Morgan Silver Dollars are an endlessly fascinating coin series that can be collected in a variety of ways such as by date and Mint mark, die variety and others. The appeal of Morgans comes from a combination of their attractive design, the fact that they are large, substantial silver coins with a silver weight of .7734 ounces, their connection to American history, especially to the lure of the West, where the coins circulated much more than in other areas, and endless speculation about how many examples of specific dates and varieties exist today.
Keep reading to learn more about the iconic Morgan Dollar series!
Morgan Silver Dollars, minted between 1878 and 1904 and again in 1921, have no peer in American numismatics. Hundreds of millions of Morgan dollars were produced due to legislation (the Bland-Allison Act of 1878) that required the coins to be minted in quantities that far exceeded what was needed for commerce or circulation. This is because there was a very powerful lobby in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that represented silver mining companies.
In 1918, to prop up the price of silver, more than 270 million Morgan dollars were melted in compliance with the Pittman Act, which also called for the series that had stopped in 1904 to resume for one more year in 1921. Millions more were melted later during World War II and also in 1979-1980 when the price of silver reached $50 per ounce.
No records were kept of which coins were melted, so over the years, numismatists have attempted to piece together estimates of surviving coins from various written sources. They determined that, overall, it is the more scarce and rare dates that were melted. Almost the entire mintage of 12,000 1895 Morgan Silver Dollars were destroyed. According to estimates by Q. David Bowers and other noted experts, there are 100 to 200 million Morgans and as many as 65 million Mint state coins alone, with more than 10-15 million of them 1921 dollars. Until American Silver Eagles recently overtook them, Morgan dollars were the most plentiful U.S. coins in existence, yet the percentage of the coins originally minted that survives today is estimated to be a mere 15-17%.
Morgan dollars are named after their designer, George T. Morgan, the 7th Chief Engraver of the U.S> Mint. Morgan was actually recruited by U.S. Mint officials from The Royal Mint in England, where he worked as an assistant engraver. He arrived in Philadelphia in 1876 and studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and then began producing pattern designs for the Mint. There was a major silver rush at the time, and U.S. officials wanted a new silver dollar design to be issued to replace the Seated Liberty Dollar. Morgan began preparing his design for a pattern coin, in which he wanted the depiction of Liberty to be of an American woman, rather than a figure inspired by ancient Greek art.
A friend of his suggested he use a schoolteacher from Philadelphia named Anna Willes Williams as his model. The design he created based on his sessions with this model was originally used for a half dollar pattern, and then the Mint’s Superintendent instructed Morgan to use that design and its inscriptions for the obverse of a new Morgan Dollar coin.
The obverse design of Morgan’s dollar shows Liberty wearing a classic Phrygian cap that symbolizes freedom or emancipation and has cotton and wheat in her hair. This symbolized the reconciliation of the northern and southern American states following the Civil war. Inscriptions on the Morgan Dollar obverse include “ E PLURIBUS UNUM,” and the year of issue. Stars representing the original thirteen colonies encircle the reeded edge of the coin.
That design was paired with a reverse depicting an eagle, which Morgan designed with the eagle’s wings outstretched and grasping arrows and olive branches. This reverse design symbolized the dual American desire to be prepared to defend the nation, while also preferring peace. Inscriptions on the Morgan Dollar reverse include “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,” “ONE DOLLAR,” “IN GOD WE TRUST.” The mint mark when present will also be found on the reverse below the Eagle’s tail feathers.
In 1904 the Morgan Dollar series was originally suspended due to low demand and a dwindling silver bullion supply. Under the Pittman Act of 1918 mentioned above some 270,232,722 Silver Dollars were melted down for their silver content before the Morgan Dollar returned for a final year of issue in 1921. 1921 Morgan Dollars are notable because they mark the only year Morgans were struck at the Denver branch of the United State Mint. A total of 44,690,000 Morgan Silver Dollars were issued in 1921 Morgan Dollar.
To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the final Morgan dollar release, the United States Mint will issue 2021 dated Morgan Silver Dollars bearing the same iconic designs with some slight alterations. Details are still developing from the Mint but to find out more and sign-up to be notified, check-out our Coming Soon Page Here.
One of the reasons so many Mint state Morgan dollars exist today is due, in a large part, to the fact that they were saved over the years in canvas Treasury bags, where they knocked against each other when moved, and hoarded by people such as Lavere Redfield. This resulted in bag marks, contact marks and abrasions, and sometimes colorful toning even though they were never used in commerce.
In 1964, the Treasury department discovered millions of uncirculated Morgan dollars in bags that had been sitting around for decades, including 2.9 million with the very desirable Carson City Mint mark. When Treasury officials found all those bags of coins, they decided to hold back the Carson City Morgans, which they knew were typically minted in much smaller numbers than the more common dates, rather than allowing people to get them in exchange for paper money silver certificates as they had been able to do in the early 1960s.
A 1969 congressional committee determined that the best way to dispose of the Carson City dollars was through a mail bid sale. In 1970, Congress passed legislation that directed the Treasury to transfer authority to sell the coins to the GSA, which conducted a series of seven mail bid auctions for the coins between 1972 and 1980. Those coins, which generated $100 million for the Treasury, were mostly sold by date, but some were sold in unopened boxes, where the bidder had no idea what coins were inside.
When the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) grades the GSA-housed coins, it uses a blue-and-white band that goes around the holder (and in the case of the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS), a black band), with the grade indicated instead of removing the coin from its GSA box. A larger number of CC coins on the marketplace are not housed in the black boxes and may have come from a different source than the GSA sales.
One other area that collectors should focus on, is the certified coin populations that are available from NGC and PCGS. Especially when it comes to better-date coins, it is essential to study the population reports at PCGS and census reports at NGC to see how many coins in the grade of the coin you are considering have been graded and how many exist above that grade. Also study how many coins have been given the green or gold CAC stickers. And remember that these numbers change over time as more coins are graded.
ModernCoinMart is pleased to carry Morgan Silver Dollars that have qualified for Numismatic Guaranty Corporation’s (NGC)’s prestigious Green Label which was a result of a collaboration between the grading company and one of the leading numismatic distributors in the United States Rare Coin Company of America (RARCOA). In order for coins to qualify for the Green Label prior to being submitted to NGC for encapsulation and certification, the experts at RARCOA must select them for features such as luster, tone, eye-appeal, and strength of strike, allowing collectors to easily identify Morgan Dollars of superior quality.
Today, it's estimated that as few as 15% of all Morgan Silver Dollars ever minted remain. You’re in luck, thanks to our extensive network of numismatic experts, you can still find authentic Morgan Silver Dollars here at ModernCoinMart. When you purchase Morgan Dollars from ModernCoinMart you will enjoy Free Shipping on all domestic orders with no minimum as well as access to our stellar customer service team who is happy to assist in placing your order. Collecting Morgan Dollars can be endlessly enriching in non-monetary ways too, as you learn more about the coins and when and how they were made. Since obtaining nice quality, better-date issues takes time, study, and effort, collecting the series is a journey that can last for many years. Enhance your collection by buying Morgan Silver Dollars at ModernCoinMart today!