The Coinage Act of 1873 brought an end to silver coinage in America and instituted a de facto gold standard. Ceasing mintage of silver coins significantly contracted the money supply, driving interest rates sharply upward. The already troubled economy fell into the Panic of 1873, plunging the country into six years of depression. A cry went up to expand the money supply.
In response, the Greenback Party, who wanted to crank up the printing presses, faced off against the “Silverites,” who fought for the return of bimetallism. Pro-silver won the round with the passage of the Bland-Allison Act in 1878. The act set a ratio of 16 ounces of silver to one ounce of gold, even though the market value of gold was 32 times that of silver at the time. By the year’s end 22,486,000 new silver dollars had been struck, and the dollar had been seriously devalued.
The new coin was designed by Assistant Engraver George T. Morgan. To present a more American image for the bust of Liberty on the obverse, he chose Anna Willess Williams of Philadelphia to be his model. Liberty wears a crown of wheat, cotton, and tobacco – the principal crops of the time – in a symbolic gesture to the farmers who had been hurt most by rising interest rates. For the reverse, Morgan relied on nature studies to depict an eagle with wings spread clutching arrows and an olive branch.
Shortly after mintage began, Director of the Mint Henry Richard Linderman ordered two changes to the Morgan Dollar. The first was a reasonable reduction in relief. The second was a reduction of the eagle’s tail feathers from eight to seven because no previous eagle had an even number.
Most dates and mints of high-grade Morgan Silver Dollars, along with an unusual number of varieties, are readily available today, making the series among the most popular with both numismatists and investors alike.
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