The Morgan Silver Dollar
Today, the Morgan Silver Dollar is one of the most popular United States coins among collectors and investors. Its beautiful design, impressive size and superb eye appeal make it a numismatic favorite. However, when it was being produced for general circulation, it did not enjoy nearly the same level of acceptance. Thanks to legislation pushed by the powerful silver lobby, an excessive quantity of Morgan Silver Dollars were produced for everyday commerce. Even though the coin was discontinued in 1921, this surplus would remain well into the 1970s.
The Morgan Silver Dollar was first authorized by the Bland-Allison Act, which required the U.S. Treasury to buy a certain amount of silver and convert it into coinage. This law was enacted due to intense lobbying from Nevada mining interests. Prior to the passage of this act, the United States Mint produced relatively few silver dollars, as there was much greater demand for fractional silver coins like dimes, quarters and halves.
U.S. Mint Engraver George T. Morgan was assigned the task of designing the newly authorized silver dollar. His motif features a symbolic portrait of Liberty on the obverse and an outstretched eagle on the reverse. While this general design concept was typical of America’s coinage in the 19th century, numismatists and art historians feel Morgan’s design was especially well-executed. The intricate design details made the coin especially attractive. After numerous patterns and prototypes, the first regular-issue Morgan Dollar was struck in 1878.
Production was robust until 1890, when new legislation allowed the U.S. Mint to curtail mintages. Up until this point, Morgan Dollar production far outpaced actual demand and tremendous surpluses had built up. This “breather” would not last long; by 1898 the Mint was ordered to convert all bullion on hand into silver dollars. The result was a period of massive mintages until 1904, when the metal finally ran out.
One last run of Morgan Dollars was produced in 1921, but the design was discontinued after that. Although the Morgan Silver Dollar was officially phased out in 1921, citizens could exchange silver certificates for them well unto the 1960s. In the 1970s, the Federal Government began to hold mail bid auctions for their stockpile of Carson City Morgans, which had lower mintages (and greater numismatic value). The series of auctions would raise over $100 million in revenue.
Nowadays, very few hoards or caches of Morgan Dollars still exist. Most large groups of been disbursed. Even finding original rolls or bags of Morgans has become a rare occurrence. The fact that millions of Morgan Dollars have been absorbed into collections is a testament to the coin’s popularity and desirability.