U.S. Silver Dollars are one of the most popular coins in America. Their large size and beautifully detailed faces make them a prized commodity among collectors and investors alike. One coin in particular, the Morgan Silver Dollar, is admired by many. In fact, the coin has been lauded as one of the most beautiful pieces of coinage that the United States Mint has ever released.
What makes the Morgan Dollar so attractive to collectors? Aside from its striking design and the fact that it is composed of 90% silver, many people seek out this coin because of its rich historic value.
Prior to 1792, the United States wasn’t allowed to strike its own coinage. Instead, early merchants and colonists used coins from all over Europe, but they were especially fond of the Spanish Silver Dollar from Mexico City. It wasn’t until the Mint Act of April 2, 1792, that the Philadelphia Mint was established and that the U.S. Silver Dollar was named the highest denomination silver coin.
In 1859, prospectors in Virginia City, Nevada, discovered the Comstock Lode, the largest silver vein that the world had ever seen. This silver, combined with German silver that had entered circulation in the U.S., flooded the market. As a result, the value of silver began to decrease in 1873. This prompted Congress to pass the Coinage Act of 1873, which ceased all production of silver coinage in the U.S.
By 1878, silver producers working with the Comstock Lode had more silver than they knew what to do with. Around this time, many Americans were out of work. So, Congress decided to take advantage of the situation, striking a deal with silver producing companies. The Bland-Allison Act of 1878 restored silver as legal tender and required the U.S. Treasury to buy large quantities of the precious metal, which would create more jobs within the mining companies themselves. It was then that the U.S. found itself in need of a new coin design.
The director of the U.S. Mint, Henry Richard Linderman crossed the pond to find the most qualified artist to design the new silver coin and to serve as assistant engraver at the Mint in Philadelphia. George T. Morgan, age 30, came highly recommended by the Deputy Master of the Royal Mint in London. According to the deputy, Morgan was a very talented engraver, but there were few positions open in London at the time.
Morgan accepted Linderman’s offer, taking up tenure at the Philadelphia Mint where he worked on a six-month trial basis under Chief Engraver William Barber. During his stay there, Morgan designed pattern coins that were originally intended for the half dollar. He had studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts to prepare for designing a Liberty head for the coin, and he researched the nature of the bald eagle. Both were included in his pattern for the half dollar, but Linderman had other plans for Morgan’s design.
Linderman instructed both Morgan and Barber to design a coin depicting Lady Liberty on the obverse and an eagle on the reverse. When designing his half dollar Liberty, Morgan had decided to depict an American woman instead of a typical Greek profile. His friend suggested Anna Willess Williams to model for the portrait. The young woman, a teacher from Philadelphia, sat for Morgan five times, after which he declared that her profile was the most perfect that he had ever seen.
He used this design on the obverse of the silver dollar, along with the depiction of an eagle with its wings outstretched on the reverse. Liberty is portrayed as a goddess, her cap adorned with two stalks of wheat and two cotton blossoms as a nod to America’s agricultural heritage. The eagle holds an olive branch — which symbolizes peace — and it perches atop a bundle of arrows, a symbol of war. The idea behind this image is that, although the U.S. is a peace-loving nation, she will always defend her borders against attack. Linderman chose this design over Barber’s, and the Morgan Silver Dollar was authorized for circulation in February 1878.
Because of the Bland-Allison Act, the U.S. Mint struck large quantities of the Morgan Dollar from 1878 to 1904 in Carson City, San Francisco, New Orleans, and Denver (many Morgan Dollars have a mint mark indicating in which city they were produced). The Act required the Treasury to buy between two and four million dollars in silver each month to be struck into one dollar coins. It wasn’t long before the supply of coins exceeded demand, and millions of coins sat in banks, unused. To add to the flooding, another briefly lived act, the Sherman Silver Purchase Act of 1890, raised the amount of silver that the Treasury was required to buy to 4.5 million dollars.
The Sherman Act was repealed three years later, but the damage was done. The country was in financial crisis since the oversupply of silver prompted investors to hoard large amounts of gold. Congress slowed the production of Morgan Dollars, finally halting it altogether in 1904 when the bullion supply for silver dollar minting had been exhausted.
Nearly two decades later, the Pittman Act was passed in 1918 as a solution to the huge amounts of unused silver dollars in American banks. The Treasury had to melt down 270 million Morgan Dollars, allowing time for demand of the coins to rise. In 1921, the U.S. Mint used the silver bullion supply from the Pittman Act to create a new series of Morgan Silver Dollars. It was the final year that these beautiful coins were minted, and it represents the majority of coins available for collection today. Later that year, the Peace Silver Dollar took its place.
The Morgan Dollar remains one of the most popular coins today for many reasons. Although it is not a particularly rare or obscure piece, it is visually striking and historically important, not to mention that it’s composed of 90% silver. Collectors also enjoy the added bonus of being able to use the coin as currency even now, as the Morgan Dollar’s value will never drop below a dollar.
The Morgan Silver Dollar represents an important era of our nation’s history. Adding this beautifully designed coin to your collection means bringing a part of that significant time right into your home. If you’re looking to expand your collection with this truly stunning, significant piece of coinage, JM Bullion can help you find exactly what you’re seeking.
|Almost Uncirculated (AU)||This is the first grade below Mint State, Proof, and Specimen Proof certification conditions. AU coins have small traces of wear visible, but only on the highest points of the coin’s design features and other surfaces.|
|Extremely Fine (XF or EF)||The grade below AU, these coins have a very light wear that is noticeable, but only features on the highest points of the coin’s design features and other surface areas.|
|Very Fine (VF)||The next step down on the grading charge, VF coins have light to medium wear visible. The major features of the coin remain sharp, but minor wear begins to become visible on various surfaces of the coin including the highest points of the design and lower down as well.|
|Fine||Very Fine coins are those which have light to medium wear, but all major features of the coin’s design and surface areas remain sharp. On a larger scale from Mint State down to Fair and Cull, Very Fine coins fall two steps above Very Good coins and two steps below Almost Uncirculated coins.|
|Very Good (VG or VG+)||Known as Very Good, or in this case Very Good Plus, this type of coin is well worn. However, the design features of the coin are clear, but flat and may be lacking details. VG+ coins are considered Very Good, but have fewer abnormalities or wear patterns than a standard VG coin.|
|Very Good/Very Fine (VG-VF)||In many cases coins do not have all of the positive or negative features of a certain grading level. For example, the difference between Very Good, Fine, and Very Fine coins can be extremely minimal in nature and subject to the interpretation of the grader. VG-VF coins are those which have a level of wear that falls between worn and light wear, and don’t fit perfectly into either the VG, F, or VF grades.|
|Good (G)||Further down the grading scale are Good coins. Those coins in G condition are heavily worn throughout the design and surface areas. The overall design of the coin and legend are visible, but faint in some areas of the coin’s surface.|
|About Good (AG)||Coins in this condition are just a few steps above cull in their value and quality. AG coins have an outlined design, with parts of the date, legend, and design features worn smooth in some areas.|
|Fair (F)||The final step above Cull, coins in this condition are difficult to decipher in great detail. Damage and wear is so significant that you can identify the coin by its type, but grading the specific details of the design, date, and legend are near-impossible due to the advanced state of degradation.|
|Cull||Coins which most collectors wouldn’t be interested in because of exceedingly poor condition of the surfaces and design features. Common wear features of a cull coin include extremely large scratches, exceedingly dark toning, corrosion, pitting, or more significant problems such as retooling, bends, holes, and major gouges in the coin.|
|Basal State||These coins are on-par in some senses with Cull. While cull coins are often visible as to the design features, date, and legend, they have significant points of damage as covered above. With a Basal State coin, the most identification that can be made is that the lump of metal in your hand is a coin.|
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