The Morgan Dollar is a type of silver dollar coin produced by the United States Mint from 1878-1904, and then again in 1921. Its total weight is 1 oz., and it has a silver fineness of .900. The other 10% of the metal used in the minting of the coin is copper.
The coin is named after its designer, George T. Morgan, an English engraver who conceived both sides of the coin. On the obverse is featured a bust of Lady Liberty, complete with Morgan’s monogram near her neck. The reverse of the coin shows the Great Seal of the United States.
The coin was issued by the U.S. mint in direct response to the Comstock Lode silver strike on the eastern slope of Mount Davidson in what is now known as Virginia City, Nevada. The finding was made public in 1859, and grew tremendous attention from soon-to-be prospectors all around the country, as this was the major U.S. discovery of silver and gold ore.
Because so much silver entered the market as a result of these findings, silver prices began to decline. In order to combat this downward movement, congress passed the Bland-Allison Act which required the Treasury Department to purchase silver, and strike it as coins. The Morgan Dollar was the direct result of this mandate, and served as the only silver dollar struck between the cessation of production of the Seated Liberty Dollar in 1873 and 1904 when the Morgan Dollar was discontinued due to low silver reserves.
While Morgan Dollars were minted to the same specifications during the course of their production, variations in some of their appearances exist for a number of reasons. The primary cause of anomalies present in the series is a variation in the dies used over the production period of the series in the different mints. The most famous of these coins are those minted in San Francisco before 1883. Nicknamed “Deep Mirror Prooflike” (DMPL), these coins have highly frosted/mirrored finishes when compared to other Morgan coins not produced during this time at the San Francisco Mint. Other rarities include the 1878 “Tail Feathers” Morgan produced in Philadelphia, the 1888 “Scarface” minted in New Orleans, and San Francisco’s 1903 “Micro S” coin. Morgan Dollars are also very well known among collectable coins for succumbing to the selectively preferable silver oxidization known as “toning.”
Like the oxidization or “rusting” that happens to other metals such as iron, toning among collectable coins is the result of a chemical reaction between the oxygen present in atmospheric air and the metallic content of the coin. Typically, toning produces a coloring to silver coins that, when the conditions are right, is very beautiful. The resultant design is usually composed of shades of gold and silver, but sometimes opens up into a full spectrum of color. This is called “rainbow” toning.
The desirability of coin toning depends mostly on the collector. Generally speaking, a numismatist must have experience in determining the desirability of toning. If exposure to oxygen and humidity throughout the life of the coin has not been good to the finish of the coin, the resultant toning can decrease the value of the coin instead of adding to it. Novice collectors may not have the “know-how” required to recognize good toning, and may simply regard the coin as being in poor condition.