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Mint dates: 1878-1904, 1921
In its day, the Morgan Silver Dollar was the ultimate hedge against inflation. Designed by U.S. Mint Assistant Engraver George T. Morgan, the Morgan Dollar was the second standard silver dollar produced as currency. Authorized by the Bland-Allison Act in 1873, right after the passage of the Fourth Coinage Act, the Morgan Dollar brought an end to free coinage of silver. Before 1873, the Mint was required to accept any silver brought to it and strike it as coinage for a small fee. This flooded the market and caused a serious inflationary cycle.
Eventually Congress required that the U.S. Mint purchase a certain tonnage of silver each month and strike it as trade coin, but this too was ended, which brings us to the Morgan Silver Dollar. By having their silver struck into coins, silver miners were making a profit on each coin because the value of silver at the time was far less than a dollar. For several years, Congress went back and forth over the issue of silver as money, and this eventually resulted in the minting of the Morgan Dollar in 1878; silver was money once again.
It was mandated that the coin would be valued using the older gold/silver ratio of 16:1; 16 ounces of silver would be equivalent to one ounce of gold. On its obverse side, the Morgan Silver Dollar has the profile of an American woman, Anna Willess Williams, to represent Lady Liberty. On the reverse is an eagle with wings spread open, grasping a sword and an olive branch in its talons. It should be mentioned that though Morgan was hired on as a master engraver, he was not necessarily an artist. Thus, this coin was designed in 1876, first as a half dollar, while he was in art school in Philadelphia.
The Morgan Silver Dollar represents an interesting moment in U.S. monetary and mining policy. When mines in the western United States began to overproduce silver, there was tremendous pressure to stabilize the production of coins in order to stabilize the value of the dollar. This move, however, highlighted how little Congress understood economics and the impact of banking policy on monetary practices at the time. The coin itself was the beginning of tighter control over design and circulation. Manufacturing practices between the Philadelphia Mint and the Western Mints in San Francisco and Carson City were standardized and forced the designation of other Mints across the country to keep up with demand for the dollar. It could be argued that this silver dollar delivered the US into the modern global banking system.