Mint dates: 1878-1904, 1921
Designer: George T. Morgan
Gross weight: 26.73 g
Silver content: 0.77344 troy oz
Composition: 90% silver, 10% copper
Diameter: 38.1 mm
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The Morgan Silver Dollar is one of the most collectible coins in the world. One reason is that many see it as the most beautiful coin the United States Mint has ever produced. Even more compelling is its equally rich history.
Before 1792, the United States was not authorized to create its own coinage. At that time, colonists and those trading with the country used coins from all over Europe. However, finally, the government passed the Mint Act of April 2, 1792, and the U.S. Silver Dollar was named the highest denomination coin.
Fast forward to 1859, when prospectors in Nevada struck silver in the Comstock Lode. This was the biggest vein of silver ever discovered. This brought an onslaught of the shiny metal. At the same time, large quantities of silver from Germany entered the market, cumulatively creating a flood of supply. Not surprisingly, silver dropped in value. Because of this, Congress passed the Coinage Act of 1873, stopping all silver coin production.
With the Comstock Lode still churning out large quantiles of silver, there was a pressing need to find a good use for this vast resource. At that time in history, unemployment was very high. So lawmakers got creative and approached silver producers to see if there was something to be done. The result was a new initiative that would reinstate silver as an official currency and, simultaneously, create more jobs for Americans.
This legislation, called the Bland-Allison Act of 1878, created the need for a new coin design. The current director of the U.S. Mint started searching for the best artist to design a new coin. George T. Morgan, age 30, came highly recommended by management at the Royal Mint of London, so he was hired for this task.
That was the birth of the Morgan Dollar. The story doesn’t end there, however.
The Bland-Allison Act forced the Treasury to buy between two and four million dollars of silver each month in the form of these coins. Soon, supply greatly exceeded demand, and millions of silver dollars sat in banks. Adding insult to injury, another law called the Sherman Silver Purchase Act of 1890 required the Treasury to buy even more ($4.5 million per month). Congress eventually halted the entire program in 1904 when the supply of silver for coin production was basically gone.
Around 20 years later, the Pittman Act proposed a solution to all these unused silver dollars sitting in American banks. The Treasury melted down 270 million Morgan Dollars, which allowed the demand for coins to start to increase again. Then in 1921, the U.S. Mint used that silver supply to create new Morgan Silver Dollars. That was the final year these coins were produced. Those same 1921 coins represent the current supply on the market today.
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