Designed by George T. Morgan, the Morgan dollar was produced from 1878 to 1921.
The obverse design for the coin features lady liberty facing left wearing a Phrygian cap, a wreath, and a headband with the inscription “LIBERTY”. On the outer periphery are the words “E PLURIBUS UNUM” (a dot separating each) and 13 stars to represent the original states. Located directly under the neck of Lady Liberty is the designer’s initial “M”.
The reverse features an eagle holding an olive branch in one claw and arrows in the other and directly above the eagle are the words “IN GOD WE TRUST” while directly below the eagle is a laurel wreath tied with a ribbon. On the outer periphery are the words “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” and “ONE DOLLAR” as well as two stars separating the two phrases. Located on the left loop ribbon of the wreath is the designer’s initial “M”. A mint mark for New Orleans (O), San Francisco (S), Carson City (CC) or Denver (D) is located just below the ribbon. Coins minted at the Philadelphia mint carried no mint marks.
The most popular variety for the entire series occurred in its first year (1878). During this year two varieties were created when the mint released an eagle reverse that had 8 tail feathers and another with 7 tail feathers.
Over the decades even more varieties have surfaced and the largest cataloging of these were performed by Leroy Van Allen and A. George Mallis. Their cataloging is commonly refers to each variety numerically and are noted as a VAM # (VAM-1, VAM-2, etc…). Some VAM varieties are quite popular among Morgan dollar collectors and their prices adequately reflect the rarity & demand for these varieties.
General Market Notes
The Morgan dollar remains one of the most popular U.S. coins collected and collector intensity rivals that of even Lincoln cent collectors.
Though many coins have been melted over the years, many specimens have survived as they were not widely circulated during their time of issue so common year coins are readily available and affordable. The largest influence on these coins are not so much collector demand as it is the price of silver as each coin contains .77344 ounces of silver.
For the investor, the keys to the series (excluding proofs & errors) are the 1879-CC, 1889-CC, 1892-S, and 1893-S issues. The semi-keys are the 1884-S, 1892-CC, 1893-CC, 1893-O, 1894, 1895-O, 1895-S, 1896-O, 1896-S, 1901, 1903-S, and 1904-S issues.