The 1880 silver dollar – the Morgan establishes itself

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1880 was yet another significant year for this iconic piece of American history. The 1880 Morgan dollar was a milestone in several ways.

Before we get into the reasons why this is the case, as usual, we will take a look at the historical context in which they set the launch of this coin.

The end of the old decade of the 1870s saw a move towards new techniques in science and technology being adapted to commercial use. For example, 1880 was the first year that frozen mutton was shipped from Australia to London on the SS Strathleven. Refrigerated cargo is so commonplace these days that it barely rates a mention – but this was a major advance on foods being stored in salt or brine.

The government  brought some aspects of these new technologies to bear in metallurgy and the way in which alloys were mixed and treated. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the production of coinage.

Minting coins is a very specialised and complex process. The finished items have to be durable – but also attractive enough to be used and recognised across borders and countries. They have to be sophisticated enough that they are difficult to forge and fake. The methods of ensuring this security means that the techniques have to be one step ahead of the criminals who exploit the slightest opportunity.

Fake news

Because of the price of gold, it is rarely worth criminals trying to forge coins using the precious metal. Testing would be far more vigorous, and very few would slip through the net. Silver, on the other hand, has less value and its condition can vary widely – this can hide a multitude of flaws and enable savvy forgers to produce counterfeits which are passable at first glance.

Because they are less valuable, tests on silver coins are not so commonplace unless they are particularly valuable.

These considerations were amongst those being thought of when the silver Morgan dollar was planned.

The 1880 Morgan silver dollar benefited  from two years of experience in minting these “new” silver dollars at the US Mints in Carson City, San Francisco, New Orleans, and Philadelphia. The 90% silver and 10% copper composition of the piece made this silver dollar coin very difficult to forge.

The lustre and appearance of the 1880 Morgan dollars was unique. It is a large coin and the physical act of striking the dies used took immense pressure and very sophisticated machinery for the time. To cope with the production they equipped all four mints with state-of-the-art, steam-driven striking platforms and efficient metal works – although electric presses ultimately superseded these towards the end of the first run of Morgan silver dollars in 1904.

Rare mistakes make money

Because the technology was still being perfected there were rare coins which, for example, were mis-stamped or wrongly dated or had a rainbow hue across the face of the coin that got into circulation – or were put aside. The dollar value of these coins is exactly the same – one dollar – but in numismatic terms the coins worth is calculated by coin grading – and a rare “fault” or “quirk” of manufacture makes them more valuable.

In a mint state such silver coins can command an extremely high price in any sale. The series is sought after and regarded as a major attraction for collectors. This is because the coin price can suit most budgets – from beginners, who collect the more common coins, where coin values are low – to experienced, expert collectors who are willing to spend tens of thousands of dollars on the more valuable type of rare coin.

The 1880 silver Morgan dollar remains one of the United States Mint’s finest coins. Examples are found across the US at coin fairs, auctions, sales – and even on eBay and Craigslist.

Some collectors find bargains time and time again because many hobbyists cannot be bothered to look for, and research, the salient points to look for when buying and selling such coins. It is worth doing your homework and looking over things like the number of tail feathers, the mint mark, the date, and all the other variations which might find you snagging a bargain.

Condition is all when it comes to Morgan silver dollars. There are so many examples out there in the marketplace – especially from the Philadelphia Mint – that it is all too easy to miss something rare because you are in a hurry or don’t know what to look out for.

If you are vigilant and knowledgeable there are some doozies out there for the taking …

Collin Plume

Collin Plume

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The Morgan Silver Dollar is an essential part of American History. The first was released in 1878 and became an immediate success. We have sourced 3 different versions of this iconic coin. These will be an investment as well as a family heirloom for generations to come.

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