Morgan Silver Dollars are beloved by millions. Even people who know nothing about coins have heard of Morgans and know they are very popular. They are famous for many reasons. Beyond just an investment, something deep in our American DNA realizes Morgans represent a time in American history of hope and progress when America came of age among all nations. They represent a time gold and silver backed our money, not politicians' promises. Morgans represent something real and truly valuable: freedom.
What’s the Story About Silver Morgans?
The Morgan Silver Dollar, named after its designer George T. Morgan, was the first silver dollar minted after the demonetization of silver set by Congress in the Coinage Act of 1873. Because of its size and silver content, the Morgan Silver Dollar is the most valuable silver coin minted in the United States in the late nineteenth century and early part of the twentieth century.
The obverse features a left-facing Lady Liberty, while the reverse depicts a majestic eagle holding arrows and an olive branch. Each Morgan Dollar contains .7734 Troy ounces of silver with an inch and a half diameter.
The Morgan silver dollar was first minted from 1878-1904 and again in 1921. The Bland-Allison Act of 1878 required the U.S. Treasury to purchase a specified amount of silver to be circulated as silver dollars. The Treasury quickly stockpiled Morgan Dollars, and banks held them in their reserves.
The act passed during the height of the bimetallism movement in America, or the use of silver and gold standards. With tens of millions of coins minted in a particular year alone, Morgan dollars are one of the most widely circulated silver bullion today.
How Much Silver Is in a Morgan Dollar?
They contain 90 percent silver and 10 percent copper, which makes them easy to buy and sell at lower prices. Though Morgan dollars are often close to the spot price of silver, rarely minted, high-grade coins can sell for thousands of dollars.
The Demand for Silver Dollars
While Congress deliberated over the silver question in 1877, demand for a new silver dollar came from the Comstock Lode in Nevada, excavating massive quantities of silver. Mint Director Henry P. Linderman directed his chief engraver, William Barber, and his assistant, George T. Morgan, to create designs for a new silver dollar. The Mint director, supposedly dissatisfied with Barber's work, rigged the contest in Morgan's favor, and Morgan's design won.
The Design of the Morgan Silver Dollar
Morgans feature a left-facing portrait head of Liberty on the coin's obverse. A somewhat gaunt eagle is depicted on the back, giving the Morgan its nickname: "buzzard dollar." Morgan enlisted Philadelphia teacher, Anna Willess Williams, to model for his depiction of Miss Liberty.
In an unprecedented move, Morgan initialed each side of the design with an "M." Shortly after its first Mint, critics noted the Morgan eagle mistakenly had eight tail feathers instead of seven. Therefore some 1878 coins may depict either, with seven being the rarer.
The Mint produced over half a billion Morgan coins between 1878 and 1921. Most of the output came from the original mint facility in Philadelphia. At the same time, Carson City, New Orleans, and San Francisco sites also made them. Carson City ended production when it closed doors in 1893, later making them a valuable commodity among numismatists.
Even after minting ended in Carson City, the vault there stored millions of Morgans, which were transferred to Washington in 1900 and kept sealed. Later, in 1921, the Denver mint also produced Morgan dollars.
The Pittman Act & the Growing Demand for Silver
The Pittman Act of 1918 primarily responded to the growing demand for silver during WWI. The Pittman Act authorized the U.S. government to melt older silver coins and remint them to new silver coins. The world's currency - gold - was no longer available. Britain faced another crisis in India and used silver certificates to pay for the ongoing war efforts and suppress the colony's rebellion.
Britain turned to America to purchase silver to back their certificates. Combined with mounting pressure from Western miners to purchase silver, the U.S. again turned to the Morgan dollar. Congress agreed to purchase bullion at above-market prices from mining companies after the war and replace each melted Morgan coin with a new mint.
The 1921 Silver Dollar
In 1921, the U.S. Mint produced Morgans and Peace Dollars. After the Pittman Act in 1918, the Mint reintroduced Morgans in 1921. The act mandated that earlier Morgans — almost 270 million coins — be melted and replaced by the Peace design by the end of 1921. 1921 was the first time the U.S. Mint issued two designs in the same year. One hundred years later, the U.S. Mint issued two Silver American Eagles designs commonly called type 1 and type 2. Also, the U.S. Mint released replica Morgans and Peace dollars.
The Great Depression & the Silver Act of 1942
After the war, the price of silver rose again during the Great Depression. Growing pressure from the mining industry again gave way to a new silver policy, even while public demand for silver coins was low. Following the Silver Act of 1942, 53 million more silver dollars - both Morgan and Peace designs - were sent to the melting pot. Despite the melting, the Treasury, banks, and mints amassed stockpiles of Morgans in their vaults.
The hobby of numismatics started to gain popularity. Buyers in the 1930s typically sought lower face-value coins, which gave rise to a new consumer: the collector. Carson City Morgans and other rarer mints became popular among collectors through the 1940s and '50s.
The Decline of Silver Certificates
In the early 1960s, Federal Reserve Notes began replacing silver certificates. People exchanged silver certificates for silver bullion and granules rather than coins. The growing redemptions resulted from the rising price of silver, which allowed investors to redeem certificates at a high profit.
The Treasury could no longer sustain the price of silver and again liquidated hundreds of bags of Morgan dollar coins (each bag held 1,000 coins) between 1962 and 64.
Hoarding Silver Dollars
The remaining Morgans held in the Treasury's vault were primarily rarer Carson City mints. From 1972-80, the government released these Morgans in mail-bid sales, generating a nice profit for the Federal Reserve.
During this time, interest in collecting Morgans gained steam again, especially after a 400-bag hoard (about 400,000 coins) was discovered in the home of the deceased collector, LaVere Redfield, in 1977, selling for $7.3 million. In the early 80s, the Continental Bank released a hoard of 1.5 million Morgans, further distributing them among eager numismatists.
1895: The King of Morgans
The rarest of the Morgan dollars is the 1895 mint, often referred to as the "king of the Morgans." Of 12,880 mints struck that year, only 880 survived the melting pot, making the 1895 Morgan extremely rare at the time. Experts estimate that 500 or fewer survive today.
In the early 1900s, a few investors and dealers collected them in hoards. Meanwhile, other Morgan strikes, such as the 1904-O Silver Morgan Dollar, are considered common, making regular appearances at auctions today.
How Many Morgan Dollars Exist Today?
The U.S. Mint produced over 657 million Morgan silver dollars, with 96 date and mint varieties circulating the market. They were widely bought in the West, while they failed to gain momentum in the East.
Hoards remained untouched until the mid-20th century, which helps explain why many coins are in such good condition today. While Morgan silver dollars took decades to gain popularity, they retain a notable pedigree among collectors today.
2021: The 100th Anniversary Coins
In 2021, the U.S. Mint released updated renditions of the Morgans and the Peace Dollars to commemorate the 100th anniversary. The U.S. Mint made five separate replica Morgans. There is a Morgan without a mint mark representing Philadelphia and mint marks from New Orleans, Carson City, Denver, and San Francisco.
The 2021 Morgan Dollars are in the striking "Uncirculated" fashion. Similar to proof coins, coins issued by the U.S. Mint under what it calls the "Uncirculated" finish are assessed – or graded – according to the Sheldon scale. The Sheldon scale includes numeric grades ranging from 1 on the low end (indicating the most inferior quality) and 70 on the high end (indicating the best quality). "Uncirculated" coins that receive a numeric grade of 60 or higher receive the label "Mint State." Mint State is abbreviated "M.S." An "Uncirculated" coin receiving the highest quality grade then would be labeled "MS70."
Each 2021 coin comprises .858 troy ounces of 99.9% fine silver. It carries the same $1 face value as the Morgan Dollar did during its original runs in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. However, the original coins contained a metal mix of 90% silver and 10% copper versus the 99.9% silver contents found in today's issues.
The demand for the Morgan remakes was incredible. The U.S. Mint decided to produce Morgans again every year as a core product. However, in 2022, the Mint canceled production citing supply chain issues. The U.S. Mint intends to resume production in 2023. Still, future production is contingent upon the supply chain hindered by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and disruptions from Covid shutdowns.
Wholesale Coins Direct is proud to be your metals provider for the modern era and vintage Morgans. We know people who invest in Morgans are intelligent and savvy silver investors and want to earn your business. If there is a particular Morgan you want, we can find it for you. Talk to your account professional.
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