The Morgan silver dollar, for a number of reasons, is arguably the most popular of all United States coins. For one, they are big, beautiful coins. Their substantial size and beautiful design make them extremely impressive when viewed in the flesh. While attractive in all grades, they are especially pleasing to the eye in Uncirculated. Furthermore, they have a rich and fascinating backstory. The coins exist due to an intriguing combination of silver discoveries in the West and political maneuvering. Despite their allure and charm, Morgan dollars remain extremely affordable. They are gorgeous, rare and steeped in history—yet remain accessible to the average collector.
Perhaps the most historic and sought-after of all Morgan dollars are the Carson City issues. Built at the peak of the Nevada silver boom, the Carson City Mint was designed to convert metal from the massive Comstock Lode into coinage. The facility was only open and functioning for 21 years; it first opened in 1870 but production became extremely sporadic by the mid-1880s. A small number of coins were released from 1889-1893, but after that, the facility was closed. Today, all Carson City coins (featuring the distinctive CC mintmark) are considered highly desirable by collectors, regardless of date and grade.
As mentioned earlier, the Carson City Mint was established because a tremendous amount of silver was being extracted from the earth in Nevada. The market for silver soon became flooded and miners scrambled to find new customers for the metal. At the time industrial and household uses for silver were somewhat limited, so miners turned to the U.S. government. Thanks to their lobbying efforts, they convinced Congress to pass a bill mandating federal silver purchases. Known as the Bland-Allison Act, the legislature required the U.S. government to purchase between two and four million dollars’ worth of silver each year. President Rutherford B. Hayes rejected the bill, but congress overrode his veto and it became law.
There were two immediate after-effects of the Bland-Allison act. Firstly, U.S. Mint engraver George T. Morgan was tasked with designing a new silver dollar. Morgan, coincidentally, had already been experimenting with a new motif for the half dollar; he simply tweaked the design and reconfigured it for the silver dollar. Secondly, the Carson City Mint began converting large amounts of silver bullion into coinage. Before 1878 the Nevada facility saw anemic production levels; coins of all denominations from the era are extremely scarce.