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Morgan Silver Dollars

As you read these words the Whitman Coins & Collectibles Expo is taking place in Baltimore. If you have bid in our official auction sale for the event, or plan to do so, thank you very much. The sale is truly remarkable in its depth and breadth in the American series.

This reminds me to mention one of my favorite series – Morgan silver dollars. Some years ago for Whitman I wrote The Official Red Book of Morgan Silver Dollars, which right now is being printed in the latest edition. If you don’t have this book I am sure you will find it a worthwhile addition to your library.

Morgan silver dollars were first minted in 1878 under the provisions of the Bland-Allison Act, a political boondoggle intended to have Uncle Sam buy millions of ounces of silver each month to help support the sagging price of the metal. During the 1870s there had been two major adverse effects in the marketplace: certain European countries stopped using silver as a main basis for coinage and, in America, new discoveries were made and new mines were opened, increasing the supply.

In 1878 silver dollars of the new Morgan design, based on half dollar patterns of the previous year, were first struck in March. Coinage was effected at three mints – Philadelphia, Carson City, and San Francisco. In the next year, the New Orleans Mint joined in. From that time until 1904, when the supply of authorized silver bullion ran out, hundreds of millions of pieces were made. These included the Carson City issues produced from 1878 to 1885 and again from 1889 to 1893. Today these are special favorites of collectors.

It was thought in 1904 that no more silver dollars would ever be coined, what with most of them remaining in storage at the mints or in other Treasury Department facilities. The master dies and other equipment were destroyed.

In 1918 the Pittman Act mandated the melting of hundreds of millions of long-stored silver dollars in order to send bullion to India. This was done. Not long afterward, in 1921, the Treasury Department desired to mint more silver dollars in order to provide backing for Silver Certificates, one of the popular series of paper money. New dies were made, different slightly in some features from the earlier issues, and many Morgan dollars were struck in Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco, after which the motif was replaced by the Peace design.

Today in 2012 there are close to 100 different major varieties – dates and mintmarks – in the Morgan dollar series. Amazingly, more than half of them can be obtained in Mint condition for a few hundred dollars or less. These are challenging and interesting to collect. If you are not already involved, you might dip your toe in the numismatic water by buying one or two. Just a thought.

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