The Morgan Mints
BY PAUL GREEN
People are always looking for ways to collect Morgan silver dollars. And they have good reason – the historic Morgan combines amazing history with great prices. The problem is, many times people feel they will be unable to assemble a complete set.
There are other possibilities which allow you to have a Morgan dollar collection, with more limited goals. Of all the possible options, the best might well be to assemble a small set containing a Morgan dollar from each of the five mints that produced them. Such a set would be relatively inexpensive, and would allow you to learn a great deal about the coins and where they were produced.
The legislation that required the production of Morgan dollars placed a great deal of stress on the various United States mints. Silver dollars were not easy to produce, and the large required mintages meant all existing mints needed to produce Morgans. Throughout the course of the series, a total of five different mints struck the classic silver dollars. From 1878-1904, and once again in 1921, the coins were struck in Philadelphia, without a mint mark. During the same time frame, they were also minted with an “S” mint mark in San Francisco. Carson City produced Morgan dollars from 1878-1885, and again from 1889-1893, with the famed “CC” mint mark. The “O” mint mark of New Orleans appeared on Morgans struck from 1879-1904, while coins bearing Denver’s “D” mint mark were struck for one year only, in 1921.
As with all other coin production of the period, the Philadelphia Mint was the hub of activity. It was there that dies were produced and sent to the other facilities. The first Morgan dollar was produced at the Philadelphia Mint, located at the time in its second building, as coin production had started there in 1833. That facility would produce Morgans until October of 1901, when the third building assumed striking of the final Philadelphia Mint Morgan dollars. The third Philadelphia Mint remained in use until the 1960s.
Technically, a collector could acquire two different Philadelphia Morgans one struck prior to 1901 and another from 1901 on. As the Philadelphia Mint was the main facility throughout the period of Morgan dollar production, it is safe to assume it had the best equipment and generally produced high-quality coins. Even so, dies could be used too long or there could be other problems, resulting in a few subpar Philadelphia Morgan dollars. That said, even still there certainly are large numbers of attractive and high-grade Philadelphia Morgans on the market today.
In 1854, the San Francisco Mint started out as little more than a shack used by the private Moffat & Company minting operation. Almost immediately, officials began lobbying for a new facility, which they got when the second San Francisco Mint opened for business in 1874.
Affectionately known as the “Granite Lady,” it was a modern facility for its time. Later, it would be the only financial institution in the city of San Francisco to survive the great earthquake and fire of 1906.
When it opened, millions of San Francisco Morgan dollars were housed there.
We know that at the time, silver dollars were popular in the West, and quite a few of the San Francisco dollars (unlike those of Philadelphia and New Orleans) were immediately placed into circulation. We have learned from those that did not circulate right away that the quality of Morgan dollars produced in San Francisco was generally very high. It appears that workers took pride in their labor.
When you want a truly exceptional Morgan dollar, you will generally select an issue like the 1881-S. In acquiring a Mint State Morgan dollar from San Francisco, not only are you getting a high-quality Morgan dollar, but also a coin which is likely to have survived the great San Francisco earthquake in the vault of the “Granite Lady.” This makes it a great dollar and an important piece of San Francisco’s history.
While the San Francisco Mint was approved because of the great gold deposits in California, the Carson City facility was established as a direct result of silver discovered in the famed Comstock Lode. Opened in 1870, the Carson City Mint is the facility many bring to mind when they think of an Old West frontier mint. Certainly that is appropriate, as Carson City was located in the heart of the Old West at a time when it was still pretty wild.