Silver Dollars: The History Of Morgan & Peace Dollars

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In numismatic circles, the US silver dollar is nothing less than an institution. From 1794 to 1935, the United States issued dollar coins in silver. Experts and enthusiasts alike typically agree that the coinage created during this period is some of the finest work ever done in the field; subsequently, US Silver Dollars are highly valued by collectors as a reminder of the proud history of American currency.

What Are Silver Dollars and When Were They Minted?

When the thirteen colonies threw off British rule and formed the United States, one of the first concerns that needed to be addressed was the creation of a system of currency. Although Spanish coins circulated widely in the interim, the U.S. Mint was quickly established. Following in the traditions of the time, early coins were pressed in precious metals, with the value thought to be guaranteed by the cost of the base materials. These coins distinguished themselves from later plated varieties with a higher degree of purity.

The first U.S. silver dollars, the so-called “Flowing Hair” variety, were pressed in 1794, followed by the Draped Bust and Seated Liberty dollars. In 1873, under President Grant, the Fourth Coinage Act shifted American coins to the gold standard, taking silver out of the domain of coinage for five years. This would remain the case until the Bland-Allison Act allowed the creation of a new design, the Morgan Dollar, and its eventual successor, the Peace Dollar.

Silver has long been used as a coinage metal, with the Greek silver Drachma functioning as one of the earliest examples. In colonial times, the silver Spanish 8-real coin served a basis for the early American economy. Due to this, coupled with the existing silver deposits in the colonies, the early government was likely predisposed toward the use of the metal as a minting standard. As a result, the U.S. Mint’s first efforts, directed by Alexander Hamilton, modeled the coins’ size and purity standards on the Spanish currency.

Initial U.S. coinage efforts were slightly less pure and heavy than the Spanish 8-real. Although Congress ruled that the U.S. Mint coins were to be traded at equivalent value to the 8-real, its lesser quality made it less valuable. Later coinages were of higher quality, with both the Morgan Dollar and the Peace Dollar consisting of 90% silver and 10% copper.

Being the capitol at the time, the first U.S. Mint facility was built in Philadelphia, PA. Throughout the 19th century, branches opened in Charlotte, North Carolina; Dahlonega, Georgia; Carson City, Nevada (although that branch primarily struck gold coins); Denver, Colorado; San Francisco, California; and New Orleans, Louisiana. Some of those branches have since closed, and others (most notably Fort Knox in Kentucky) were opened. At one time or another, all of these facilities were involved in the manufacturing of silver dollars.

Popular Types Of Silver Dollars

Major U.S. silver dollar mintings include the Flowing Hair, Draped Bust, Seated Liberty, Morgan, and Peace designs. Perhaps the two most familiar coins for collectors, though, are the Morgan dollar and the Peace dollar.

Morgan Dollar

The Morgan Dollar was created after the restoration of America’s bimetal minting system by the Bland-Allison act of 1878. The act required the treasury to acquire and use between two and four billion dollars worth of silver every month for coinage purposes. This necessitated the creation of a new coin design, and Mint Director Henry Linderman sought out a talented designer to lead the process.

George Morgan was an Englishman who apprenticed at the Royal Mint for many years before being hired away by the U.S. Mint in 1876 at the age of 30. He worked under Master Engraver William Barber, but when the request came in to prepare a design for the new silver dollar, Morgan’s version was preferred to that of his supervisor.

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Obverse

The obverse side of the coin features the head of Lady Liberty in profile. The likeness is based on Anna Willess Williams, a schoolteacher who was the daughter of Morgan’s friend Henry Williams rather than the Grecian figures that preceded it. Morgan would claim that Williams’s profile was the most perfect with which he ever worked. Williams, despite an attempt at anonymity, was unmasked as the face of Liberty by a newspaper and received fan-mail and visitors to the end of her life, a fact about which she was never especially thrilled.

The face also features the U.S. motto “E Pluribus Unum,” or “from many, one,” as well as the year of pressing and thirteen five-pointed stars to represent the original colonies.

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Reverse

The reverse depicts an eagle in flight carrying an olive branch and arrows, showing strength in both peace and war. The first pressings showed the eagle with eight tail feathers, but later pressings reduced it to seven to keep up with the tradition of showing an odd number of feathers on a U.S. eagle. The lettering identifies the United States and the value (one dollar), and it contains another U.S. motto, “In God We Trust.” The reverse also carries the mint mark: no letters for Philadelphia, CC for Carson City, O for New Orleans, S for San Francisco, and D for Denver.

The Morgan dollar provides a good compromise between age and innovation, connecting with late 19th-century American history while also breaking with traditions of design.

Peace Dollar

The Pittman Act of 1918 required the U.S. Mint to begin striking more silver coins once again. Initially, in 1921, the older Morgan design was used, but the desire for a new coin design led to the creation of the so-called “Peace Dollar.”

The Peace Dollar is called such because it was created to commemorate the victorious end of World War I. After gaining the approval of the Treasury Secretary, a contest to find the new design was initiated. Many designers put submissions forward, including the creators of earlier coins and Morgan, who was now the chief engraver of the mint. However, when the results were judged by the Treasury Secretary and the Mint Director, they opted for the design of a relatively unknown designer named Anthony De Francisci.

Anthony De Francisci was an Italian national by birth who immigrated to America at the age of 18. His experience in design included a range of mediums like seals, buttons, plaques, and medals. But it is his Peace Coin design that brought him his greatest success, beating out the works of established designers like Morgan, MacNeil, and Weinman. De Francisci went on to achieve great success in the wake of his selection.

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Obverse

The face of the Peace Dollar features Liberty in profile, hair billowing, with a radiant crown (a symbolic representation of the sun, perhaps meant to indicate the dawn of a new era). Like Morgan before him, De Francisci based his Liberty design on someone from his personal life: his wife Teresa, a fellow Italian immigrant who reportedly had dreamed of posing as Liberty since seeing the Statue in the harbors of New York as her family arrived in the country. The front also shows a U.S. motto, “In God We Trust,” as well as the date of pressing.

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Reverse

Francisci submitted two designs for the reverse of the Peace Dollar. The first, which depicted an angry and majestic eagle breaking a sword, was considered too controversial since the snapped weapon could be seen as a sign of defeat. Francisci denied that interpretation.

The other design, featuring an eagle at rest carrying an olive branch and perched in front of a sunburst, was chosen. A late revision added the broken sword as well, but public disapproval of the design element, led by the New York Herald, resulted in its deletion from the final pressing in an emergency last-minute alteration to the mold by Chief Engraver Morgan.

The text on the back features the nation’s name, the “E Pluribus Unum” motto, the value (one dollar), and a mint mark (from either Philadelphia, San Francisco, or Denver).

Printed for a limited duration due to fragility in the molds, Peace Dollars, although not especially rare, are not incredibly common, either. Thus, they serve as both a marker of a new era of American history and an affordable entry into the world of silver coin collection.

Demise Of The Silver Dollar

The Peace Dollar ceased pressing in 1928, once all the Pittman Act silver had been made into coinage. A brief revival of the design occurred in the 30s but only lasted for two years. Without a bimetal treasury value standard, silver lacked support as a coinage metal in the United States; increases in silver costs ultimately cemented the decision. In fact, precious metal coins had begun to diminish in general by this era, a slow process of decline that ended in the removal of the gold standard under President Ford in 1976. As a result, precious metal coins became the product of limited collector runs.

Silver Dollar Coins As Collectibles And Investments

Silver coins hold value because the metal they are pressed from holds value; the relative stability of precious metals makes them a solid proposition. Metal prices generally trend upward over time, leading to a slow but steady increase in value.

Dollar coins, being relatively plentiful due to large pressings when they were in general circulation, offer a closer approximation of the melt value of the metals on which they are based than other collectible coins, making them less subject to demand.

If you are seeking to add some authentic U.S. silver dollars to your collection or investment portfolio, be sure to shop JM Bullion’s collection of pristine silver dollar coins. Our silver dollars are available based on certified grade, condition and specific years and are made available at market leading rates.

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