The Morgan Silver Dollar has been hailed as one of the most attractive coins ever to be released by the United States Mint. If you manage to get your hands on one, you’ll soon see why it’s admired by so many collectors and investors across the globe. Boasting incredible detail for a coin of its time, the Morgan Silver Dollar is an essential piece for every silver coin collection.
On the obverse side of all Morgan Silver Dollar’s is a left-profile of Lady Liberty. She is wearing a Phrygian cap featuring a ribbon inscribed with her name, LIBERTY. Her head is encircled by thirteen stars, with seven to the left of the minting year, and six to the right. The top half of Liberty’s profile is surrounded by the inscription E PLURIBUS UNUM.
The reverse of the coin features an eagle with its wings spread and the engraving in God we trust between its wings. The bird sits above a wreath of laurel and is holding an olive branch and a cluster of arrows, symbolizing strength in war and peace. Other inscriptions include ONE DOLLAR and UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. Earlier Morgan Silver Dollars will show the eagle with eight tail feathers, whereas later releases will show only seven. The mintmark can be found above the denomination.
When it was decided in 1876 that U.S coinage needed a facelift, the director of the U.S. Mint, Henry Richard Linderman went in search of a skilled artist. The Deputy Master of London’s Royal Mint suggested 30-year-old Englishman, George T. Morgan, a talented engraver who was struggling to find work in London. However, Morgan had already studied under English engraver, Leonard Charles Wyon.
After meeting, Linderman offered Morgan the job of assistant engraver at the Philadelphia Mint, and Morgan gladly accepted. Morgan moved to America and started a six-month trial working under chief engraver, William Barber, and quickly began designing coin patterns for the Half Dollar. What Morgan didn’t know at the time was that his Lady Liberty and eagle designs for the Half Dollar would end up featuring on the Morgan Silver Dollar instead.
Under Linderman’s instruction, Morgan and Barber began work on designs for the Half Dollar coin. They were told to create a striking image of Lady Liberty for the coin’s obverse and an attractive eagle for the reverse. As Morgan had studied Greek profiles and eagles at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in preparation for this task, he was eager to release his creative side.
Interestingly, Morgan decided not to design a classic Greek profile of Liberty and, instead, wanted to base his image on an American female. A gentleman named Thomas Eakins introduced Morgan to his schoolteacher friend, known as Anna Willess Williams. When Morgan met with Williams, she turned down his request to use her as the model for the coin in fear of losing her job. She eventually agreed to pose for Morgan under the condition it was kept a secret. Williams posed for Morgan on five separate occasions at, according to what is believed, Thomas Eakins place of residence.
The Lady Liberty design based on Williams later became the obverse design for the Morgan Silver Dollar. A while after the coin’s release, the press discovered the real face behind the Lady Liberty image and printed a story about Williams. Although her modelling work was innocent and all above board, a lady posing for an artist was strongly frowned upon in those days. Unfortunately, when the story was published in the newspaper, Williams lost her teaching job.
The U.S. Mint struck a large number of Morgan Silver Dollars from 1878 to 1904 at five separate facilities including Philadelphia, Carson City, Denver, New Orleans, and San Francisco, but many of the coins didn’t enter circulation. As the Bland-Allison Act forced the Treasury to buy between two and four million dollars of silver every month to create dollar coins, more coins were being produced than needed. Rather than release all of the coins, the U.S. Mint kept many of them in banks.
In 1890, the Sherman Silver Purchase Act upped the Treasury silver buying amount to 4.5 million, which meant even more silver dollars were being minted. Three years later, America was in the middle of a financial crisis, and Congress had no other choice than to stop the production of Morgan Silver Dollars in 1904. By then, there wasn’t enough silver supply to mint more coins and investors were turning their attention to gold.
By 1918, there were 270 million Morgan Silver Dollars composed of 90% silver sitting unused in banks, and the Pitman Act required the Treasury to melt down every one of these coins. The silver bullion supply from the Pittman Act was later used to create the final series of Morgan Silver Dollars in 1921. The 1921 coins were still composed of 90% silver and make up the majority of Morgan Silver Dollars that appear on the market today.
As each year passes, the popularity of the Morgan Silver Dollar keeps on growing, and for good reason. Not only is it an important part of American coinage history but it’s also a visually stunning piece with an interesting story behind it. Collectors also appreciate that the coin contains nothing less than 90 percent fine silver and can still be used as currency today.
While the Morgan Silver Dollar is not all that rare, it is worth considerably more than its one dollar face value and, the older the coin, the more scarce and valuable it is likely to be. When trying to obtain a Morgan Silver Dollar, you also need to look at the condition of the coin because, again, this can make a tremendous difference to its value. If you prefer, you can buy a Morgan Silver Dollar that has been certified by the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) or Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) to guarantee the grade and authenticity of your coin.
For help with finding a specific Morgan Silver Dollar issue, feel free to reach out to the professional team at Capital Gold Group. We can also source other vintage and rare silver coins of your choosing, so be sure to contact us with any special purchase requests.