Today, the Morgan Silver Dollar is one of the most colorful and treasured relics of America’s western frontier, and an inspirational coin that collectors are drawn to because of their historical significance.
Holding a Morgan in your hand takes you back to the Old West, reminiscent of America’s ingenuity and entrepreneurship. Morgan Dollars invoke images of western salons and honky-tonks, with cowboys raising the stakes at poker games, and stagecoach robberies from outlaws looking to score a cache of these big, beautiful silver dollars. Morgan Dollars contain three-quarters of an ounce of 90% silver, mined from Nevada's legendary Comstock Lode. From 1878 to 1904, and again in 1921, 657 million Morgan Dollars were produced in 96 different date-and-mint combinations, over the 27 years of Morgan production. Over the years, hundreds of millions of Morgan Dollars were melted.
The Mint Act of April 2, 1792 made it possible for the United States to strike its own coinage. This Act was especially important in the history of the United States, because it established the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia and specified the Silver Dollar as the highest-denomination silver coin.
The first U.S. Silver Dollars were struck in 1794, but American merchants kept the heavier and more valuable Spanish coins for themselves and exported the lighter U.S. coins to Europe for trade. As a result, U.S. coins disappeared almost as fast as they were minted. For this reason, Silver Dollar coinage was suspended in 1804.
In 1836, Congress re-established the Silver Dollar (with a slightly lighter weight of 26.73 grams), and by the 1840s, they were being issued for general circulation once again. Even at this time, most Americans rarely saw a Silver Dollar in circulation, because most were held in bank vaults, exported, or melted for their precious silver bullion. This situation led to the Act of 1873 which eliminated the Silver Dollar from regular U.S. coinage altogether.
The Bland-Allison Act was written by Representative Richard P. Bland with amendments made to it by Senator William B. Allison. It was passed in Congress in February of 1878. This act restored silver as legal-tender. It also included verbiage stating that the government would mint 2 million silver dollars per month, leading to the origin of the Morgan Silver Dollar.
Below is a brief overview of the major events that affected Morgan Silver Dollars.
1859 - Comstock Lode; The richest silver mine in American history was discovered in Nevada.
1873 - Crime of 1873; Silver demonetization and end of the silver dollar, puts the U.S. on the gold standard.
1878 - Bland-Allison Act; Guaranteed government silver purchases creates the birth of the Morgan Silver Dollar.
1890 - Sherman Silver Purchase Act; Increased government silver purchases increases silver dollar production.
1893 - Panic of 1893; An oversupply of silver triggers bank failures, causing an serious economic depression.
1904 - Morgan Dollar End; The Mint ceases to strike Morgan Dollars when silver reserves are finally depleted.
1918 - The Pittman Act; The mass melting of over 270 million Morgans are used to supplement the war effort.
1921 - Morgan Dollar Rebirth; Over 86 million 1921 Morgan Dollars are minted one final time.
1962 -Treasury Hoard Discovery; Over 2.9 million Morgan Dollars with the coveted CC mintmark are found.
1972 - The GSA Sale; The General Services Administration holds 7 mail bid auctions grossing $100 million.
Morgan Dollar Meltdown- The Pittman Act of 1918
Morgan Silver Dollars were minted continuously from 1878 until 1904. By the early 1900s the Comstock Lode was exhausted and the silver bullion supply ran out. As far as Morgan and the rest of the nation was concerned, the era of the Silver Dollar had come to an end. By this time, most Americans preferred to use paper money instead of carrying around heavy Silver Dollars. In fact, Silver Dollars circulated widely only in the sparsely-populated West, but in the rest of the country they were stockpiled in banks and U.S. Treasury Department vaults.
In 1918, Congress passed the Pittman Act to replenish the government's reserves of silver bullion by officially melting millions of the Morgan Silver Dollars stored in Treasury vaults. As a result, over 270,000,000 Morgan Dollars were melted - almost half the entire mintage from 1878-1904.
The Pittman Act also required the government to purchase more silver to replace the melted coins, so the Morgan Silver Dollar was briefly revived one more time in 1921 until it was replaced later in the year with the Peace Silver Dollar.
The majority of Morgan Dollars found today can be linked to one of four major hoards. These hoards are known as the Treasury Hoard, the Redfield Hoard, the Continental Bank Hoard and the Casino Hoards. Morgans in these hoards were generally kept in bags, hence the "bag marks" you will find on Morgans today. Bag marks are caused from the coins coming into contact with each other.
In total, the number of coins that have survived to this day are small. One leading authentication service estimates that they have seen 1.4 million of these historic silver dollars. The actual number may be greater than this, but in comparison with the number minted, that figure is staggering.
Morgan Silver Dollar Coin Specifications
Mint Mark: Varies
Designer: George T. Morgan
Composition: 90% silver, 10% copper
Weight: 26.73 grams
Diameter: 38.1 mm (1.5 inches)
Who Designed the Morgan Silver Dollar?
This large, heavy, handsome, historic silver dollar was named after its designer, George Thomas Morgan, the 7th Chief Engraver of the U.S. Mint. His iconic design is one of the most recognized coin designs in the world.
Born in 1845, Morgan attended the Birmingham Art School before winning a scholarship to the prestigious South Kensington Art School in London. After running his own engraving business in London, he became an Engraver at England's Royal Mint. There, he continued to learn under the watchful eye of the legendary English engraver, Leonard Charles Wyon.
In mid-1876, Morgan's career took an unexpected turn. The Deputy Master of The Royal Mint received a letter from the Director of the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia, H.R. Linderman, asking if he knew of someone who could fill the position of Assistant Engraver of the U.S. Mint. The Royal Mint recommended Morgan - and after examining samples of Morgan's work, Linderman offered him the post of "Special Engraver" for $8 per day.
Upon his arrival at the U.S. Mint in Pennsylvania, Morgan was assigned the task of designing the Silver Dollar and working on patterns for the Half Dollar. At this time, the U.S. Mint struck no circulating Silver Dollars, but the Mint realized it was only a matter of time before a Silver Dollar would be called for once again. They wanted to be ready when the time came.
By the time he eventually retired in 1924, George T. Morgan had worked at the U.S. Mint for an amazing 48 years. During this time, the United States went through many changes as the "Age of Technology" became a reality. This was also one of the most exciting and turbulent periods in United States history, and Morgan was witness to dramatic changes taking place all around him - from the winning of the West to World War I, and from the Wright Brothers' flight to Babe Ruth taking the baseball world by storm. Through it all, the one constant factor was the Morgan Silver Dollar, which even then was respected for its beauty and silver heft.
Morgan Silver Dollar Design
The Morgan Dollar Reverse Design features an eagle with wings outspread with the motto, IN GOD WE TRUST above. Encircling the coin above is UNITED STATES OF AMERICA with the denomination, ONE DOLLAR, with stars on either side. The eagle is clutching both an olive branch and 3 arrows in its talons, symbolizing peace, yet readiness for war. Below the eagle and around its sides is a wreath of laurel to honor the nation’s achievements. The ribbon which ties wreath together is another “M” for Morgan. Below the wreath is where the Mint marks are located.
The Morgan Dollar Obverse Design bears a beautiful close-up profile of Lady Liberty facing left, wearing a Phrygian crown that symbolizes freedom, encircled with a ribbon inscribed with LIBERTY. Above the crown are cotton and wheat that decorate the ribbon that symbolized the reconciliation of the North and South following the Civil War. E PLURIBUS UNUM is above Liberty’s head, with 13 stars below. There is a single small “M” at the base of Liberty's neck as a tribute to the designer, George T. Morgan.
Morgan Dollar Key Dates
Collecting Morgan Dollars has become a popular set-building pursuit among many coin enthusiasts. The goal is to complete, or nearly complete a set of Morgan Silver Dollars by date or mintmark. The most desired coins in sets are known as “Key Dates.” “Key Date” Morgan Dollars are usually the hardest to find in the series and often carry value beyond their simple silver content. There are also “Semi-Key Dates” or simply “Semi-Keys” that are the next level of difficult-to-obtain coins after “Keys.”
Supply and demand moves all markets, and with the Morgan Dollar, availability and demand drives pricing. A coin’s population drives supply, so when there are high supplies, prices are usually lower when readily available. However, when a Morgan is difficult to obtain and in demand, like a Key Date, it will have often carry a numismatic premium based on the mintage and condition.
The 1889-CC Morgan Dollar is a Key Date coin that has a limited supply with increasing demand. The Carson City Mint started minting Morgan Dollars in 1878, but went on a 4-year hiatus in 1885 due to political reasons. In October 1889, Morgan Dollars once again began rolling off the mint’s presses, but only 350,000 coins were struck in the last three months of that year due to maintenance issues. The result is that the 1889-CC Morgan Dollar is one of the lower mintage issues of the entire Morgan series. Many other less-famous dates had lower mintages, but many 1889-CC Silver Dollars had an early demise. Approximately 300,000 1889-CC Silver Dollars were melted, ensuring 1889-CC survivors as one of the Key Dates in the Morgan Dollars series.
Graded Morgan Silver Dollars
Coin grading is the expression of an opinion that describes the condition of an individual coin that most dealers and collectors would agree with. Over time, numismatists and coin grading services have refined and agreed upon specific definitions, descriptions and numeric values that help all coin collectors describe coins accurately when buying or selling.
Morgan Dollars are large and heavy coins that are made out of silver which is relatively soft and malleable. The large size of the Morgan Dollar makes it difficult to strike up the design fully. Five branches of the United States Mint manufactured Morgan Silver Dollars: Philadelphia, New Orleans, Carson City, San Francisco, and Denver (in 1921 only). The quality of the strikes vary from strong to weak, depending on the year and mint.
Where is the Mint Mark on a Morgan Silver Dollar?
The mint mark of Morgan Dollars struck at the branch mints appears below the bow in the wreath on the reverse design. Morgans were minted in Philadelphia (no mint mark), San Francisco (S), New Orleans (O), Carson City (CC) and Denver (D), and carry the U.S. branch’s specific mint marks except for Philadelphia struck issues.
How Much Silver Is in A Morgan Dollar?
Morgan Dollars contain 26.73 grams of .900 fine silver and .100 copper for a total net weight of .77344 ounces of pure silver.
Morgan Silver Dollars for Sale at GovMint.com
When you buy Morgan Dollars at GovMint.com you can rest assured that you are buying authentic United States coinage. We offer free shipping on orders of $149 or more and have a 30-day return policy for all non-bullion items. You can view our return policy here. Browse our website GovMint.com or call 1-800-642-9160 to see how Morgan Silver Dollars can enhance your coin collection today.