Morgan's Goddess Miss Liberty
The Morgan Silver Dollar is a favorite among Coin Collectors not only in the
United States, but worldwide. There are literally hundreds of stories
involving the Morgan Dollar, some are true, and some can be classified as 'Urban
Legends.' One of the most captivating stories is that of the identity of
Morgan's Silver Dollar Girl, Morgan's Goddess Miss Liberty. Was she
a real woman or just a composite of George T. Morgan's imagination? The
information available is sketchy at best, and conflicting. The only thing
any numismatist can do is to read all the information at hand, and make a
determination based on intelligent judgment. Here are the facts.
What is your conclusion?
It has been a long held belief that a Philadelphia schoolteacher by the name
of Anna Willess Williams was the model for Miss Liberty on the Morgan Silver
Dollar. Reported in an article in Coin World, dated April 25, 2002,
by Paul Gilkes, of the Coin World staff, was that an undated letter from
the daughter of George T. Morgan would be presented at the Whitford's auction on
May 10th and 11th. The letter is from one of Morgan's two daughters, Mrs.
C. Mervyn Graham, and it is believed to be to her daughter, Charlotte, because
the letter is signed 'Mother.' The letter discusses family financial
matters, and in what apparently is an answer to a question about information
regarding the Morgan Dollar, it is written, "Father always said no matter how
many models they [the word probably was 'that,' but I am quoting what was
written] posed for him, that he never bid any & that he just made up the obverse
himself..." Is that the definitive statement? Does that put to rest
all the stories about Anna Williams being Morgan's Goddess Miss Liberty, or was
it a statement that was a part of a closely held family promise to protect the
identity of Miss Liberty?
In the May 1896 issue of the American Numismatic Association publication, the
Numismatist, in a story reporting on the engagement of Anna Williams (which
appeared in a newspaper called the New York Mail and Express), it tells us
of the hiring of George Morgan by the U.S. Mint. In the
article which recounts the story for its readers, it basically states. George Morgan was a
highly talented young designer and engraver for the Royal Mint in England.
Upon inquiries made by the U.S. Mint to the Royal Mint, Morgan was recommended
to the then Mint Director Henry R. Linderman, and in the early part of the year
1876, George Morgan was hired at the Philadelphia Mint as an assistant engraver.
He was assigned with the duty of designing the new silver dollar. After
months of work he completed the reverse design, and he turned his attention to
the design of the obverse. Not wanting to create a design that was
reminiscent of designs currently utilized, "...the ambitious designer was too
much of a realist to be satisfied with a mere product of fancy. Finally he
determined the head should be the representation of some American girl and
forthwith searched for his beauteous maid."
More details on Morgan's choice of Anna Williams as his Goddess Miss Liberty,
can be found in the May 1926, issue of the Numismatist when the
publication reported her obituary. George Morgan's friend Thomas Eakins, a
Philadelphia artist of prominence, informed Morgan of Miss Williams' beauty.
Eakins knew the family of Miss Williams, and also knew her to be an art student.
Introductions were made, and Morgan asked Miss Williams to sit for him. She
refused. It was through the encouragement of Eakins and her friends that
Anna Williams finally agreed to pose. In Walter Breen's book, the
Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins, he states that Miss
Williams was promised strict secrecy, and to maintain the secrecy she met Morgan
at the house of Thomas Eakins on five occasions (the Numismatist states
the sittings took place in November 1876) so that the sketches could be
completed. A "cover story" was created that stated Morgan's inspiration
was a Greek Figure at the Philadelphia Academy of Art.
"Mr. Morgan was so enthusiastic that he declared Miss Williams' profile was
the most nearly perfect he had seen in England or America." (The Numismatist,
May 1896) She was described as fair in complexion with blue eyes and a
Grecian nose, but the most beautiful part about her was "...her hair, which was
almost her crowning glory, was of golden color, abundant and light of texture."
(The Numismatist, May 1926) To complete his design, George Morgan
adorned his sketches of his goddess Miss Liberty with what some call a 'slave
cap' and what others call a 'freedom cap' (reminiscent to the caps worn during
the time of the French Revolution). The cap is fitted upon the back of her
head with a coronet reading LIBERTY in front of the cap. Tucked between
the coronet and the cap, just above ear level, are a couple of cotton bolls with
their leaves. Peeking out from the top of the crown are a few sheaves of
Many numismatists tell us that the capped Miss Liberty design appears on the
1877 pattern half dollar design of Morgan and that after the silver dollar's
final approval, the design was transferred to the dollar as evidenced by the
1878 Morgan pattern. A pattern coin is a trial coin or a prototype
that is manufactured to see how the finished product will look. Those
numismatists who follow pattern coins and believe that they were made in
order, according to date, obviously have a false conception or a misunderstanding
of a machine shop or manufacturing operation, and that is really what the
U.S. Mint is, a glorified punch press operation in a machine shop. Let us
take just a minute to investigate this premise before we continue on with Anna
Mint Director Henry Linderman, being a good politician and following the
events on Capital Hill, knew that a bill similar to the Bland-Allison Act of
1878 would probably be enacted. Anticipating this bill, he hired George
Morgan, in 1876, for the expressed purpose of designing a new one dollar coin.
Those of you Coin Collectors who are Tool Design Engineers, Draftsmen, Model
Makers, and Pattern Makers, especially the old timers, understand the process of manufacturing. It takes time for all of the kinks to be worked out before
a product goes to the machine shop floor for manufacture. Q. David Bowers,
who edited the book, United States Pattern Coins, Experimental and Trial
Pieces, states, "Virtually no record at all was kept on the patterns made
during the general period from 1859 to 1885!" So, no one knows for sure
exactly when the hubs, dies or the pattern 1878 Morgan dollar was really made.
It is certainly logical to reason that being the Bland-Allison Act's
Presidential veto was overridden and enacted as law in February of 1878, and
being the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia went into production within two weeks after
the bill passed Congress, then the actual patterns, as well as, all the hubs,
dies and other essentials necessary to manufacture the coins were completed in
1877. It may also be a fairly safe bet to infer, that being the U.S. Mint
used the sale of pattern coins as an additional revenue source at that time,
George Morgan was ordered to have a half dollar pattern made from his dollar
design, and dated 1877, for sale to those 'special customers' who would buy the
patterns of the U.S. Mint. Unfortunately, no one will ever know the true
facts behind the pattern coins of the Morgan Dollar. Upon the
release of the Morgan Silver Dollar in 1878, the Philadelphia, San Francisco and
Carson City mints produced more than 12 million silver dollars that year.
The secret of Anna Williams as Morgan's Goddess Miss Liberty lasted only a
little over a year. In the summer of 1879, a Philadelphia newspaper
reporter dubbed her with the name of the "Silver Dollar Girl." She was
deluged with thousands of visitors, letters and offers for public appearances.
This was the kind of attention she was trying to avoid. Williams valued
her privacy and her quiet lifestyle to that of the limelight, and enjoyed her
position as a teacher at The House of Refuge. Some unsubstantiated sources
say her employment was terminated due to the publicity, but what we do know is
that in 1891 Anna accepted other employment as a teacher of kindergarten
philosophy at the Girl's Normal School in Philadelphia.
It seemed just as Anna Williams' notoriety would begin to fade, another
article would appear, and so it did in 1892 when the Ladies' Home Journal
published her photograph. Again in 1896, the New York Mail and
Express published the announcement of her pending marriage, which was also
reprinted in the May 1896 issue of the Numismatist. These articles
stated, "Miss Williams is a decidedly modest young woman. She resides on
Spring Garden Street, not far from the school in which for years she has been
employed as an instructor in philosophy and methods in the kindergarten
department." No one seems to know for certain, whether it was the publicity
over her engagement, the opinions expressed by some people as to the character
of a person who would be an artist's model, or other private reasons, but the
marriage never took place. Miss Williams withdrew as much as she could from the
public eye, and when she did grant interviews, she preferred to talk about her
work rather then her role as Morgan's Miss Liberty.
On April 17, 1926, Anna Williams died in her home town of Philadelphia.
The May 1926 issue of the Numismatist issued the affirmation, "Death was
due to apoplexy, induced by a fall she sustained last December and she had been
confined to her bed since."
Was Anna Williams the muse of George Morgan? In the announcement of her
pending marriage, the New York Mail and Express described her in this
way, "She carries her figure with a stateliness rarely seen and the pose of the
head is exactly as seen on the silver dollar. The features of Miss
Williams are reproduced as faithfully as in a good photograph." In her
obituary posted in the Numismatist, May 1926, Miss Williams was
quoted as once saying about her role as Miss Liberty, "...an incident of my
youth...." It has been pointed out by some experts that the profile of
Morgan's Goddess Miss Liberty could not possibly be the profile of a young lady
of 18 to 19 years of age, so it could not be Anna Williams. Still others
tell us that the aging of Morgan's Miss Liberty was the work of the jealous U.S.
Mint's engraver Charles Barber, and a more accurate representation of Anna
Williams can be found on Morgan's Coiled Hair $4 gold piece.
The question still remains, was Anna Willess Williams, Morgan's Goddess Miss
Did George Morgan keep the secret so well that even his daughter did not know?
Were all the publications' accounts wrong? At the point Anna Williams
called it "...an incident of my youth....", had she just given up on denying she
was Morgan's Miss Liberty, or did she just find it easier to say that, knowing
it was not true? It is just another in the line of unanswered questions
that will plague numismatists for the years to come. So, you decide.
Your choice is as good as any experts. Is she, or isn't she?
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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.