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Silver

The Birth of America's beautiful Morgan Dollar

– Minted from 1878-1904, and once again in 1921, the Morgan silver dollar is one of America's most popular collectible coins. To fully understand the history of these 90% silver beauties, we first have to go back to the era of our nation's great gold and silver rushes – particularly 1859 and the great Comstock Lode!

America's legendary Comstock Lode

In 1859, Patrick McLaughlin and Peter O'Riley were prospecting in Six Mile Canyon near Carson City – which was soon to be the capital of the Nevada territory. Digging a ditch to collect water, they found rich black soil that yielded a layer of glittering ore. As experienced miners, the two instantly recognized gold – and they eagerly began to wash away the heavy black soil! This find soon came to be known as the Comstock vein – and it captured the attention of J.F. Stone, a veteran of California's gold rush. Stone was curious about the heavy black soil being thrown aside by the ton, so he sent a sample to be assayed in California.

The soil turned out to be incredibly rich in silver – yielding $4,700 a ton! So enormous was this claim that over the next two decades, the Comstock Lode produced more than $300 million in precious metals… and that was in 19th-century dollars. Today, the Comstock Lode of Nevada is still known as the Queen of the Silver Strikes. Not only did it yield incredible amounts of silver, this find also helped give rise to the Morgan dollar!

Silver Dollars return after 5 years

The Morgan dollar series had a rough start, which would give the first-year-of-issue coins an extra measure of interest and historical significance.

The trouble began five years before the first Morgan dollars were minted. Under the Mint Act of February 1873, the production of circulating Liberty Seated silver dollars came to an end in favor of Trade and gold dollars. Silver dollars made up less than one percent of circulating silver, so this change didn't have much effect on the public.

On the other hand, the silver mine owners out West were outraged – and they began to lobby and pressure their congressmen. After five years of heated debate, Congress finally authorized the production of a new silver dollar in 1878.

George T. and the Goddess of Liberty

The designer of this new coin was none other than George T. Morgan – the English-born assistant engraver at the Philadelphia Mint. During Morgan's search for an American girl to represent Liberty, his friend (and renowned landscape painter) Thomas Eakins suggested Anna Willess Williams, a fellow art student and school teacher.

At first, Williams was reluctant to pose for Morgan. In those days, "nice" girls did not model for artists! She insisted on strict secrecy, fearing she would lose her job if the truth were known. Williams sat for Morgan five times, and he would later declare she had a nearly perfect profile.

Today, the

 

Morgan silver dollar

remains one of the most popular collector coins of all time! They were struck at an impressive five U.S. mints – Philadelphia, New Orleans, Carson City, Denver and San Francisco. The Morgan silver dollar series has seen more than its share of key-date issues and exciting, sought-after varieties. Learn more about this beloved series in our exclusive Collectors Guide to Morgan Silver Dollars.

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