1890 Silver Dollar: The Ultimate Collector’s Guide
The 1890 Morgan silver dollar was minted nearly halfway through the coin design’s run in circulation which lasted from 1878 to 1904.
The coin’s 1878 inception came five years after its predecessor, the Seated Liberty dollar, ceased production due to the Coinage Act of 1873 which effectively ended the free coinage of silver.
Lobbyists worked tirelessly from 1876 on to resume the free coinage of silver.
The resulting Bland-Allison Act was borne from a bill which was vetoed by President Rutherford B. Hayes upon reaching his desk, but got its legs once that Presidential veto was overridden by Congress in February of 1878.
The act required the Treasury to purchase two to four million dollars’ worth of silver a month, to be coined into the eventual Morgan silver dollar.
30-year-old wunderkind Assistant Engraver George Morgan, who initially came on board in 1876 on a six-month trial basis under Chief Engraver William Barber, was tasked with the design of the new silver dollar in late 1877 by Director of the Mint Henry Linderman.
What’s even more impressive is that his design for the new coin was chosen in a two-man competition which pitted him against his entrenched mentor, William Barber.
1890 was the last high-volume mintage year of Morgan silver dollars until 1896 due to the ratification of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act of 1890 which forced the Treasury to dramatically increase the amount of silver purchased each month – an act they hoped would result in inflation and help the nation’s farmers.
As a result, production of the coin was sliced nearly in half the next year and to exponentially lower levels for the next four years.
Mass bankruptcies, thought to be caused by the inflation caused by the Sherman Silver Purchase Act by President Grover Cleveland, led to widespread financial shock in what is now termed as the Panic of 1893. The act was repealed on November 1, 1893.
Five years later, Congress ordered the coining of remaining silver bullion (purchased during the Act’s heyday) into silver dollars.
This led to a spike in production until the bullion supply went dry in 1904.
At that time, production of the Morgan silver dollar ceased for 17 years until a one-off mintage run in 1921.
Mints: Philadelphia, Carson City, San Francisco, New Orleans
- Overall: 38,042,514
- Philadelphia: 16,802,000
- Carson City: 2,309,041
- San Francisco: 8,230,373
- New Orleans: 10,701,100
Weight: 26.73 g
Diameter: 38.1 mm
Edge Type: Reeded
Composition: 0.90 silver, 0.10 copper
Designer: George T. Morgan
Obverse Features: With more space to work with than that of an average coin, designer George Morgan was allowed space to breathe in creating his visage of Liberty for the obverse of the coin.
That spatial awareness and confidence gives the image of Liberty, facing left and wearing a Phyrgian cap, a detailed gravitas which pops upon initial handling and viewing.
The phrase “LIBERTY” is inscribed on a ribbon around Liberty’s head, a ribbon which has protrusions of leaves coming out of it.
The phrase “E PLURIBUS UNUM” spreads around the upper rim in a rainbow, each word separated by a centered dot.
Seven stars from the “E” and six stars from the “M” in “E PLURIBUS UNUM” complete a circle going downward on the rim, meeting with the mintage date at the bottom center of the coin – directly underneath Liberty’s neck.
Small, repeated tooth-like edging (called denticles) surround the obverse and separate the coin’s phrasing from the rim.
Reverse Features: George Morgan’s version of the bald eagle on the reverse of the coin has a different-shaped wing orientation than most others we’ve seen.
The wings of the eagle appear slightly drawn in at the body, creating a unique, off-centered “W” shape.
The centered eagle’s talons hold an olive branch and three arrows, celebrating peace and military strength in equal breath.
Directly above the eagle’s head lies the phrase “IN GOD WE TRUST” on a single line in Old English lettering.
Wrapping the coin are the phrases “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” (above the eagle) and “ONE DOLLAR” (below), with a six-point star separating the phrases on each side.
As with the obverse, denticles surround the border of the reverse.
Errors and Variations
There are very few striking errors known for 1890 Morgan silver dollars, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t some collector’s value to be had when it comes to overall variance.
The first thing to know is that coins minted in Carson City are, on the whole, more valuable than other silver dollars from the other 3 Mints.
“CC” coins count for just over five percent of the overall mintage numbers from 1890, so their relative scarcity gives them a solid value boost.
As for Morgan silver dollars altogether, most errors were caused by die doubling or die gouging – the latter of which is caused when a hole deeper than a normal scratch is accidentally created in the die.
These die problems created some interesting variations, however, including an 1891-CC silver dollar where a die gouge makes it appear that the eagle on the reverse is spitting.
Rarities such as the Spitting Eagle carry a very solid value spike over normal Morgan silver dollars, but they are increasingly hard to find on the collector’s market.
Grading and Condition Issues
An 1890 Morgan silver dollar is pretty easy to grade considering how comparatively large they are and that there were very few striking issues with the coin, other than perhaps some weakly struck coins released from the New Orleans Mint.
The majority of Morgan silver dollars were struck well and left mintage in premium condition, but 19th Century coins are crapshoots in the 21th Century considering the sheer amount of time in circulation and opportunities for mishandling.
Two of the key tells for the grading of a circulated 1890 Morgan silver dollar is the condition of Liberty’s hair on the obverse and the detail work of the eagle’s feathers on the reverse.
The more detail you can see in both her hair and the line work of the eagle’s wings, the better chance you have a coin which is approaching Extremely Fine condition (EF-40).
Coins of a lower grade will have very muted details in those two areas, along with scuffed mintmarks, dates and degraded rims.
A rare Choice Uncirculated (MS-65) or Proof (PR-63) silver dollar will maintain nearly all of its mint luster and have very little evidence of handling.
Considering it was issued nearly 130 years ago, such coins are few and far between.
An 1890 Morgan silver dollar is worth about 20-40 times face value for circulated coins, which lists at about two to four times its silver melt value ($11.78).
Uncirculated 1890 Morgan silver dollars don’t list for much more than that, unless you find a rarity that’s in near-mint shape or a proof coin which is even more rare.
Those coins are few and far between, going in the thousands at auction.
Good (G-4): $20.00
Very Good (VG-8): $25.00
Fine: (F-12): $30.00
Very Fine (VF-20): $15.00
Extremely Fine (EF-40): $39.00
About Uncirculated (AU-50): $42.00
Uncirculated (MS-60): $53.00
Choice Uncirculated (MS-65): $2,171.00
Proof (PF-63): $3,073.00