Who is on the Morgan silver dollar? The Morgan silver dollar is one of the most iconic coins in American history. Minted from 1878 to 1904 and again in 1921, the coin features a profile depiction of Lady Liberty on the obverse side. But who is the stately-looking man featured on the reverse side of the coin?
In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the history behind the Morgan Dollar designs and provide detailed information on the models and meaning behind the liberty head and eagle designs.
A Brief History of the Morgan Silver Dollar
The Bland-Allison Act of 1878
The Morgan silver dollar originated from the Bland-Allison Act, passed by the US Congress in 1878. This act required the Treasury Department to purchase between $2 million and $4 million worth of silver bullion each month to be coined into silver dollars.
The motivation was to boost silver mining companies and increase monetary silver reserves.
George T. Morgan’s Liberty Head Design
The coin’s design featuring a profile depiction of Liberty was created by George T. Morgan, an English engraver who immigrated to the US. Morgan’s Liberty Head design was inspired by a Philadelphia school teacher named Anna Willess Williams who modeled for the portrait.
From 1878-1921, the Morgan silver dollar depicted Williams’ face and was minted in Philadelphia, Denver, Carson City, New Orleans, and San Francisco.
The Identity and Meaning of the Eagle Reverse Design
The reverse side of the Morgan dollar displays an eagle holding arrows and an olive branch, symbols of war and peace. This heraldic eagle design is attributed to former US Mint Engraver George T. Morgan’s mentor, Chief Engraver William Barber.
The iconic design has appeared on many US silver coins as a reflection of American strength and sovereignty.
Lady Liberty – A National Personification
Origins as a Neoclassical Symbol
Lady Liberty emerged as a neoclassical symbol during the Enlightenment era in Europe. The Roman goddess Libertas, who personified freedom, served as inspiration for this allegorical figure. French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi brought Lady Liberty to life with his design for the Statue of Liberty, gifted from France to the United States in 1886.
Standing 151 feet tall in New York Harbor, Lady Liberty holds a torch in one hand, symbolizing enlightenment, and a tablet inscribed with America’s date of independence in the other.
Use of Lady Liberty in US Coinage
Lady Liberty has commonly appeared on United States coinage since the late 18th century. Her image reinforces core American values like freedom and democracy. Some of the most iconic coin designs featuring Lady Liberty include:
- The “Flowing Hair” dollar coins minted from 1794-1795, show Lady Liberty with long, flowing hair.
- The Indian Head gold dollar coins, minted from 1856-1889, depicted a Native American woman wearing a feathered headdress to represent Liberty.
- The Morgan silver dollar struck between 1878-1921, displaying Lady Liberty with her signature spiked crown.
Collectors widely seek early American coins with Lady Liberty today. The 1921 Morgan silver dollar is especially popular, with mint state examples selling for $1,000 or more.
Allegorical Connections to Freedom and Democracy
Lady Liberty stands as an allegorical personification of core American ideals. Her neoclassical symbolism links back to Ancient Roman and Greek values cherished by America’s Founding Fathers. Lady Liberty encapsulates the nation’s longstanding connection to principles like:
Bartholdi designed the Statue of Liberty to welcome immigrants arriving by sea to New York City. She became a globally recognized symbol welcoming the tired, poor, and huddled masses to America – the land of opportunity.
Generations of new Americans saw Lady Liberty as an emblem of hope, freedom, and the future.
Even today, Lady Liberty remains a quintessential personification of America. Her iconic visage continues to represent freedom and democracy around the world.
The Eagle Design and its Model – Former Mint Engraver William Barber
Biographical Background on William Barber
Born in London in 1807, William Barber moved to the United States around 1832 and devoted his artistic talents to steel engraving work. He was appointed Chief Engraver of the U.S. Mint in 1869 by President Ulysses S. Grant and held that position until 1879.
As Chief Engraver, Barber is responsible for designing some of America’s circulating coins we still use today. Nicknamed “Ancient Barber” for his advanced age upon assuming the role, Barber brought rich experience to bear despite entering the job in his early 60s.
Barber’s Contributions as Mint Engraver
The list of Barber’s coin design contributions is impressive:
- Seated Liberty silver coins from the early 1870s
- Twenty-cent pieces from 1875-1878
- Trade dollars from 1873-1885
- Morgan silver dollars 1878-1904 and 1921
That’s quite a coin design portfolio! Barber’s original renderings can be seen at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. He brought new energy and inspiration to U.S. coin design from the 1870s through the early 1900s.
His Eagle Design for Earlier Coins
The font style of Barber’s famous Morgan silver dollar draws from an earlier pattern the engraver created showing Liberty with an eagle reverse. He rendered the coin model in 1877.
The coin bears a left-facing profile of Lady Liberty wearing cotton and wheat as a pileus cap symbolizing freedom and abundance. An American eagle with wings spread commands the back side encircled by “E Pluribus Unum” inscribed along the rim.
|Barber Morgan Dollar Specs
|Earlier Pattern Coin Details
|90% silver, 10% copper
|90% silver, 10% copper weight
|t: 26.73 grams weight
|Diameter: 1.5 inches diameter
Barber’s earlier Liberty Head with eagle design previews the awesome Morgan Dollar that followed!
Later History and Collectability of Morgan Dollars Today
The Pittman Act Melts and Rarity of Certain Dates
In 1918, the Pittman Act authorized the melting of hundreds of millions of silver dollars to provide bullion for the minting of subsidiary coinage and recapitalize silver reserves. Over 270 million Morgan dollars were melted as a result, making some dates considerably rare.
For example, the 1883-CC had a mintage of 1.2 million coins originally, but only 8,000 exist today after the mass meetings.
Specific date ranges were more heavily targeted, so Morgan’s strikes from 1878-1904 tend to be more elusive for collectors today. However, the great rarities of the series, like the 1893-S, 189and 5 Proof, were made before 1904 and survived due to their already small original production numbers.
Condition Rarities and Valuable Specimens
Since most Morgan’s saw extensive circulation, top-grade specimens certified MS-65 or higher by PCGS or NGC can sell for exponentially more. For example, an average 1898 Morgan in G-4 condition may retail for $50, while an MS-63 example sells for $250, and an MS-65 coin brings $7,000+ at auction.
Some issues like the 1879-CC are downright rare above AU-50 condition due to seeing extremely heavy use in the booming frontier west. According to the NGC census data, only 9 examples grade MS-65+, making these true condition rarities valued well into five figures.
Key Date Morgan’s Highly Sought After by Collectors
Certain Morgan silver dollar dates were struck in small numbers, making nice specimens challenging to locate today. These key dates generally trade for high premiums, even in lower grades like VG-8 or Fine-12.
The rarest business strikes include the 1885, 1892-S, 1893, 1893-O, 1893-S, 1895, 1895-O, 1895-S, and the 1901, which had original mintages under 1 million coins. Most now sell for $1,000+ even in mid-grade conditions.
The proof-only key dates like 1886, 1889, 1890, 1891, and 1896 will cost $10,000+ on the open market.
As the table shows, more scare key date Morgan’s like the 1893-S and 1895-O jump drastically in value at higher grade levels, choosing uncirculated 63+ coins highly desirable to collectors and investors.
Who Is On The Morgan Silver Dollar – Conclusion
In conclusion, the obverse liberty head on Morgan silver dollars represents both Lady Liberty and the concepts of freedom and democracy. The reverse eagle design is an adaptation of earlier motifs created by former Mint Engraver William Barber.
Over 140 years after their initial release, Morgan dollars remain extremely popular with coin collectors today.