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The Morgan Silver Dollar – Worth Collecting

April 30, 2018 0 Comments

A dollar doesn’t go very far today, but 100 years ago it was worth something – enough that making one out of silver made sense. That first $1 coin in America was the Morgan Silver Dollar, minted between 1878 and 1904. Today, in its many variations, it’s a popular coin for collecting, and with silver prices low, this is an appropriate time to add them to your collection.

George T. Morgan came to America in the 19th century from England, hired by the US Mint because of a shortage of skilled engravers. He began as an assistant engraver in 1876 and in true American fashion he worked his way up to become the Chief Engraver by 1917. He held that eminent position until his death in 1925. Although known for many designs, his most famous is undoubtedly the Morgan Silver Dollar.

In the 19th century gold and silver were legal tender, and their value was linked to the value of a dollar. If a person brought silver into the Mint, they were obliged to turn it into coins, and because of the system in place, this created a profit for the owner of the silver. The result was an excess of coins, leading to inflation. Legislation was passed to solve this problem, ordering the mint to purchase several million dollars’ worth of silver every month, and turn it into silver dollars.

A design was needed, and in 1877 the Superintendent of the Philadelphia Mint bypassed the Chief Engraver of the time, and ordered Morgan, who was Assistant Engraver, to create a suitable design, with a Liberty head on the obverse, and an eagle on the reverse.

Morgan Silver Dollars were minted every year between 1878 and 1904, at the Philadelphia, San Francisco and Carson City mint facilities. Production ended in 1904 because the Mint had effectively converted all the silver it had purchased into coins. In the early 1960s the Mint discovered large reserves of silver dollars in its vaults, and holders of silver certificates were able to purchase them at face value. Many of the coins available today come from that time.

Collecting Morgan Silver Dollars

There are many variations in the Morgan Silver Dollar, because there were distinctive features on different coins, and different quantities made at the different mints. For example, in the 1878 coins – already more valuable because they are the first produced – there are variations in the tail-feathers of the eagle. Some have 8 feathers, some have 7 feathers, and some have doubled feathers, called ‘7 over 8’. As another example, 1879 coins have different values depending on the mint, with Carson City coins – mint mark ‘CC’ being the rarest, although other features affect rarity as well.

Some collectors of Morgan Silver Dollars seek to own one coin for each year of production, without concern for any variations. Others try to collect all the possible variations for a single year. The many variations that can be found on this fascinating coin are explained in a book by Leroy C. Van Allen and A. George Mallis, called The Comprehensive Catalogue and Encyclopedia of U. S. Morgan and Peace Silver Dollars. Anyone setting out to collect these fascinating coins should read this book to help them make wise choices, and to enrich their collecting experience. When buying, always buy certified, clearly-identified coins, since the quality and rarity of the coin has a significant impact on their value to collectors, and you need to be sure your coin really is what you think it is.

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