The 1886 silver dollar – a year of progress

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The 1886 silver dollar was a continuation of the series of Morgan silver dollar designs which were in production since 1878.

As usual, to put things into perspective, 1886 was the year Karl Benz patented the first ever gasoline driven car, and the first trainload of oranges sent from Los Angeles, eastwards on the transcontinental railroad network.

This year was also a first in metallurgy – the process of refining aluminum from bauxite by purifying it to a white powder, known as alumina, or aluminum oxide – then using a process of electrolysis, made aluminum commercially viable.

Grover Cleveland was the US president – this New York Democrat remains, to this day, the only US president to serve two nonconsecutive terms in office. He is also notable for being the only president to marry in the White House, when he wed Frances Folsom in June of this year.

Finally, this same year saw the dedication of the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor by President Cleveland.

So, with the surrender of the Apache leader Geronimo at Skeleton Canyon, Arizona, after decades of fighting, America settled into becoming a progressive and economic leader.

Money, of course, was the key to its development –  and the Morgan silver dollar Played a massive part in the United States establishing itself in the new world order of the time. The might of America, and the dollar value of the Morgan dollar became the symbol by which the world knew the US was staking its claim internationally.

A large (1 1/2 inches wide, and 1/10 of an inch thick) and heavy coin – anyone holding one would be aware of it reinforcing the feeling of being valuable.

He ain’t heavy …

The silver dollar was more spendable than gold as it was a denomination more in keeping with the cost of the necessities of life in the late 1800s. Gold coins were, at the time, in values of $5, $10, and $20 – way too much to be carrying around in the normal course of your day.

The problem was that in order to carry round any quantity of silver around this date, with silver prices being relatively cheap, meant lugging huge quantities of heavy coinage around. In order to avoid this Congress introduced an act which saw the introduction of “silver certificates.”

These were available in notes between one dollar and $1,000. They were basically promissory notes backed by, and guaranteed by, the U.S. Treasury. These “United States notes” were in popular circulation until 1923, they released the last of the series as late as 1953.

These notes are a great illustration of the real value of money – where the paper noted itself is actually backed by a precious metal. In 1913, Congress passed the Federal Reserve Act, which was the beginning of the end for metal backed currencies, with the advent of the issuing of the Federal Reserve notes that we are familiar with today.

It was into this background of events that the 1886 Morgan silver dollar was launched. With a silver dollar value of just a dollar, they were the United States Mint’s standard silver coins.

A few dollars more

Morgan dollars were all of the same basic design – and the 1886 Morgan dollars were no different. The original casting, designed by George Morgan, who was recruited from the Royal Mint in London, England, was used to make the dies, with only the date being changed.

The rest of the coin – the eagle and the bust of Liberty – remained the same as the previous releases of the coin. The 1886 silver dollar had the same alloy composition – 90% silver content and 10% copper. Morgan silver dollars were made of this alloy to prevent the wear. Which would have resulted from using pure .999 fine silver.

In its mint state, a silver Morgan dollar would be indistinguishable from a coin struck of solid silver. The luster of uncirculated 1886 Morgan dollars is a sight to behold. Any coin grading service looking at such certified coins would be left in no doubt as to their provenance. The Liberty head design makes the most of the contrasting shadows and light in the hair and contours of the face – and the eagle on the reverse is equally stunning, the plumage and arrows, in particular, showing the incredible design at its best.

Such coins, of course, are rare in this condition, but PCGS (Professional Coin Grading Service) certified coins from this year are often found across all conditions – from the perfect shine of uncirculated, mint condition examples, to those that have the highly coveted iridescent rainbow color …

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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