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The “Different” Morgan Silver Dollar

1921 Morgan Silver Dollar.

In 1859, Silver was found underground in Nevada. It was the first significant discovery of Silver in US history. The “Comstock Lode” is a lode of silver ore located near Virginia City, Nevada. The Comstock Lode was under the eastern slope of Mount Davidson, a peak in the Virginia Range. It was the first major discovery of silver ore in the United States and named after American miner Henry Comstock. The vein of Silver was so vast that the US Government, after much persuasion by mining interests agreed to build a Mint in Carson City, Nevada. This Mint was built in order to make it easy for the miners to turn their silver ore into coins as opposed to shipping the silver ore to Philadelphia or to San Francisco, which was very busy striking gold coins from the gold found at Sutter’s Mill.

(Miners in the Comstock Lode.) 

The amount of Silver that was mined was extraordinary. Some miners missed the entire US Civil War due to their interest in Comstock Lode. But during the 1860-1865 period, many mining companies fought over claims to parts of the Comstock Lode. By 1869 Ohio Senator John Sherman introduced a revised law to end bimetallism. The supporters of gold saw that the low price of silver, due to the development of the Comstock Lode and other rich silver-mining areas would cause large quantities of silver dollars to be struck and the gold standard to be endangered. The legislation, called “The Coinage Act of 1873,” in addition to ending the production of the silver dollar, abolished three low-denomination coins. By 1873, former US General Ulysses S Grant was President, and the bill became the Act of February 12, 1873.  Grant. 

Compounding the problem was the fact that Germany had also demonetized their silver coinage and the price of Silver continued to drop. This Western silver price drop also affected the price of wheat across the United States and soon the country was in an economic depression that would last for the next 5 years! 

President Ulysses S Grant

But the farmers, miners and politicians of the West were a very formidable group of people, and they recruited two of their own to right the wrongs of the prior legislation. Rep. Bland and Sen. Allison wrote legislation that would force the Treasury to buy $2 Million worth of western-mines Silver every month. And the legislation was known as The Bland-Allison Act. Congress eventually did pass the Bland-Allison Act but when it was presented to President Hayes, he vetoed the bill. However, Congress overturned President Hayes’ veto and the Bland-Allison Act became law. Now the United States Treasury was obligated to buy silver from the western miners and were required by law to strike silver dollars from that Western Silver!

President Rutherford B Hayes

Chief Engraver of the US Mint, William Barber, wanted to create the “new” Silver Dollar. He came up with numerous designs but none of them were acceptable to US Treasury officials. He had hired, some months earlier, a 30-year-old assistant, George T. Morgan. Morgan was from England and his father was an engraver of medals and coins. Morgan had coinage designs in his blood. So, the young man was also asked to create a design for these Silver Dollars.  Morgan designed some different looks for this Silver Dollar. And his designs, much to Barber’s displeasure, were approved by Treasury officials. 

Morgan knew what he wanted to do. He wanted to put an allegorical depiction of Miss Liberty on the obverse of the coin and an American Eagle on the reverse. Miss Anna Williams of Philadelphia modeled as Miss Liberty. Less than 1 week after the law was enacted by Congress, Morgan’s designs were approved, and Philadelphia Mint began striking the new Silver Dollars. 

(Miss Anna Williams of Philadelphia and the ‘Finished Product’ Struck beginning in 1878.) 

Beginning early in 1893, many companies across the nation went bankrupt. Because of that, there were runs on both small and large banking institutions and many of them failed as a result. These failures became known as the “Panic of 1893.” Now Grover Cleveland was President and because he believed that the Panic was caused by the inflation generated by the Sherman Silver Purchase Act, he sought legislation to repeal the Sherman Act. The act was repealed on November 1, 1893. By June of 1898, Congress then ordered the coining of all the remaining bullion purchased under the Sherman Silver Purchase Act. Millions more coins were struck into silver dollars. Silver dollar production rose again, until the bullion was exhausted in 1904. At that point all production of US Silver Dollars had ceased.  

By 1914, 10 years after the US stopped striking the Morgan Silver Dollar, World War I had begun. The German government began a propaganda campaign to discredit the United Kingdom’s currency in India. The Germans convinced Indian citizens that British banknotes in that country could not be redeemed for silver. This upset the people of India who were British subjects and caused distrust of the British Government, this successful campaign led to a run on the British supply of silver. In response, United States Democratic Senator Key Pittman of Nevada introduced legislation in 1918 that was intended to offer financial relief to the British government. The Pittman Act authorized the U.S. to melt up to 350,000,000 silver dollars. The U.S. eventually melted more than 270 million silver dollars. Of that amount just over 259 million were sold to the United Kingdom at the cost of one dollar per troy ounce.  

Now the United States was once again short of Silver Dollars, so the US Mint decided to strike them once again at the three then-operating Mint Facilities – Philadelphia, San Francisco and the relatively new facility in Denver. Since the Treasury had destroyed the thought-obsolete Morgan Silver Dollar dies in 1910, George T. Morgan was once again pressed into service. He had to create entirely new master obverse and reverse dies. The 1921 Miss Liberty’s face appeared to be a little thinner than her 1878-1904 predecessor. Her chin was sleeker, and her face was not so rounded. Additionally, the American Bald Eagle on the reverse had also been on a ‘crash diet’ as well. The eagle was noticeably thinner and the eagle’s breast, once robustly convex, was now concave. The coins certainly looked different, even to the general public.

(The original Miss Liberty on the top, and the 1921 version on the bottom.) 

(The pre-1921 Morgan on the top with full breast feathers and the 1921 version on the bottom with fewer breast feathers. 

While most dates of Morgan Silver Dollars have annual mintages, from all mints totaling 30-35 million coins, the 1921 Morgan, struck at only 3 Mints, had over 86 million coins struck.  Later in the year, the design was changed, and the 1921 Peace Dollar was first minted. The 1921 Morgan was a coin that would not have existed were it not for the US wanting to help Britain. The coin was struck with newly created dies and had noticeable differences. Most dealers can tell a 1921 Morgan without looking at the obverse. All they need to see is that skinnier Eagle. It truly is a “Different Morgan Silver Dollar!”  

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