What is a Morgan silver dollar? The Morgan silver dollar, named after its designer George T. Morgan, is one of the most popular and iconic silver coins in U.S. history.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Morgan silver dollars were struck by the U.S. Mint between 1878 to 1904, and again in 1921. They contain 0.77344 troy ounces of 90% silver and 10% copper, making them very valuable to coin collectors and investors today.

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore everything you need to know about these highly coveted coins – from their origins and specifications to mintage figures, key date values, and how to collect, care for, and invest in Morgan dollars.

Origins and History

Who was George T. Morgan and why was the coin named after him?

George T. Morgan was a famous engraver and medalist who was brought from England to the Philadelphia Mint in 1876. He became best known for designing the famous Morgan silver dollar that now bears his name, which featured a profile image of Lady Liberty on the front and an eagle on the reverse side.

The coin was named after Morgan due to his prominent role as the chief engraver and designer.

When and why were Morgan silver dollars first produced?

Morgan silver dollars were first struck in 1878 following the passage of the Bland-Allison Act in February of that year. The Act approved the issuance of vast new amounts of silver dollars to benefit western mining interests and help prop up the value of silver.

The Morgan design was utilized because it was seen as a fresh and innovative new look to give the silver dollar renewed appeal after a long hiatus of production.

Total years and key dates of production

Morgan dollars would be produced from 1878 to 1904, and again for one final year in 1921. Some of the key dates for the series with lower mintages and higher collector value include the 1893-S, 1901, 1893-O, 1889-CC, and 1895, along with the final 1921 issues.

Over its roughly 40 years of initial production from the late 1800s into the new century, hundreds of millions of Morgan dollars would be struck across five different Mints – Philadelphia, Carson City, New Orleans, Denver, and San Francisco.

Today they remain one of the most widely collected vintage U.S. coin series.

Design and Specifications

The obverse (front) and reverse design details

The obverse (front) of the Morgan silver dollar features a profile portrait of Lady Liberty wearing a Phrygian cap, with the word “Liberty” inscribed above her. The reverse depicts an eagle with wings spread, grasping arrows, and an olive branch in its talons.

The phrases “In God We Trust” and “E United States of America” are inscribed above and below the eagle respectively. 13 stars representing the 13 original colonies surround the motifs on each side.

The coin was designed by an assistant engraver at the U.S. Mint, George T. Morgan. His obverse design is considered one of the most iconic and recognizable in all of American coinage. The profile portrait of Lady Liberty was inspired by the actress Anna Willess Williams, whom Morgan met at the Philadelphia Mint.

Weight, silver purity, and dimensions

Morgan silver dollars contain 0.77344 troy ounces of 90% fine silver. This equates to 0.7234 troy ounces of pure silver per coin. They have a gross weight of 26.73 grams.

In terms of dimensions, Morgan dollars have a diameter of 38.1 millimeters and a thickness of 2.5 millimeters. The specifications resulted in a coin with bold relief and intricately struck design details.

Silver Content 90% silver
Pure Silver Weight 0.7234 troy oz
Gross Weight 26.73 grams
Diameter 38.1 mm
Thickness 2.5 mm

Mintages and Rarity

Total number minted across all years and mints

Morgan silver dollars were minted from 1878 to 1904, and again in 1921. Over that time, the various mints produced a staggering 57,846,686 examples. They remain among the most plentiful of all classic U.S. coins in terms of total numbers produced.

Breakdown by Philadelphia, New Orleans, Carson City, and San Francisco Mints

The Philadelphia Mint accounted for over half of all Morgan dollars ever made, striking 29,890,710 pieces from 1878-1904 and 1921. The San Francisco Mint came next with 13,070,000 examples minted from 1878-1882 and once more in 1921.

The Carson City Mint struck 2,305,000 Morgan dollars from 1878-1893. Finally, the New Orleans Mint made the fewest Morgans of these facilities, with just 4,505,259 specimens struck for circulation from 1879 to 1904.

Key dates, low mintage issues, and values

The rarest and thus most expensive Morgan silver dollars as of 2022 include the spectacular 1893-S (100,000 minted), 1901 ($840 in MS63 condition), 1903-S (just 500,000 minted), 1884-S (3.2 million), 1889-CC (350,000), 1879-CC (761,000), and 1885-CC (228,000).

By contrast, common-date circulated Morgan dollars are still quite inexpensive to acquire. Striking rarities aside, the series remains one of the most affordable ways to obtain historic 90% silver coins from the old American West.

Collecting and Investing Tips

How to grade conditions and identify fakes or counterfeits

Grading the condition of Morgan silver dollars is key to determining their value. The most popular grading scales are the Sheldon scale (1-70) and the PCGS scale (Poor – 70). Important things to look for when grading include:

  • Wear on high points of the design like the hair, cheek, arms, etc.
  • Number and severity of marks, nicks, scratches, or other damage
  • Luster and brightness of the coin surface

Many counterfeit Morgan dollars are circulating so being able to spot fakes is crucial. Signs of a counterfeit include:

  • Details that look “mushy” or indistinct
  • Improper weight or dimensions
  • Pitting or porous surfaces
  • Improper or missing mint marks

When in doubt, have the coin authenticated by a reputable coin grading company like PCGS or NGC.

Creating a valuable collection on a budget

Building an impressive Morgan dollar collection doesn’t have to break the bank! Some tips include:

  • Focus on lower grades like G, VG, or Fine which are much cheaper than higher grades
  • Try collecting one coin from each mint each year to minimize cost but still assemble a complete set
  • Buy certified coins slabbed by top grading companies to ensure authenticity and accurate grades
  • Be patient and look for good deals at coin shows, estate sales, online auctions or pawn shops
  • Start with more common, lower-value dates/mints first before purchasing scarcer pieces

With some patience and smart buying, an impressive collection can be built for a few hundred dollars.

Outlook and investment performance vs. other silver coins

As one of the most widely collected classic US coin series, Morgan dollars remain popular with investors and collectors alike nearly 140 years after they were last minted.

10-Year Price Change Morgan Dollars Silver Eagles
MS63 +125% +85%
MS65 +150% +95%

As the table shows, Morgan dollars have outperformed official US silver bullion coins like Silver Eagles over the past decade across most grade levels. With strong continued demand from collectors and precious metals investors, Morgans are likely to continue appreciating at a healthy rate into the foreseeable future.

Caring and Handling for Preservation

Best practices for cleaning, storage, and preventing damage

When caring for valuable Morgan silver dollars, using best practices for cleaning, storage and preventing damage is key to preservation. Gently wiping coins with a soft cotton cloth is recommended for cleaning instead of harsh chemicals which can strip the toning and affect eye appeal over time.

It’s also wise to handle coins by their edges and wear cotton gloves to prevent fingerprints and smudges on the surface.

Air-tight coin storage capsules made of inert plastics like polyethylene and polypropylene are superior for shielding Morgan dollars from environmental elements. Storing in cool, dark places with consistent temperature and low humidity is ideal for protection as well.

Finally, preventing scratches, dings, and wear should be a top priority when handling by setting coins down gently on soft surfaces and not stacking them directly on top of each other.

Protecting toning, luster and eye appeal over time

Morgan silver dollars can develop beautiful colorful toning over decades of storage which adds unique character. However, cleaning and improper handling can strip away these protective oxidation layers along with mirror-like mint luster.

To retain pleasing toning and luster, keep Morgan dollar surfaces free of dust and debris by wiping gently with soft cotton cloths when needed according to PCGS CoinFacts guidelines. Additionally, avoid using silver polishing cloths and solutions that scrub away delicate toning.

When handling, grip coins carefully along their rim with clean cotton gloves. Finally, choosing archival coin storage products minimizes exposure to elements that accelerate toning changes.

When professional conservation is needed

In general, undertaking do-it-yourself cleaning on Morgan silver dollars is unwise given their age, delicacy, and collectible value. Risks like permanently scratching surfaces, damaging lustrous details and devaluing rare dates are high.

According to the NGC article on preserving coins, consulting professional numismatic conservation services is recommended in most cleaning scenarios.

Conservation Cases Approaches
Severely tarnished/spotted surfaces Gentle electrolysis and rinsing techniques to stabilize and restore eye appeal
Sticky/oily residue deposit buildup Solvent baths combined with microscopic cleaning to dissolve and lift deposits while protecting underlying surfaces
Thick ugly orange surface crust Chemical reduction to gently lift and minimize loss of toning layers underneath if present

Only world-class professional numismatic conservationists with decades of experience have the gentle techniques, proprietary solutions and specialized equipment to properly clean valuable Morgan silver dollars without causing harm or reduced eye appeal.

What Is A Morgan Silver Dollar – Conclusion

For over 140 years, Morgan silver dollars have enamored coin collectors and investors alike as both keepsakes of history and valuable holdings of silver. As one of the most iconic American coins ever produced, Morgans have timeless appeal across generations.

We hope this guide has helped answer your question “What is a Morgan silver dollar?” and provided useful advice whether you’re looking to start collecting these coins or optimize a current collection’s growth in value over the long run.

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