Let your mind travel back to the days of the wild, Wild West, and youll have set the scene for the story of the Morgan Silver Dollar. If you already have one of these in your collection, theres a chance that it could have passed through the hands of one Americas most famous figures. It may be that the iconic outlaws Jesse James or Butch Cassidy once stole this coin from an unsuspecting traveler; or maybe it was the coin that, legend has it, Billy the Kid had on his person when he was shot by Pat Garrett. Undoubtedly, this dollar has one of the most interesting histories which is probably what makes it the most widely collected in the world.
In 1859, two prospectors by the names of Peter O'Riley and Patrick McLaughlin were looking for water in Six Mile Canyon near Carson City, the capital of Nevada. Luckily, the two had an eye for precious metals, and when they came across a layer of rich black sand, they had found land that would yield almost $300 million in precious metals. The discovery was named the Comstock Lode after Henry Comstock, who laid claim to the land not long after. So much silver came out of this discovery that Congress was forced to strike it into coinage to be used as legal tender. Thus, the Morgan Silver Dollar first came into production as the first silver coin to be minted since the Seated Liberty Dollar which ceased after the passing of the Coinage Act of 1873.
The Act that was passed in 1873 ended the free coining of silver, causing a public outcry among miners, bankers and manufacturers who claimed that this process was needed for the economy to flourish. Not long after it was forbidden to strike your own coins, America suffered from a financial crisis that caused a great depression throughout the country. The Act came to be known as the Crime of 73 However, once the Comstock Lode was discovered, the surplus of silver increased tenfold prompting the creation of another Act in 1878. The Bland-Allison Act required the Treasury to purchase between two to four million dollars worth of silver every month with the intention of striking it into coins. This put great pressure on the U.S. Mint to produce as many silver coins as they could, and the result was that from 1878 to 1921 (despite a slight lull), millions of Morgan Silver Dollars were produced.
Designed by the engraver George T. Morgan, this silver dollar was designed with the traditional American coins in mind, the design of Lady Liberty on the obverse and an eagle on the reverse. However, instead of the full-length design of Liberty that had been seen on previous coins such as Christian Gobrechts Seated Liberty Dollar, this coin was to feature a portrait. This is why Morgan enlisted the help of local Philadelphia schoolteacher Anna Willess Williams to sit for him as a model, exclaiming that she had the most perfect face he had ever seen. With inspiration from Williams, Morgan depicted Liberty wearing a coronet inscribed with LIBERTY and a Phrygian cap complete with stalks of wheat and cotton blossoms, symbolic of Americas rich agriculture. The 13 stars around the base of Libertys neck symbolize the original colonies, and on closer inspection, the initial M for Morgan can be seen. The motto E PLURIBUS UNUM and the date are also engraved on this side.
On the coins reverse is an American eagle surrounded by a laurel wreath with its wings outstretched. In the eagles talons it holds an olive branch and a set of three arrows which Morgan has used to relay the message that although America is a peace loving nation, it is not afraid to stand up for its values. The motto IN GOD WE TRUST is placed neatly between the eagles wings and the denomination ONE DOLLAR sits under its feathers. After the coin?s initial release, Morgan received some criticism from a bird expert who claimed that he had depicted the wrong number of tail feathers on the eagle. According to the expert, eagles always have an odd amount of feathers on their tails, and Morgans had eight. This is why eight tail feather Morgan Dollars are incredibly rare today.
Features of the 1883 $1 Morgan Silver Dollar PCGS MS64: Mint: U.S. Mint Denomination: $1 PCGS: Professional Coin Grading Service Purity: .900 pure silver Certification: MS64 (Uncirculated coin: moderate marks or deficiencies) Reverse: Design of an eagle surrounded by a laurel wreath Obverse: Left-sided portrait of Lady Liberty Edge: Reeded Year: 1883