The Morgan Dollar is a silver United States dollar coin. The dollars were minted from 1878 to 1904 and again for one more year in 1921. The Morgan Dollar is named after its designer, George T. Morgan, who designed the obverse and reverse of the coin. Morgan's monogram appears near Lady Liberty's neck on the obverse. The dollar has a fineness of .900, giving a total silver content of 0.77344 troy ounces (24.057 grams) per coin.
When the dollar was minted in 1878, it was the first dollar issued for American commercial use since the last Seated Liberty Dollar of 1873. The Trade Dollar was minted during this time period but was intended to be used for trade in the Orient. The dollar was continuously minted until 1904 when the supply of dollars in circulation was high and there was an absence of silver bullion. Then in 1918, the Pittman Act called for over 270 million coins to be melted for silver content. In 1921, the coinage of the Morgan Dollar resumed for that year and was replaced by the Peace Dollar commemorative that would become standard issue. Since 1921, many Morgan Dollars have been melted. Melting has mostly occurred when silver prices escalated because these dollars yield silver bullion.
Caches of Morgan Dollars produced at the Carson City Mint were discovered and were sold to coin collectors by the federal government in the early 1970s. Many of these dollars were uncirculated and are called GSAs (named after the General Services Administration) and come in black plastic holders that mimic the holders used for proof silver Eisenhower dollars of the period. These have become collectible items within the GSA encapsulation.
In 1876, Director of the Mint Henry Linderman began efforts to redesign the nation's silver coins. Linderman contacted C.W. Fremantle, Deputy Master of the Royal Mint in London, requesting him to "find a first class die-sinker who would be willing to take the position of Assistant Engraver at the Mint at Philadelphia." In response to Linderman's request, Fremantle wrote "My inquiries as to an Assistant Engraver lead me very strongly to recommend for the post Mr. George Morgan, age 30, who has made himself a considerable name, but for whom there is not much opening at present in this country."
Morgan arrived in Philadelphia on October 9, 1876. His earliest pattern coins designed during his tenure at the Philadelphia Mint were intended for the half dollar. In 1876, Morgan enrolled as a student at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts to prepare to create a new Liberty head design. Morgan also obtained studies from nature of the bald eagle for preparation of the reverse design. For the representation of Liberty, Morgan sought to depict an American woman rather than the usual Greek style figures. Morgan's friend, artist Thomas Eakins, suggested he use Anna Willess Williams of Philadelphia as a model.
On October 18, 1877, Linderman requested Superintendent of the Philadelphia Mint James Pollock to "instruct Mr. Morgan to prepare without delay, dies for a silver dollar, the designs, inscriptions, and arrangement thereof to be the same as the enclosed impression for the Half Dollar and numbered '2' substituting the words 'one dollar' in place of 'half dollar'".
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