Among the earliest coins ever struck by the United States Mint following its establishment in 1792 were silver dollars. The silver coins of the US Dollar were initially based on the Spanish dollar, a widely circulated international currency in the late-18th century. While the US Mint issued silver dollars from 1795 to 1804 initially, these early releases are rare finds today commonly held in public or private collections and not typically found for sale through authorized dealers. However, you can find a wide range of US silver dollars from 1836 (when coining resumed) onward. Below is a breakdown of All Silver Dollars available from the United States Mint over the past two-plus centuries.
The first widely issued silver dollar from the US Mint was the Seated Liberty design. Issued from 1836 to 1873, its 38-year coining history makes it the longest-running silver dollar design in US history. The coins were initially known as the Gobrecht Dollar, after the designer, Christian Gobrecht. Mr. Gobrecht created the initial silver dollar image with a depiction of Liberty seated on a rock with the US national shield at her side and a Phrygian cap on a pole in her left hand. This image was modified in 1840 and continued on as the face of the silver dollar, with the name changed to the Seated Liberty dollar. The original reverse design showed an American bald eagle gliding through the sky. In 1840, the design was changed to reflect the left-facing heraldic eagle without the national motto. In 1866, the national motto was added to the reverse on a banner above the heraldic eagle.
Following the Fourth Coinage Act in 1873 that ended the free coining of silver, the US Mint also ceased production of the Seated Liberty Dollars. In 1878, a new silver dollar design was introduced as the mint resumed coining silver dollars. Designed by George T. Morgan, who would later serve as the 7th Chief Engraver of the United States Mint, the new silver dollars had a left-profile bust of Liberty’s face with a wreath and coronet crown in her hair. The reverse side featured a unique heraldic eagle design that lacked the US national shield and was flanked by a wreath. Morgan Silver Dollars were initially struck from 1878 to 1904. In the early 1900s, the US again halted the coining of any new silver dollars and would not resume doing so until after World War I. When silver dollar coining resumed in 1921, the US Mint revived the Morgan Dollar design and struck it through December 1921, at which point it was replaced by the last circulation silver dollar in US history.
A special subset of Morgan Silver Dollars is the series known as GSA Morgan Dollars. The shorthand “GSA” stands for Government Services Administration. In 1962, the US Treasury discovered that some 2.8 million Morgan Silver Dollars struck by the Carson City Mint in the 1870s and 1880s were sitting around in mint backs within Treasury vaults. The discovery of these Morgan Dollars resulted in a surge of Americans turning in Silver Certificates, then redeemable for silver dollars, in order to get their hands on these previously unknown Morgan Dollars. Today, GSA Morgan Silver Dollars are available to collectors with special packaging from the GSA. This hoard of coins was notable for the fact that many of the dollars had never gone into circulation.
On December 28, 1921, the United States Mint ceased coining new 1921 Morgan Silver Dollars and introduced the last silver dollar coin design for use in circulation in US history. Known as the Peace Silver Dollar, this new design was meant to reflect the hard-won peace of World War I with softer images of Liberty and the bald eagle. Created by Anthony de Francisci, the obverse features Liberty in left-profile relief with a towering crown of light and her hair blowing gently in a breeze. The reverse features the sun rising on the horizon to the lower-right as the American bald eagle rests on its perch, wings down at its sides. The Peace Silver Dollar was produced from 1921 to 1928 and again in 1934 and 1935.
Collectible Eisenhower Dollars were the last silver dollars issued by the US Mint prior to the modern era and the release of numismatic and bullion $1 silver coins. Eisenhower Dollars produced for circulation were introduced in 1971 and featured the US Mint’s modern cupro-nickel alloy. Surging silver prices in the 1960s made it unfeasible for the US Mint to continue coining silver dollars as the value of the silver far exceeded the face value of the coins. However, a 40% silver Eisenhower Dollar was issued for collectors between 1971 and 1976. The obverse of all coins featured a left-profile portrait of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. On the reverse of the 1971-1974 dated coins, you will find a replica of the Apollo 11 mission patch with an eagle landing on the Moon clutching an olive branch. The reverse of the final two collector issues in 1975 and 1976 featured Bicentennial date marks of 1776 and 1976, with a redesigned reverse featuring the Liberty Bell at the center and the Moon in the background.
As of the 1980s, the United States Mint has introduced bullion $1 silver coins for investors and collectors to purchase. These coins are typically issued as commemorative pieces to honor a particular moment in history or other anniversaries. Examples of recent releases in this area by the US Mint include a 2019 $1 silver coin marking the 100th Anniversary of the American Legion, as well as several 2019 issues honoring the 50th anniversary of NASA’s Apollo 11 mission to the Moon.
The most important differentiating factor between historic US silver dollars and modern bullion silver dollars is the content of the coins. From the release of the Seated Liberty dollar in 1836 until the last release of Peace Silver Dollars in 1935, the United States Mint produced the coins with a metallic alloy consisting of 90% silver and 10% copper. The inclusion of 10% copper was designed to give the coins greater durability in circulation. The Eisenhower Dollar, as alluded to above, was issued in just six date marks using 40% silver content. However, the coins were never intended for circulation and were purposely struck for collectors.
Modern bullion silver dollars from the United States Mint often feature at least .999 pure silver content. The coins may weigh 1 Troy oz or 5 Troy oz, with the US Mint assigning a $1 (USD) face value to both weights. Conversely, historic US silver dollars had just .7734 Troy oz of actual silver content.
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