Morgan dollars: A pivotal role in monetary history

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Morgan dollars have been popular among rare coin collectors over the years. Investors continue to find value in the late 19th and early 20thcentury silver dollars when pricing them at auction.

1882 Morgan (3)


A 1882 Morgan dollar with a rare grade of MS-66+ by PCGS recently fetched $9,900 at a July auction.

Morgan dollars attract the interest of collectors and investors because of their large size, distinctive design, and different variations. They are ideal for collectors looking to build sets, with four different obverse and reverse designs and five different mint marks.

These coins have an interesting history behind them as well. They were at the center of a long back-and-forth battle in the late 19th Century between silver interests and those who backed a single gold standard for the U.S.

Morgan dollars emerged as a response to the Coinage Act of 1873, which effectively ended silver dollars as legal U.S. tender. Around that time, the price of silver was low due a glut in supply from newly discovered mines in Nevada. Silver producers could take bullion to a mint to have coins produced for a small fee, and profited when the price of the silver bullion was lower than the value of the coin.

Increased circulation of silver dollars challenged the standing bimetallist policy of both gold and silver as accepted legal tender in the U.S. The Coinage Act of 1873 effectively (although perhaps not intentionally) ended that challenge and placed the U.S. firmly on the gold standard. That position would last into the early 20th Century.

But different business and regional interest groupsfrom silver mining companies in the West, to farmers in the Midwestremained supportive of the bimetallist policy. They wanted to re-introduce silver dollars as a means of promoting economic prosperity during the long recession of the 1870s.

Eventually, lawmakers from Midwestern states drafted legislation that would bring back silver dollars as legal U.S. tender. President Rutherford B. Hayes vetoed the bill when it landed on his desk, fearing a surge in inflation that would hurt businesses, but his veto was overridden and the Bland-Allison Act became law.

The Bland-Allison Act committed the U.S. Treasury to monthly purchases of silver bullion to mint into silver dollarsthese became the Morgan dollars, named after the coins designer, George T. Morgan. The Bland-Allison Act was repealed two years later by the Sherman Silver Purchase Act, which sought to end silver dollar production within one year. That law was repealed as well.

Production of silver Morgan dollars continued between 1878 and 1904. In 1898, another law directed the Treasury to mint the remaining silver purchased by the Sherman Act into silver dollars. Once that inventory of silver was depleted, Morgan dollars would no longer be minted (although a one-time mintage in 1921 did occur.)

These silver dollars never gained widespread acceptance as currency at the time, and banks discouraged their use. Millions of Morgan dollars never saw the light of day, remaining out of circulation and locked in vaults at the U.S. Treasury for many decades.

These dollars were eventually released for sale during the 1960s and 1970s. At the time, the release of these uncirculated Morgan dollars depressed the values of those specimens that were in collectors hands.

Morgan dollars are often available at auctions today for investors and collectors looking to build sets of different Morgan dollar varieties. Especially for those rare specimens in top condition, their current values make them worthy of consideration for serious investors and collectors.

Trusted by both experienced investors and those just starting out, Blanchardprovides expert consultation in the acquisition of bullion and American numismatic rarities. Give us a call today.