Dissecting the Morgan Silver Dollar

Dissecting the Morgan Silver Dollar

The Morgan Silver Dollar has fascinated Coin Collectors for decades.  As a
matter of fact, it is not only one of the most heavily collected coins
worldwide, but one of the most heavily studied.  It is through the study of
the Morgan Silver Dollar that one can gain a greater appreciation of all coins. 
In order to help you understand some of the intricacies of this wonderful coin,
let us do a dissection of the Morgan Dollar, and examine the actual coin itself
in greater detail.

The Morgan Silver Dollar was produced from 1878 through 1904, then once again
in 1921.  It was designed by George T. Morgan.  The specifications
under which this coin was designed are as follows: weight: 26.73 grams;
composition: .900 silver, .100 copper; diameter: 38.1 mm; edge:
reeded; net weight: .77344 ounces pure silver.  The mints of the
U.S. government that produced the Morgan Silver Dollar are as follows:
Philadelphia (no mintmark), New Orleans ("O" mintmark), Carson City ("CC"
mintmark), San Francisco ("S" mintmark) and Denver ("D" mintmark, and only in

In examining the obverse (front side) of the coin there are a number of
features that appear on the coin that one would find as commonly appearing on
other U.S. coinage.  If one looks at the outer circumference of the coin,
they will fine denticles (teeth) encompassing the perimeter of the coin. From
the 10 o'clock to the 3 o'clock positions just inside the denticles is a motto
which reads E·PLURIBUS·UNUM.  This Latin motto
translates to the phrase, "Out of Many, One."  The motto was first
suggested by Pierre Eugene DuSinitiére in 1776, and placed on a banner held in
the beak of the bald eagle on the U.S. Great Seal by Charles Thomson in 1782. 
At the bottom of the coin centered on the 6 o'clock position is the coin's date
of manufacture.  To the right of the date (as you are looking at the coin)
are six stars, and to the left of the date are seven stars.  This total of
13 stars represents the original 13 colonies that became the first states in the
Union of the United States.

The main device (primary image) on the coin is
that of the head of Lady Liberty, facing left, as one is looking at the coin.  She is said to possess classical Greek
features even though she is considered to be rather full in the face.  Her
hair is pulled back off of the brow with curls cascading down the back of her
neck.  Lady Liberty's headdress is rather unique to say the least.  On
the back of Lady Liberty's head is what is sometimes called a "slave cap" or
what is sometimes called a "freedom cap."  It is reminiscent to the head wear viewed in
paintings of the French Revolution.  Immediately in front of the "freedom
cap" is a
coronet crown inscribed with the word LIBERTY.  Transitionally, tucked
between the cap and coronet is an agricultural flora arrangement of sheaves of
wheat at the top of Lady Liberty's head to two cotton bolls with leaves placed
in such a way to appear as flowers tucked into her hair at her ear level. 
This is a very symbolic representation of post-Civil War unity of the nation. 
It represents North and South through the top agricultural products of each
region and through their placement.  Where the curls, of Lady Liberty's
hair, meet the truncated neck, one will find a small "M."  This marking is
the coin designer's initial, and the "M" is an indication of Morgan.  There
is also a similar "M" marking to be found on the reverse of the coin as well.

In studying the reverse (back side) of the
Morgan Silver Dollar, one finds a number of features that are just as impressive
as those found on the obverse.  Once again, denticles are found following
the perimeter of the coin.  The main device is the American eagle with its
wings spread and almost touching the denticles at the 10 o'clock and 2 o'clock
positions.  The eagles head is facing to the left (as one is facing the
coin), and held in the eagle's talons to the left is an olive branch, and to the
right are arrows.  There is an old legend which states that if the country
is at peace then the eagle's head faces the olive branch, and if the country is
at war then the eagle's head faces the arrows.  This tale does not seem to
hold true.  The eagle's head always faces the same way, and the only time
on U.S. coins that the arrows and olive branch has changed sides seems to be
from 1795 to 1807 on U.S. gold coins, and from 1801 to 1807 on U.S. silver
coins.  So, that covers the Franco-American Naval War and the Barbary Wars. 
There has been no other time in the history of U.S. coinage that the arrows have
been placed on the side to which the eagle's head is facing. 

Found on the upper perimeter of the coin just
inside the denticles and separated by the eagle's wings, found running from the
8 o'clock to the 4 o'clock positions, is the name of the issuing country of the
coin, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, with a single star appearing before and after
the country's name.  From the 7 o'clock position to the 5 o'clock position
is the coin's denomination, ONE DOLLAR. 
Listed horizontally, above
the eagle's head and between its wings, is the motto In God We Trust
This motto was first placed on the two cent piece in 1864.  The motto was
the result of a similar motto suggested to President Lincoln, in a letter, by a
Pennsylvania minister as a promise to the American public that our country will
never again be torn apart by Civil War.  After the assassination of
President Lincoln, Congress made the motto law stating the motto would appear on
all coins large enough to carry it.  The motto appears on U.S. coinage
beginning in 1866.  Surrounding the eagle across the lower portion of the
coin is a laurel wreath which is tied with a bow at the 6 o'clock position. 
On the ribbon, seen on the inner loop of the bow, one will find the initial "M"
for the coin designer's name, Morgan.  It is on the reverse of the Morgan
Silver Dollar that one will find the mintmark.  It is located just below
the wreath's bow, and above and between the "D" and the "O" of the word DOLLAR. 
Remember, if you do not find a mintmark on the coin, then the coin was
manufactured at the Philadelphia Mint.

The Morgan Silver Dollar was manufactured, as indicated earlier, at five
different U.S. Mint facilities.  The Philadelphia Mint struck the silver
dollars in all years however, in 1895 the 12,000 business strikes that were made
in that year have disappeared.  The only known examples of that year's
issue from the Philadelphia Mint are the 880 proof coins that were made, of
which there is an estimated 350 to 400 known to currently exist.  The San
Francisco Mint manufactured Morgan Dollars in all years.  The Carson City
facility produced the Morgan Silver Dollars from 1878 through 1885, and then
again from 1889 through the mint's closing in 1893.  The New Orleans Mint's
coining privileges were suspended during the Civil War as punishment to the host
city.  The punishment was rescinded in 1879.  The New Orleans Mint
made Morgan Dollars from 1879 through 1904, and in 1909 the mint was closed. 
The Denver Mint did not open its operation until 1906.  The only Morgan
Dollars produced at the Denver facility was in 1921.

With a basic understanding of the structure, design, and mintage years
dissected, one can begin to appreciate the vast intricacies that can be found
within the Morgan Silver Dollar series.  Within a short time of
understanding the basics, you will find that a whole new world within
numismatics will be open to you.

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This content was written by Raymond F. Hanisco. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Gary Eggleston for details.