This guide is designed to assist the new collector in understanding the different types of United States minted $1 Silver coins. There are several types that have been issued over the history of the republic and each will be discussed here. Hopefully this can serve as a reference guide and provide a bare minimum of information on the most popular of all US coins, the Silver Dollar.
UNITED STATES SILVER DOLLARS
Historically speaking, the Silver Dollar is probably the most important coin minted by the United States during its first one hundred fifty years being superceded only by the wide spread acceptance of paper currrency in the 20th Century. During the first few years of the young country's existance Americans just had to rely on foreign money and state coinage and limited paper currencies. In 1792 the Congress decided it was neccessary to mint coins for and by the United States. Being a government operation it took two years to get a mint set up in Philadelphia. So in 1794 the first coins were minted using silver, from amoung other sources, a donation of silverware from President George Washington. In that first year of mintage only an estimated 2000 Silver Dollars were produced as well as smaller denominations of coins based on fractions of the dollar.
The first US Silver Dollar has come to be known as the "Liberty with Flowing Hair". The profile of women who represented the mythical figure of Liberty is shown on the obverse with, you guessed it, flowing hair. On the reverse in an Eagle surrounded by a reath of leaves. The designer was Robert Scot. Not surprsisingly these are rare and expensive. This type was minted from 1794-1795. This Silver Dollar was one of the heaviest ever minted with .8924 silver composition and .1076 copper. It set a trend in composition that roughly 90% became the ideal portion for a good hardy coin that would stand up to circulation. It weighed 26.96 grams. There are slightly different versions of this coin with some having three leaves below the reverse's eagle and some having only 2.
After only a year and a half the design was modified to create the next distinct type. Miss Liberty was given more detail and a much nicer and fuller bustline with clearly seen cleavage draped in a dress. This gave the new coin its name, "Draped Bust Liberty". The eagle on the reverse is slightly smaller, but otherwise very similar. These Silver Dollars were minted from 1795-1803 for normal circulation. In 1798 the Eagle design on the reverse was changed and a large "spread eagle' design was added. The 1804 die was prepared, but not used as a silver shortage led to the discontinuation of Silver Dollars for the next 32 years. The 1804 Silver Dollar die was set aside and not used until the 1830s when the State Department was looking for a nice gift to be presented by American Ambassadors to the King of Siam and an Arab Shiek. Someone came up with the idea to mint up a few nice mint sets of 1804 Silver Dollars as the ideal and cheap gift. It was so ordered and the creation of the rarest of all US Silver Dollars became reality. A few years later, some say, in 1859, a few mint employees had a similar idea and thought a few 1804 Silver Dollars would be the perfect gift for themselves and a few more were produced. In total it is widely accepted that 15 coins exist from both groups. One is reported to have sold for $4 million.
By 1836 a new design by Christian Gobrecht was introduced in a test mintage. Presumably the mint officials weren't sure the public would accept the reintroduction of the Silver Dollar. The design features Miss Liberty seated on the obverse with a Flying Eagle on the reverse. It is known as the "Liberty Seated with Flying Eagle". The test went on for 3 years, 1836-1839, using this design. Very few were minted and they are all considered extremely rare. But apparently the power's that be were satisfied that the Silver Dollar was ready for widespred issue.
In 1840 full scale mintage was resumed, but the design was modified with a new eagle on the reverse holding arrows and olive branches. It is known simply as the "Liberty Seated" design. It was produced in large numbers from 1840-1866. In 1866 the mint added the national motto to the reverse, so "In God We Trust" is added on a ribblon above the eagle. This modified version was issued from 1866-1873. By this time mints in New Orleans, San Francisco and Carson City had joined Philadelphia. The new mint marks are found on the reverse below the eagle.
The United States was involved to a great degree between 1861-1865 with the Civil War. It brought about many changes including paper money issued directly by the US Government. It also saw a massive increase in foreign trade. Traders in Japan and China preferred payment in silver and the US Silver Dollar was slightly smaller than the more popular Spainish dollar. So pressure was put on Congress to authorize the minting of a larger dollar coin. So in 1873 the "Trade Dollar" was introduced. It retained the standard width of the previous Silver Dollars, but was slightly thicker. The phrase "420 grains 900 fine" to let the Asian traders know it had a 90% silver composition. The Asian traders were happy and readily accepted the new coin. Ever since they have also happily counterfeitted it. To this day it is widely accepted that most Trader Dollars found in Asia are no longer real. In 1998 I bought a whole bucket of these in Jakarta, Indonesia for $1 each, naturally, none of them were authentic. So when it comes to buying there for your own collection, buy only from a trusted source.
Not surprisingly Asian traders were not the only ones who wanted a Silver Dollar. The folks right here at home demanded to be able to use it too, but Congress limited it use to transactions under $5 so as to keep them available to export/importers. This only led to confusion and the demand for a purely domestic coin so in 1878 that need was fulfilled with another coin. The Trade Dollar was minted for another few years only in proof versions, that is from 1879-1885.
In 1878 my favorite Silver Dollar was introduced for the domestic scene. With the head of Liberty on the obverse it became known for its designer, George T. Morgan. The "Morgan Dollar" is considered one of the most beautiful of all US coins. It weighed in at 412.5 grains. It had the standard diameter of 38.1mm. It was minted by the millions for 30 years! It included the phrase, "E Pluribus Unum" on the front and had a most impressive eagle on the reverse. It was very popular and formed the basic unit of US coinage for the common man. Finally another silver shortage in 1904 resulted in its suspension from production. Then shortly after World War I production was resumed in 1921 for one year only. That year 85 million Morgan Silver Dollars were minted. But that year another new Silver Dollar also began production.
The new coin of 1921 was known as the "Peace Dollar" follow a long and deadly war. Designed by Anthony DeFrancisci it had the word "Peace" on the reverse. On the obverse is a younger and thinner Liberty. Millions were minted from 1921 until 1935. The economic crash of 1929 and protectionist government actions following it led to the Great Depression of the 1930s. This called for an overhaul of the countries monetary system which included the end of the gold standard and in 1935, the termination of mintage of US Silver Dollars. From that day forward, paper money would have to due. Smaller demomination coinage continued until 1964. Oddly, it was that year that it was decided to resume production of the Peace Dollar. In 1964 approximately 300,000 Silver Dollars were minted! Then Congress decided it was time to stop using 90% silver in coinage of all types so the Denver mint, which had worked so hard at minting the Peace Dollars, turned them all over to be melted. None are known to survive, although sometimes rumors say otherwise.
The Peace Dollars and the Morgan Dollars are certainly the most commom. In heavily circulated condition, their value is based as much on the currrent price of an ounce of silver than anything else. In mid 2006 Silver was going for $12 an ounce and the cheapest Silver Dollar, containing about 3/4 oz. of Silver, could expect to be worth $15. By April 2011 Silver was rising as paper money continued to loose value. On April 21, 2011 Silver hit $45 per ounce. Also to keep is mind is that annual mintages vary dramaticly from year to year as did the numbers produced by the different mints. For example a 1921 Morgan Silver Dollar in Cu condition from San Francisco might bring $1800 while its counterpart from Philadelphia is worth 10% of that! So my point; Get a good reference book so you can check values of individual Silver Dollars. Learn how to tell the difference in grades and condition. Other guides have been written to help you with that. Condition make all the difference as much as any other factor. Even on Ebay, some sellers will tend to exxagerate the condition of a coin hoping for a higer winning bid. Take a good look at the photos and a good luck at the sellers feedback before you buy. Feedback below 99% should be cause for concern, below 98% is a serious warning. This guide is only the barest of beginnings, get that coin book and learn from it. In coin collecting, knowledge is power, and power can save you a lot of money. Coin collecting can be a worth while fun activity, but practiced with realiable information it can be a very good investment providing you with a real return on your money. After all paper money is only worth what people think its worth. Silver Dollars are real money and year after year they keep going up in value. When I first wrote this guide back in 2006, Silver was at $12, by April 2011 it was over $45 as the whole world realized the US paper dollar was worth less and less each year.
If you'd like more information on Silver Dollars or other coins try the www websites sponsored by the American Numismatic Association. The US Mint offers its own site and has information on current coins being issued and sold directly to the public including the new American Eagle Silve Dollar. The Ebay guide's program doesn't allow me to give you their website addresses, but a quick Google check will give them to you.