Collecting the U.S. Morgan Silver Dollar

Do you remember your first encounter with a U.S. Morgan silver dollar? Perhaps your grandfather kept a handful of them in a dresser drawer, glass jar, or coffee tin. Or maybe you were lucky enough to be gifted one for a special occasion, not fully understanding its historical significance but knowing it was big, heavy, and more special than any other coin you had ever seen. Does the phrase, “That’ll be worth a lot of money someday” bring back any silver dollar memories?

Fast forward to today when the Morgan dollar is among the most widely pursued of U.S. coins, having been produced between 1878 and 1904, and again in 1921. It has been estimated that a half-billion Morgan dollars were struck before being replaced with the Peace dollar in 1921. The world’s growing demand for silver during World War I, however, would have a big impact on the number of Morgan dollars left in circulation, adding to their unique history and scarcity.

The Morgan silver dollar background

Appreciating the history of the Morgan silver dollar requires an understanding of what occurred in the silver markets during the late-19th/early-20th centuries. A large silver rush took place in 1859 with the discovery of the Comstock Lode, a rich deposit of silver in Nevada that triggered thousands of miners to the area. This major discovery led to an oversupply of silver which, in turn, devalued its price. This led to the Coinage Act of 1873 that ended the production of silver dollars, two-cent pieces, three-cent silvers, and half dimes, shifting the country toward a gold standard. The movement did not sit well with farmers or miners, who were both experiencing economic declines. Silver political forces in Congress, led by Missouri Democratic Representative Richard Bland (nicknamed “Silver Dick”), fought to promote bimetallism and helped pass the Bland-Allison Act of 1878. It required the U.S. Treasury to purchase silver and put it back into circulation as coins. Paying attention to the uproar, the Treasury began making plans for a new silver dollar in 1877. It commissioned talented British engraver, George Morgan, then an assistant to U.S. Mint chief engraver, William Barber, to create its new design. Morgan accepted the challenge; and, the new silver dollar was named after him.

The Pittman Act of 1918 and the melting of the Morgan dollars

Having been produced continuously between 1878 and 1904, the Morgan dollar was made of 90% silver and 10% copper. Its mostly silver composition accounts for its rarity today. That is because silver became greatly needed by U.S. allies during World War I when their gold reserves were shrinking. To assist its allies, conserve its gold supply, and balance silver trade domestically, the U.S. government enacted the Pittman Act of 1918 sponsored by Democratic Senator Key Pittman of Nevada. His state was the leading source of silver. The Act authorized the melting down of over 270 million Morgan dollars for silver bullion. In 1921 the U.S. Mint began producing Morgan dollars again; but, they were quickly replaced with the Peace dollar, commemorating the end of World War I.

An elegant and long-lasting design

The obverse of the Morgan dollar features a left-facing portrait of Lady Liberty that George Morgan modeled after a young Philadelphia teacher named Anna Willess Williams. He designed Lady Liberty with flowing hair, wearing a cap along with a ribbon inscribed with the word “LIBERTY.” Her hair is also adorned with two cotton blossoms and two sheaves of wheat, signifying the importance of the country’s agriculture industry. Thirteen stars encircle the bottom half of the obverse, representing the original 13 colonies of the United States. Across the top is the Latin phrase, E. PLURIBUS UNUM, which means “out of many, one.” Morgan added his initial “M” at the base of Liberty’s neck; and, in an unprecedented move, he added his initial to the reverse as well.

The coin’s reverse features an American Eagle facing right with its wings outstretched. Its claws hold arrows symbolizing war and an olive branch symbolizing peace. The motto, “In God We Trust,” appears in Gothic script between the eagle’s wings and a laurel wreath surrounds the eagle. Look under the bow that ties the wreath. The mint marks indicate the location where the coin was struck. (no mint mark = Philadelphia, D = Denver, O = New Orleans, S = San Francisco, or CC = Carson City).

What is the value of a Morgan silver dollar?

The value of a Morgan silver dollar can vary greatly depending on its date, mintage, and condition. There were approximately 100 variations produced. Some key dates of the Morgan dollar include 1879-CC, 1884-S, 1889-CC, 1892-S, 1893-S, 1893-CC, 1894-P, 1895-P, 1895-O, 1895-S, and 1903-S.

At The Executive Coin Company, we welcome the opportunity to help you establish or expand your Morgan dollar collection. View our extensive selection of original Morgan dollar coins available for purchase.

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