What does a silver dollar look like? Silver dollars are iconic American coins that have an intriguing history and unique design. If you’ve ever wondered what a real silver dollar looks like, you’ve come to the right place.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Silver dollars are large, heavy coins that are made of 90% silver. They have a figure of Lady Liberty on one side and an eagle on the other. The most common silver dollars feature a Morgan or Peace design.

In this comprehensive guide, we will cover everything you need to know about what silver dollars look like including their size, silver content, weight, the meaning behind their designs, and the differences between key dates and varieties.

The Standard Size and Dimensions


The diameter of a standard silver dollar is approximately 1.5 inches (38.1 mm) across. This measurement has remained quite consistent since the early American silver dollars first minted in the late 18th century.

The very first silver dollars produced in the United States were the Flowing Hair dollars, minted from 1794-1795. These coins had a diameter ranging from 34-35mm. When the Draped Bust dollar was introduced in 1795, the diameter was standardized at 39-40mm, which is essentially the 1.5 inches we see in silver dollars today.

This width has endured over centuries of silver dollar production in the US. From the popular Morgan dollars and Peace dollars to the American Silver Eagles issued today, the 1.5-inch diameter can be relied upon when identifying these coins.


In tandem with the steady diameter, silver dollars also tend to maintain a uniform thickness in their design.

Here are some details on the thickness of key US silver dollar types:

  • Flowing Hair Dollars: 2.5mm
  • Draped Bust Dollars: 2.7mm
  • Seated Liberty Dollars: 1.8mm
  • Morgan Dollars: 2.5mm
  • Peace Dollars: 2.7mm
  • American Silver Eagles: 2.98mm

As we can observe, the thickness ranges from 1.8mm to 2.98mm for most of the popular silver dollars spanning over 200 years of production. This consistency adds to the convenience of identifying these coins by dimension.

Silver Content and Weight

90% Silver Composition

The majority of silver dollars contain 90% pure silver. This 90% silver composition was used for many silver dollars minted between 1836 and 1935, including Peace Dollars, Morgan Dollars, and Trade Dollars. The remaining 10% is typically copper, added to strengthen the coin.

The 90% silver purity gives silver dollars their inherent value and collectability. According to the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation, this silver concentration means silver dollar coins can be considered real “hard money” containing precious metals.

Today, a dollar’s worth of 90% silver is priced based on the market rate of silver per ounce.

Heavy Weight

Weighing almost 1 troy ounce, silver dollars are much heavier than base metal coins of lower purity. For example:

90% Silver Dollar coin weight 26.73 grams
1 Troy oz actual silver weight 31.10 grams
Quarter (base metal coin) 5.67 grams

This substantial heft and weight give silver dollars a satisfying, solid feel when exchanging hands. According to the Antique HQ, the weight also makes silver dollars more difficult to counterfeit compared to lighter base metal coins.

Within silver dollars, there is some variety in weight and dimensions:

  • Morgan Dollars (1878-1921): 26.73 grams, 38.1mm diameter
  • Peace Dollars (1921-1928): 26.73 grams, 38.1mm diameter
  • Trade Dollars (1873-1885): 27.22 grams, 38.1mm diameter

But in all cases, the 90% silver purity ensures these dollar coins are heavy and contain a high concentration of precious metals.

The Iconic Morgan Silver Dollar Design

Lady Liberty on Obverse

The obverse side of the Morgan silver dollar depicts a profile portrait of Lady Liberty wearing a Phrygian cap, which signifies freedom and the pursuit of liberty. Her hair is gathered in a bun with a ribbon binding it and ears of wheat, symbolizing commerce, framing her face.

Above her is the word “Liberty” and below is the date of minting.

This iconic design is the work of George T. Morgan, from whom the Morgan dollar gets its name. Morgan was an engraver who was born in England but immigrated to the United States to work at the Philadelphia Mint.

His elegant design brings Lady Liberty to life and reminds citizens of America’s cherished values of freedom and democracy.

Eagle Reverse Design

The reverse side of the coin depicts a heraldic eagle grasping arrows and an olive branch, symbols of war and peace. The arrows signify the nation’s ability to defend itself, while the olive branch represents the preference for tranquility.

Above the eagle are the phrases “In God We Trust” and “E Pluribus Unum” (Out of Many, One).

Additionally, there are thirteen stars featured above the eagle to represent the original colonies that formed the Union. The eagle holds a ribbon in its beak that reads “One Dollar.” Encircling the rim are the phrases “United States of America” and “E Pluribus Unum.”

The eagle reverse design eloquently conveys America’s national emblem and founding principles. This iconic imagery has appeared on US coinage since the early 1800s.

VAM Varieties

There are thousands of subtle varieties of the Morgan silver dollar design, known as VAMs, that were created by slight differences in the coin dies used at various mints. For example, comparing the 1878 Morgan dollars, specialists have identified over 100 distinct VAM varieties just in that year.

Some of the more famous VAM varieties include:

For coin collectors seeking nuanced challenges, searching out Morgan dollars with fascinating VAM varieties brings an advanced dimension to the engaging hobby.

The Peace Silver Dollar

Symbolism of the Design

The obverse design of the 1921 Peace silver dollar depicts the head and neck of the Goddess of Liberty in profile, facing left, with the word “Liberty” inscribed above her forehead. She also wears a crown symbolic of liberty and freedom.

The reverse features a strikingly beautiful depiction of a bald eagle at rest clutching an olive branch, with the legend “Peace” inscribed below it. This classic coin was minted from 1921 to 1935 to commemorate the declaration of an official end to World War I hostilities.

Both sides feature appealing symbolism conveying the hope for enduring peace and liberty following years of terrible conflict.

High and Low Relief Comparisons

Two distinct versions of the Peace dollar exist – the highly prized High Relief pieces from 1921, and the more commonplace Low Relief coins struck from 1922 onwards. The key differences lie in the depth and dimension of the designs on each side.

On High Relief coins, Liberty’s facial features and hair details are more pronounced and lifelike. The eagle’s feather tips exhibit a bolder definition, and the overall images have a sharper, crisper look. By contrast, the designs on Low Relief Peace dollars are flatter and less detailed.

Learning to distinguish these types takes some experience. But all Peace dollars are eagerly sought after by collectors and investors today due to relatively low mintages and the coin’s history as the last silver dollar struck for circulation.

Identifying Marks

All Peace silver dollars feature the mint mark of their place of manufacture on the reverse below the eagle’s tail feathers, except for those struck at the main Philadelphia Mint, which bears no mint mark.

The round Denver Mint mark (“D”) and oblong San Francisco Mint mark (“S”) are the most frequently seen. Coins struck in 1965 and 1966 at the special West Point Mint in New York may carry a small “W” mint mark.

Additionally, true High Relief Peace dollars from 1921 will show VAM-1 die markers like die polish lines on Liberty’s cheek and neck. These subtle diagnostics can confirm that a coin is the scarce and desirable High Relief version.

As with many collectible coins, tiny differences spell the distinction between valuable rarities and more ordinary issues.

Toning, Luster, and Grading

Rainbow Toning

Many silver dollars exhibit stunning rainbow toning, which refers to the spectrum of colors that naturally form on a coin’s surface over many years due to oxidation. This effect starts when sulfides on the coin’s surface react with minute amounts of sulfur compounds in the air.

Rainbow-toned silver dollars display vibrant hues like crimson red, electric blue, golden yellow, and emerald green, making them truly breathtaking collectibles.

Prooflike and DMPL

There are also prooflike (PL) and deep mirror prooflike (DMPL) silver dollars, which have highly reflective, mirror-like fields due to special preparation techniques such as polishing dies. DMPL coins showcase deeply mirrored surfaces resembling a clear pool of water, while PL coins have more moderate reflectivity.

Circulated Grades

Circulated silver dollars exhibit wear from use in monetary transactions. Lower grades like G (Good), VG (Very Good), and F (Fine) have significant wear but still feature some design details. Higher grades like VF (Very Fine), XF (Extremely Fine), and AU (Almost Uncirculated) have lighter wear and clearly visible designs.

Estimating a circulated coin’s grade takes some experience, but online guides with visual examples can help collectors classify their coins.

Uncirculated Grades

Uncirculated silver dollars were preserved from monetary use, retaining most or all of their original mint luster. The top-graded silver dollars, like MS (mint state) 65 through 70, showcase little to no signs of wear at 10x magnification.

The very highest quality specimens graded MS70 are extremely lustrous and essentially flawless. However, even lower uncirculated grades in the MS60-MS64 range still have excellent eye appeal.

What Does A Silver Dollar Look Like – Conclusion

Silver dollars have an enduring legacy thanks to their iconic American designs showcasing Lady Liberty and the majestic bald eagle. These 90% silver coins have heft and shine that sets them apart from modern clad coins.

Understanding the important dimensions, silver content, weight, and designs of Morgan and Peace dollars allows collectors to identify and appreciate these historical pieces of America’s currency. Whether you’re just starting out or have been collecting for years, we hope this guide gave you a detailed overview of what silver dollars look like.

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