• The Liberty Head or Morgan Type Silver Dollar

        c.1910 Engravers of the Philadelphia Mint. Top row (left to right): Charles Greth, John Beally, Harry Blythe, Charles Conway, James Blythe. Bottom row (left to right): William Key, Charles E. Barber, George T. Morgan, Unknown.
        The Morgan silver dollar was first produced in 1878 only because of the avarice of the western silver mine owners, who were producing vast amounts of silver from their newly discovered mines and had no outlet for their product. Several European countries had given up the silver standard for their coinage and had reverted to gold, as a result, they not only exited the silver market, but they also had silver for sale.

        As a result of the massive amounts of silver that the western mines had begun to produce, the open market value of silver had begun to plunge. The western mine owners decided to do what all honest American business owners did, then and today. They approached and pressured Congress to help them to use their product.

        There was historic precedence for this manner of doing business. Only thirteen years before, Joseph Wharton, owner of the largest nickel mine in the United States had petitioned Congress to change the half dime (which was being produced in ninety percent silver, like the dime, quarter and half dollars) to a copper nickel composition. It was quickly enacted by Congress, and the ‘nickel’ as we know it today was born. So, in another moment in history when outside commercial interests influenced Congress, the law was passed and the mint was required to produce (that is, use up) much of the silver that the western mines could produce.

        The United States coinage of silver dollars had been effectively stopped in 1873 when there no provision was made for its continuation under the coinage law of that year. Subsequently, as a direct result of the pressure from the western mine owners, Congress was pushed to pass the Bland-Allison Act of 1878. Because of the Act, the United States Treasury was mandated to purchase $2 million to $4 million of silver every month. It was believed that the mint’s production of silver dollars would provide a price support for the value of silver on the open markets.

        In spite of this, the price of silver continued to drop and Congress was pushed to act once again in order to preserve the price of silver. As a result, they enacted the Sherman Silver Purchase Act. This new Act required the United States to purchase 187½ tons of silver from domestic producers every month. The Act also required that the silver be used to produce only silver dollars. The Congress, as a result of this act, proved that it was capable of extraordinary foolishness even in those days, and that our modern representatives do not hold the corner on the market for the passage of silly laws. During this time, the mint could have purchased silver from foreign sources at greatly reduced prices, compared to that paid to the western mine owners. They could have also saved money by using recycled silver, but they were also prohibited from doing this.

        As a result, the Morgan design silver dollar was created. The dollar was designed by George T. Morgan by request of the mint. Morgan designed the obverse Miss Anna Willess Williams as the model. Because of the conservative Victorian attitude of the time, Morgan was able to persuade Ms. Williams to sit for the model of the dollar only with his promise of complete secrecy. If word of her name were revealed she would be reviled and a scandal would result. Eventually, years later, her name was revealed by a newspaper reporter and she did promptly lose her job. As cited by Breen: "In those days respectable ladies could not be artists’ models, nor vice versa."

        The reverse of the dollar displays a beautiful American eagle perched on an olive branch of peace and a group of arrows, showing the nation’s preparedness for war, if it should ever be necessary. There were many millions of dollars minted, but most of these were simply stored in Treasury vaults, since the silver dollar was not a popular unit of currency for every day circulation.

        Coinage of the silver dollar continued non-stop through 1892, however times were changing. Because the miners were delivering overpriced silver for payment in gold there was a threat of a Treasury default because the vaults were nearly emptied of the country’s gold reserves, yet the country had international obligations that were due in gold. Because of the panic that resulted, millions were suddenly out of work and the country was in chaos. Finally, the Congress repealed the Sherman Act and no more silver bullion was required to be purchased. Smaller amounts of silver dollars continued to be produced, but nothing like the vast quantities that had been minted in earlier years. Later, in 1898, the mint was ordered to restart coinage of the silver dollars until the silver bullion that was on hand was exhausted. This, the exhaustion of the on hand silver inventory, occurred in 1904 and the mint was granted a respite from its dollar production. Production was not started again until 1921, when all three mints produced the Morgan dollar for a one year period.

        Because of the Pittman Act of 1918 possibly 81% of the total coinage of the silver dollars was melted. Later, during World War II, another 52 million pieces were melted as a result of the war effort. Most of the balance of the mintage of hundreds of millions were simply stored in the Treasury‘s vaults and millions more were either stored in bank vaults or kept in drawers at home by individuals who considered them curiosities. I can clearly recall seeing several silver dollars that my mother kept in her jewelry case at home, and asking her about them. She stated that she had received them in her change and had kept them for years.

        Because of the Treasury’s silver melts collectors considered many dates and mints to be very scarce and, in some instances, rare. I remember, as a teenager, finding a 1903 O silver dollar and when I looked it up in the Red Book [The Guide Book of United States Coins, by R. S. Yeoman] and I was astonished to find that it was worth over a hundred dollars. That weekend I visited a coin shop and learned that just three months before the Treasury had released many coins of that date and mintage into circulation and that the coin was now worth mere pennies above face value. Although the true mintage of the coin was well known and very high, it had been assumed that the balance of the coins had been melted during the mass melts of the Pittman Act or during the melts of WW II.

        The coins were given out to banks until the late 1960's, when it was decided to halt shipments. Later, during Richard M Nixon’s presidency, it was decided to sell the coins to the public by the GSA (General Services Administration). At time many formerly scarce dates were discovered in inventory, and a majority of the Carson City mintages were still in the Treasury’s vaults. For those who were fortunate to purchase these pieces, the increase in value has been excellent, especially during the last ten years.

        The entire series consists of 96 individual dates and mintmarks. Although there are no true rarities, there are some very scarce dates. The 1895 P issue is the most expensive in any grade. Although all reference books list the mintage at 12,880, which includes 880 proof pieces produced for collectors, the issue is only known by the proof pieces. It is assumed that all of the regular issue pieces were melted in one of the great silver dollar meltings. The 1895 is known in lower grades, but these are always proved to be circulated 1895 proof coins and may cost as much as $45,000 in extremely fine condition. [Although this may seem very expensive, you should realize that just 14 years ago the same coin, in the same condition was listed at only(!) $11,500. If you had the never to buy it, you would have made a profit of nearly 400%!] In circulated condition there is only one other coin that is expensive (above $1,000) and that is the 1893 S which would cost $6,000.00 in very fine condition. [Again, if you had been courageous, that same coin in 1997 was valued at $1,150, another great investment.] The rest of the set, from 1878 to 1921 contains many great and interesting dates, including twelve dates that were minted with the very popular CC mintmark, produced at Carson City. Personally, I consider the Morgan dollar to be a lot of fun to collect. After all, you may obtain a coin that is about the size of a silver round and is over one hundred years old for little more than the price of a silver round in average circulated condition! All of that and a lot of history thrown in at no additional charge.

        - Treashunt.
        Breen, Walter, Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. And Colonial Coins, F.C.I. Press Inc.,
        Doubleday, New York, 1988.
        Coin World Comprehensive Catalog & Encyclopedia of U.S. Coins, World Almanac, New York, 1990.
        Yeoman, R.S., A Guide Book of United States Coins, 50th Edition, 1997, Western Publishing Company, Inc., Racine, Wisconsin, 1996.
        'The Ladies' Home Journal,' Volume IX, No.8, July 1892, pg.1

        Photo#1: 1882 CC (Carson City) Morgan dollar, in the original holder as sold by the GSA in the 1970's.
        OBVERSE: The obverse of the Morgan Dollar, an uncirculated 1882 example. The Motto "E PLIRIBUS UNUM" is clear around the top and the LIBERTY may be seen on her headdress.
        REVERSE: The Carson City mintmark (CC) may be seen below the eagle, and just above and between the D and O of Dollar.