Named after its designer George T. Morgan, the Morgan silver dollar was in production from 1878 until 1905 and then again for a single year in 1921. Made of .900 fine silver, it was introduced as a result of the discovery of the Comstock Lode in Nevada and the subsequent Bland-Allison Act of 1878, which required the U.S. Treasury to buy substantial quantities of silver on an annual basis. Overproduced at the time, some 270 million pieces were subsequently destroyed. The Morgan silver dollar has since become collectible among U.S. numismatists.
Look at the obverse, or the front of the coin. You should see a laureate head of Liberty — the profile of a female with a band of laurel in her hair. Severely neoclassical, the face is quite distinct from the Art Nouveau-influenced profile by Anthony DeFrancisci on the Peace dollar, which succeeded the Morgan dollar in 1922. A row of stars flanks the date, and the legend should read “E. Pluribus. Unum” (with periods).
Turn to the reverse. You should see an eagle with a wreath, the legend “United States of America” and the denomination “One Dollar.” (The eagle, along with other aspects of Morgan’s design, was mocked in some quarters when the coin was first issued as looking more like a starved buzzard than an emblem of national pride.)
Place the coin on a set of digital scales. It should weigh 0.7734 oz. If it weighs any less, it is either significantly worn or a reproduction made from a lighter alloy.
Look out for what collectors called “Deep Mirror Proof Like” Morgan dollars (DMPLs for short). Intended for circulation, these were issued in the manner of proof coins with a pale mint luster upon the lettering and a mirrored effect upon the field (the flat, uninscribed part of the coin). Fine examples can be worth tens of thousands of dollars.
From 1972, uncirculated Morgan silver dollars were sold direct to the public by the U.S. Government’s General Services Administration (G.S.A.). The availability of these sealed, certificated coins means that collectors would be well advised to pass on blemished examples.
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