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What is a Morgan Silver Dollar?

Jon Warren
More than a century ago in the late 1800’s, the Morgan Silver Dollar helped the United States become one of the world’s great economic powers. It was beloved at home and treasured around the world for its large size and silver weight, and it has remained a collector favorite to this day.

The Morgan Silver Dollar was born out of the discovery of the Comstock Lode in Nevada, which was the greatest silver strike in American history. In 1878 the U.S. Congress passed the Bland-Allison Act, which required the United States Mint to strike new dollar coins with domestic silver, primarily from the Comstock Lode. The coin was first issued later that same year. It was especially popular in the Western states and territories, and it became a symbol of the “Wild West.”

Named after its designer, U.S. Mint engraver George T. Morgan, the Morgan Silver Dollar features a beautiful portrait of Liberty on the front and a dramatic American eagle on the back. Each coin was struck in 90% silver and is so large that it was known as a “cartwheel” in the West. It was the largest United States silver coin of its era made for circulation.

In the early 1900’s, more than half of the entire production of Morgan Silver Dollars were melted by the U.S. government for their silver content, and millions more were melted in later years to take advantage of rising silver prices. Many of those that remained were worn or damaged in circulation. As a result, only a fraction of all Morgan Silver Dollars remain today, and those in uncirculated condition are the most coveted of all.