USA Silver dollars from 1878-1935 generally exist in enormous quantities, that modern collectors sometimes find shocking...let's examine why. Firstly, they were minted in very large quantities. Hundreds of millions were produced. Secondly, they had an interesting use in the 1950’s and 1960’s… as coins for “dollar” slot machines in Las Vagas, and Atlantic City. Thirdly, because there were more produced than required, the US government held millions of them in their vaults…until the 1960’s & 1970's when these were released...in brand new condition... to the public. Lastly, they are large stunning coins, and are the kind of thing one would be inclined to “put away”...so survival rate would be higher than smaller denominations which were more often used in commerce.
Morgan dollars were first minted in 1878. They are called this after the name of the designer George T. Morgan. The design is an evolution of previous dollar coins, with an eagle with his wings spread on the reverse. The coins were minted in the following cities, and a “mint mark” appears in between the “D” and the “O” of “DOLLAR” just under the wreath that is below the eagle; Philadelphia (no mint mark), New Orleans (O), Carson City (CC), Denver (D), San Francisco (S).
The value and rarity of the coins of this issue depend on the date, mint of issue, and as always the condition. In general, all coins produced in Carson City are relatively scarce, and all retail for more than $100 each in undamaged condition. Many of the San Francisco mints are more challenging as well. The rarest regular issue coin is the 1893S of which only 100,000 were produced…and for whatever reason, few survived. A nice example with light wear will likely sell in the $10,000 range. A truly nice uncirculated example will cost over $100,000.
In many cases the rarer dates rise in price exponentially with condition. This is because practically all brand new examples have light scratches from being tossed into big heavy bags, and bounced around, rubbing against other coins. A perfect example of how scarce some dates are in pristine condition would be the 1886 "O". With a mintage of 10.7 Million coins it can hardly be considered scarce, and if you were looking for a lightly worn example with no problems (VF) it may cost in the $30 range. However one that is uncirculated with lots of contact marks will cost $750, and if you are looking for a premium example with virtually no contact marks (MS65), it will likely run you about $250,000!
The last, and most common year of the Morgan dollar is 1921. With a combined mintage of over 85 million coins, it is something that is in almost every coin collection. We buy these in the $15-$25 range.
In December 1921 a new design was adopted called the “Peace” type. The reverse has an eagle sitting on a mound with wings closed, and the word “PEACE” at the bottom. The obverse has a new image of Liberty facing right, and the date on the bottom. In 1921 alone, the coin was struck in a higher relief, giving a fantastic 3-D effect. Since very few were produced the first year, the 1921 has always been a collectors item. These generally sell for over $100 in nice shape.
From 1922 to 1935, with the exception of the deep depression years of 1929 to 1933, the lower relief variety were minted at Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco. The mint mark is actually quite difficult to locate for the uninitiated. It is quite small, and is located on the eagle side (reverse) underneath the “N” in “ONE”. Most dates are very common, selling for under $25 in average condition. The “key date” is the Philadelphia (no mint mark) 1928, of which only 360,649 were struck.
After 1935 no more circulating silver dollars were produced by the USA. Ironically 1935 is the year of the first Canadian circulating silver dollar. In 1964, in an effort to revive the silver dollar (which was a very popular denomination in around the world at the time) the government minted a group of peace dollars, but all were melted down. Future types including Eisenhower, Susan B. Anthony, Sacawea, and the current president series were all produced from base metals, and can generally be had for close to face value.