• The Morgan Dollar (Part 1/3)

        This will be the first of three threads about the Morgan Dollar series. This part just covers a little history of the Morgan dollar designs. The next thread will discuss post mint history, including hoards/melts, distribution, and the GSA sale. The final thread will revolve around collecting Morgan dollars. Hope
        everyone enjoys it!

        The story of the Morgan dollar really starts with the Bland-Allison Act. The Bland-Allison Act, named after its two authors, Richard P. Bland and William B. Allison, was passed by Congress on February 28th 1878 over President Hayes's veto. The act required the U.S Treasury to purchase between two and four million dollars of silver each month from U.S silver mines; and that silver was to be used to mint a legal tender 412.5 grain silver dollar.

        Even before the Bland-Allison Act was passed, the U.S Mint was preparing for a new dollar coin design. David Bowers in his book A Guide Book of Morgan Silver Dollars states Henry Linderman, the Mint Director, was anticipating legislation for new silver dollars in 1876. In 1877, as support for the Bland-Allison Act grew, William Barber (Chief Mint Engraver), George T. Morgan (Assistant Mint Engraver), Charles E. Barber (Assistant Mint Engraver) and Anthony Paquet (Private Engraver) all began work on a design for a new silver dollar. There were a number of different designs created during 1877, Bowers states more than two dozen designs were made. Below are 3 examples of the designs:
        1877 Half Dollar Pattern Judd-1510 (George T. Morgan) US Patterns

        1877 Half Dollar Pattern Judd-1525 (William Barber) Heritage Judd-1525

        1877 Half Dollar Pattern Judd-1540 (Anthony Paquet) Heritage Judd-1540

        It eventually came down to either Morgan’s or Barber’s design. On February 21st 1878 Linderman made his decision, choosing Morgan's design over Barber's. The pressure was then on Morgan to make the final preparations for the dies.

        Less than a month after Morgan's design was chosen the first dollars were struck. The first Morgan dollars were struck on March 11th 1878, according to a reporter the minting began at exactly 3:17.

        The new dollar wasn't popular with the public, many people called it ugly, and said the eagle looked weak or scrawny. It was also pointed out the eagle on the reverse had 8 tail feathers, when it should only have 7. This led to the first major change of the Morgan dollar design. (Below are images of the 6 major Morgan dollar reverses. *I’ve only included reverse images, there were some slight changes in the obverse for some of the designs, but the most noticeable differences are all found on the reverse.)

        8 Tailfeather Reverse: Only found on some 1878 P mint Morgan dollars. Heritage 8TF

        The design is most recognizable by the eagle’s 8 tail feathers, flat breast, and parallel arrow feathers.

        7 Tailfeather PAF (Reverse of ’78): Found on some 1878-P, 1879-S, 1880-CC Morgans, and found on all 1878-S and 1878-CC Morgans. Heritage rev78

        As mentioned above, this was the first major change to the Morgan dollar design. After word got out the eagle should have 7 feathers instead of 8, it was decided to switch the design. The design still had the parallel arrow feathers and flat breast, like the 8tf variety, but it now had 7 tail feathers instead of 8.

        7/8 Tailfeather Reverse: Only found on some 1878 P mint Morgan dollars. Heritage 7/8

        The 7 over 8 tail feather reverse was an accidental variety. As the switch from 8 tail feathers to 7 tail feathers was made, there were still some useable 8 tail feather reverse dies. The useable 8tf dies were adapted by impressing the 7tf design over them. In some cases the original 8tf design wasn’t completely covered and some tail feathers were left exposed. The 7/8 variety has all the same characteristics as the 7tf PAF variety, but it also has tips of the old design’s tail feathers visible (as seen in the picture above).

        7 Tailfeather SAF (Reverse of ’79): Also called the normal reverse. It was used on some 1878-P, 1879-S and 1880-CC Morgans, and all other Morgan dollars from 1879 to 1904*(with a slight exception that will be discussed with the next reverse). Heritage 1881-S

        There are a number of changes between this reverse and the PAF (Reverse of ’78) design. The most notable are; the eagle’s breast (which is much more full and rounded) and the arrow feathers are now slanted.

        7 Tailfeather SAF (Reverse of ’79) New Dies: Used on some 1900-P, 1900-S, 1901-P, 1901-S, 1901-O and 1902-O Morgans, and on all 1902-P, 1902-S, 1903-O,P,S & 1904-O,P,S. Heritage 1903-S

        This reverse variety is often not mentioned, because it is so similar to the original 7tf SAF design. The most noticeable difference is the space between the eagle’s left wing (on your right side) and the neck is larger than on the original design. The main reason why I chose to mention this die is because of its affect on strike quality. As Wayne Miller mentions in his book, The Morgan and Peace Dollar Textbook, even though the new dies were meant to be an improvement, they wound up having a major flaw. The eagle’s breast feathers weren’t fully articulated in the new design, so coins struck from these new dies rarely have strong detail in the eagle’s breast.

        The 1921 Reverse: Used on all 1921 (P, D, S) Morgan dollars. Heritage 1921

        The design was completely redesigned for the 1921 Morgans. The most notable differences are; the flat eagle’s breast, large parallel arrow feathers, and larger stars on the reverse.

        When the minting of the Morgan series finally ended, a total of approximately 656,998,971 dollars had been coined.