearance, and this often results in one coin appearing DMPL while another doesn't, even when designated DMPL by a reputable grading service. A perfect example is the 1881-S Morgan Dollar. This date is known for high quality strikes, and well polished dies that result in a high quantity of Cameo, PL and DMPL coins, allowing for most specimens to translate a DMPL appearance in photographs more convincingly than some other dates and mint.
Below is another PCGS graded example, that in it's raw state might not have been considered DMPL because of the toning, or is this just because of how it was photographed? It's often difficult to discern. So you should be able to see, by now, how easy it is to make a mistake when viewing pictures and why any serious DMPL and PL coin collector should always buy coins graded by reputable grading companies, or examine the coin in hand before considering a purchase of a DMPL or PL coin.
Proof, DMPL & PL Morgan Dollars
Proof, Deep Mirror Proof Like AND Proof Like coins are commonly referred to as PR, DMPL, PL and in that order. One problem that needs to be explained first is that a DMPL Morgan Dollar is not related in any way with a Proof Morgan Dollar. DMPL Morgans where struck with business dies and intended for circulation, but Proof Morgans where struck with proof dies and intended for collecting and presentations. So, with this fact in mind, let's look at some more facts to clarify this issue.
A Proof Morgan Dollar will not always display a noticeable contrast between the bust and the fields. Although many will, some will attain a satin appearance or toning that takes away from the Deep Mirror appearance and contrasting features. Remember, Proof coins can tone differently and were struck from specially prepared dies called Proof Dies.
These dies are prepared differently than business strike dies, and often are superior in quality than business strike dies. However, there are many PR Morgan's that have weakly struck features. Proof Coins struck from Proof dies must never be confused with coins struck from overly basined business dies that causes a business strike Morgan to display a DMPL appearance. A Deep Mirror Proof Like coin is not a Proof coin, and is no way related when it comes to the dies they were struck with.
Morgan Dollar Working Dies were basined before striking planchets, and in this process the working die was placed in a zinc receptacle full of fine grit. The longer the die was in this receptacle the more mirror finished it became. This resulted in many Morgan Dollars obtaining a DMPL or PL appearance.
Also, a Deep Mirrored coin will display shallow "striations" in the fields from when the metal was stretched or thinned as it was squeezed between the dies. These striations must not impede the reflectivity in the fields for a Morgan to be DMPL, but most were polished off during the basining process so the mirror fields will display greater reflectivity at greater distances. Below is an example of a true Deep Mirror Proof Like Morgan Dollar.
In other words, a Proof Morgan Dollar was struck with a specially prepared Proof die, and a DMPL coin was not. With experience the collector will be able to distinguish the different characteristic(s) between the die strikes so as not to confuse a Proof with a DMPL coin. However, PR Morgan Dollars are rare, so the main point is distinguishing between coins with "normal" and striated fields and deeply reflected mirrored fields.
One method is a white piece of paper and a small ruler. Place the ruler on a white piece of paper, use cotton gloves to hold the coin at a slight angle, and if you can clearly see at least the 6 inch mark clearly on the ruler, without distortion, then the coin is possibly a DMPL coin, but should at least be Proof Like. This does not apply to coins that have been polished by a dealer or ebay seller. Viewing the coin under a 10x loupe or microscope will determine if a coin has been doctored, but it might not be readily apparent to the inexperienced eye, so a submission to a reputable grading service might be in order.
(Note: Not all Morgan Dollar dates were struck as Proof. No Proofs were struck in 1921 except CHAPMAN & ZERBE Proofs and most of these don't have PL surfaces and are so rare that to buy a raw "supposed" example would be foolish unless one is an expert on these Proofs. Much debate still remains among experts concerning the Chapman and Zerbe Proofs).
Also, it should be noted, that many Proof coins only obtain a PR label and are not always cameo or deep cameo. As stated above, a Proof is struck from special dies and this is an obvious diagnostic for the trained eye, but it's not always evident in photographs. So don't be fooled by seller's claim that a coin is related to a Proof just because it has Proof like or a cameo appearance.
Below are three examples of Proof Morgan Dollars for the viewer's reference. As you can see the appearance of a true Proof Morgan has a mellow luster and often deeply struck details. Most Morgan Proof mintages are under a thousand coins, or just a little over a thousand, so they are very rare and are not usually found on ebay. If you do find a Proof up for bid on ebay, I suggest not bidding on the coin unless it's attributed by PCGS, NGC, ICG or ANACS.
The dmpl and proof like Morgan Dollars is an area of great concern on ebay because most sellers want the most they can't get out of their coins, and auction titles or descriptions, that claim a coin is PL, will most generally gain higher bids, especially if the pictures or photographs have been manipulated to make the coin appear PL. Also, the coin itself might have been polished, giving it an artificial appearance that's no more than damage to the coin, and decreases the value of the coin.
I have seen coins that where as polished as bright as a silver spoon and without any cameo devices to speak of, and the seller or dealer, labeled the coin as DMPL. It's bad enough that a coin seller doesn't know the difference, but it's even more sad when they know but continue to sell altered coins as original. You can usually tell which of the above is the case by the reaction of the seller when you inform them of the fact that the coin is polished and not DMPL. Do not bid on a coin if the seller get's rude about your questions or doesn't answer emails.
NGC graded Proof Like Coin. You can see the cameo devices, but it still has the cartwheel affect as you turn the coin under a light. So, in my opinion the coin should be designated semi-proof like.
PCGS Graded proof like Morgan. This is an example of a PL picture that doesn't show the cartwheel and some ebay sellers would claim "It should have been labeled DMPL IMO." Don't ever believe that hype, PCGS might not be perfect, but unless you can see the coin in hand then you must take their labels word for it. Besides, PCGS guarantees their grades and you can always have the coin reevaluated. Only semi-proof like Morgan Dollars show a cartwheel affect, and this coin is just PL because the fields do not display the depth or contrast of a DMPL coin.
Here's an example of a Morgan Dollar not designated as PL. However, some ebay sellers will say it's PL and should have been graded as such. But it wasn't, and if they felt this was the case then they should send it back to PCGS for a regrade instead of trying to hype a coin's status by saying PCGS made a mistake just to get more money out of the coin. It's entirely possible the method of photography gave the coin an appearance of PL, but in hand the coin doesn't have this appearance.
You can see some cameo affect in this photo, and the coin is obviously a gem, but it should not sell or be offered at a price more than the market allows.
Here are a couple more examples of coins that sellers claimed where PL, but the reputable grading company didn't designate as such. Any 1921 Morgan with PL devices are rare and highly sought after by collectors, but just because the picture reveals some "darkness" in the fields, does not mean the coin is PL. The same can be said for the 1882-S.
Grading services do make mistakes, and that's why the best services in the business have a guarantee. Sellers need to make use of it, and spend their own money, send the coin in for regrade, instead of attempting to gain more money from buyers, by making claims that a graded coin must be mis-labeled. As I said before, it's all in how the picture are taken, and how knowledgeable and/or greedy the ebay seller is.
Just because a coin is in a holder doesn't mean the grade or the DMPL-PL designation is correct, and I would really stay clear of a seller that puts a label over a grade like the PCI holder on the right. The yellow labeled holder on the right also makes the claim that the coin is DMPL by, and that's not correct, either that, or they need to take some photography lessons, or lessons in ethical coin selling methods.
Ebay has too many self-slabbers that over-grade their own coins for profit and they sell them by the thousands, and I hope this article helps collectors realize that they are being duped if they buy these self graded coins without a guarantee of the grade.
Above are six more attempts at ebay seller's coins that they claimed where DMPL or PL. As you can see the greedy and desperate attempts that ebay sellers will take to hype a coin to make more money. It's sad because some people will bid thinking the seller just couldn't take a good picture, and never ask for better pictures. Bidders like this think they can get a steal from a seller who takes bad pictures because they will think others won't bid as high, and they will get a good deal.
Picture 1 - The seller claimed the coin is DMPL, buts it's cleaned and scratched.
Picture 2 - The seller claimed the coin is DMPL, but it might be only PL. More of their pictures didn't reveal anything different.
Picture 3 - The seller claimed the is DMPL, but I don't see any evidence of cameo devices. It could just be polished to give it a mirror finish.
Picture 4 - The seller claimed the coin is DMPL, but this coin appears it might have been cleaned, but it's no even PL let alone DMPL.
Picture 5 - The seller claimed the coin is DMPL, but it's obvious the picture has been altered and should never receive a bid as the coin picture is altered, so what might they have done to the coin.
Pictue 6 - The seller claimed the coin is DMPL, but at best it might be PL. However, they lack in their photography methods and I wouldn't bid more that more than the value of an MS64 Morgan Dollar's BV.
If all of the above is not confusing and complicated enough, look at the above example. PCGS graded an 1882-CC DMPL in an Old Green Holder, and OGH are considered the most conservative years for PCGS. Dealers and collectors pay higher premiums for coins in OGH holders in hopes the coins are under graded and they can crack them out and resubmit for a higher grade. It didn't work out for this seller.
This coin was sent to NGC and came back MS64 but with only a PL designation. It just goes to show that even the experts differ on grading, and as you trickle down the statuses of pros, dealers, small time dealers, ebay sellers, and greedy people selling coins, it can become a virtual lottery toss up, at times, when buying coins.
It's very important for buyers not to be fooled by the hype, learn as much about the coin series they collect, and learn from other's experiences. It takes years and a lot of study, and finding honest and reputable dealers, collectors and experts alike to help you out. I don't mean that you have to wait years to learn before you buy coins, but do some research before buying coins. Don't jump into a coin buy blindly without checking some facts first.
Here's a great place to start for facts and information on grading coins Coin Help. This website offers information on grading coins, coin facts, grading services, and a forum where you can ask all the coin questions you want, and can even post links to ebay auctions for our opinions.
If you still desire to buy raw coins on ebay then look for auctions with pictures like the one above. This ebay seller properly photographed and described this coin. The coin is semi-proof like coin at the least, but it just might obtain PL, but the picture is a great example of a seller trying to honestly portray the coin they're selling.
However, it would have benefited this seller, and every seller, if they would use the ruler test to help bidders determine a coins status as DMPL or PL. But we all know that most sellers are just trying to gain more bids and don't want to educate coin collectors on the attribution of proof like and deep mirror proof like coins. While some sellers have no idea themselves, and have no business attributing coins.
A DMPL Morgan Dollar must have at least 6 inches of clear mirror reflection. A small ruler is the best method for determining this distance.
Proof Morgan Dollars where struck with different dies than DMPL Morgans.
Proof Morgan Dollars don't always have cameo or deep cameo appearances.
Proof Like Morgan Dollars must have 2-5 inches of a clear mirror finish. If the coin is held in front of a ruler the 2 inch mark or better must be obvious and without any distortion.
Just because a label on a slabbed coin, or a seller claims a Morgan Dollar is DMPL or PL does not mean it's a fact. Many escapulated coins on ebay are over-graded and with the wrong attribution.
Even the best grading companies can differ in opinion and make mistakes. It's always best to learn the top grading services grading methods in case a mistake happens. The top tier grading services have all published in-depth books on how to grade, authenticate, and attribute coins, and these books are great investments.
Above: Three examples of Proof Morgan Dollars
PL & Semi-PL
PL (Proof Like) coins are also struck by overly basined working dies, but for not as long as a die that produces a DMPL Morgan. PL Morgans will have cameo devices, but the mirrors will not reflect as deeply as a DMPL, having a reflective distance of 2 to 5 inches and might have some cartwheel affect, but this must not distort the reflection of an object in the fields, at the 2 to 5 inch distance. A Semi-PL coin will have cameo devices with some reflectivity to the fields, but less distance than a PL and will have a cartwheel affect when turned in the light. However there must not be distortion in the fields from the 1 to 2 inch mark. The cameo and mirror affect must be on the reverse and obverse to obtain either designation. Below is an example of a Proof Like Morgan Dollar
It also must be noted that the cartwheel affect in a Morgan Dollar's fields is caused by these striations on the die before it strikes the planchet. So, the less die striations, the smoother the die surface, and the more mirrored the fields of a struck Morgan becomes. The more striations on a dies surface causes more distortion in the reflectivity of a Morgan Dollar's fields and this is why a true DMPL coin with have deep mirrors without distortion a certain distance, and why a proof like mirror will have some distortion and less depth in the mirrored fields.
(As noted before, the striations are polished out the longer the working die was basined.)