Morgan Silver Dollar History

Posted by on October 27, 2011

Coin Weight (g) Composition Silver Melt Value Full Melt Value
(1878-1904, 1921)
26.73 90% silver, 10% copper
Morgan Silver Dollars, obverse and reverse

Morgan Silver Dollars, obverse and reverse (photo by kjarret*)

The Morgan Silver Dollar was issued during a national depression which started in 1873.  Curiously the previous silver dollar coin, the Seated Liberty dollar, had been discontinued when congress passed the Fourth Coinage Act which was part of a larger political and economic struggle of the gold standard versus a silver standard.  Those with interests in silver were championed by Missouri Representative Richard P. (“Silver Dick”) Bland.

The Mint Director in Philadelphia, Henry Richard Linderman surmised the eventual need for a new design of a silver dollar coin and had the Chief Engraver William Barber start working on a new design.  Linderman did not like what William Barber proposed.  He also passed on William Barber’s son, Charles' design.  He also had the accomplished British engraver George T. Morgan to compete.  Morgan had a teacher, 19 year old Miss Anna Willess Williams pose for his Liberty head design that is now on these silver dollar coins.

On March 7th, 1878 the Bland-Alison Act passed, overriding President Rutherford B. Hayes’ veto.  The Bland-Alison Act required:

1) The United States Treasury to purchase $2 million to $4 million worth of silver a month.

2) The silver was to be bought at current market prices.

3) The silver minted coins would be 16:1 to gold (16oz of silver to 1oz of gold regardless of the market value).

4) The silver would be minted legal tender silver dollars.

The Comstock Lode found in 1857 in western Nevada contributed a majority of the silver for the Morgan dollars.  The Carson City mint was set up nearby, approved in 1866 and finished in 1870.

The Sherman Silver Purchase Act of 1890 repealed the Bland-Alison Act insuring the Treasury would almost double the quantity of silver it was buying to 4,500,00 troy ounces each month until The Sherman Silver Purchase Act was repealed in 1893, when the large supply of silver from the local mines slowed the Carson City Mint was closed in 1893.  The silver dollars were primarily distributed in the Western states.  In 1898 Congress approved a bill requiring all the Sherman Silver Purchase Act bullion to be used to mint the Morgan Silver Dollar.  These reserves were exhausted in 1904 leaving a large supply of Morgan silver dollars uncirculated.  Over 500 million Morgan dollars had been minted during the 25 years run.

The use of the Morgan coins was small compared to the supply and the Pittman Act of 1918 authorized melting of this reserve, over 270 million Morgan dollars.  In 1921 the Morgan silver dollar was reissued and 86 million were coined.  In late 1921 the Peace dollar, commemorating the end of World War I, replaced the Morgan dollar series.  At the time the Morgan dollar never gained any popularity and millions were melted down as silver prices rose.

In the 1960’s it became known that the United States mint still had millions of Morgan dollars and in 1964 when the United States got off the silver standard many people traded their paper silver certificates for these Morgan silver dollars.  Then in 1972 the General Services Administration revealed they had 2.9 million Morgan dollars from the Carson City mint.  The action of this scarce mintage of Morgan dollars stimulated collectors.  When millionaire LaVere Redfield died in 1974, 400 bags filled with nearly 1,000 Morgan dollars each, were discovered in his basement.  The 411,000 silver dollars weighed 11 tons and purchased at auction for $7.3 million dollars, continued to feed the collectors interest in the Morgan dollar.

10 Responses to Morgan Silver Dollar History

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