HomeUS Coins1881-S Morgan Dollar : A Collector's Guide

1881-S Morgan Dollar : A Collector’s Guide

1881-S Morgan Dollar. Image: Stack's Bowers / Adobe Stock.
1881-S Morgan Dollar. Image: Stack’s Bowers / Adobe Stock.

By Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker for CoinWeek Notes …..
The 1881-S Morgan dollar is a large silver coin struck at the San Francisco branch of the United States Mint. Known more officially as the Liberty Head dollar, the Morgan dollar is named for designer George T. Morgan, who served as a U.S. Mint engraver from 1876 until his death in 1925. He was born in England and moved to the United States in 1876, where, in October of that year, he was hired as an assistant engraver under the Mint’s Chief Engraver, William Barber.

Morgan designed many coins and patterns during his nearly four-decade tenure at the Mint, including the Columbian commemorative half dollars of 1892 and 1893. Notable among his patterns and non-circulating designs was the $100 Union gold coin, which was never actually struck.

Anna Willess WilliamsWhile Morgan was a prolific engraver, his most famous coin remains the Morgan silver dollar, which was struck from 1878 through 1904 and once more in 1921. The model for the Liberty Head design that dominates the coin’s obverse was a Philadelphia schoolteacher named Anna Willess Williams, who agreed to serve as Morgan’s model for the coin on the condition that her identity not be revealed. In the 19th century, it would have been considered scandalous for a woman to serve as an artist’s model, and Williams legitimately risked losing her job as a teacher.

Soon after the first Morgan dollars were issued, Williams’ identity was leaked to the public. She was barraged by fan mail and individuals who attempted to visit her home. She also received offers to serve as an actress, but she rejected most public attention and spurned her role as the Morgan Dollar’s model as an “incident of [her] youth.” Far from being fired, she retired in 1924 and died unmarried at 68 in 1926 – one year after Morgan himself.

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Market Data and Noteworthy Specimens

The San Francisco Mint struck 12,760,000 Morgan dollars in 1881. In our opinion, the 1881-S Morgan dollar is the most attractive issue in the entire series. Most unimpaired coins are alight in brilliant. Many were struck with Prooflike surfaces, and many of those are imbued with frosted devices.

Historic Market Data

Coin dealer George P. Lang of Valley Stream, New York, offered uncirculated examples for $2.50 in an April 1948 Numismatist advertisement.

Dealer Harry W. Bason of New Hyde Park, New York, offered 74 different date/mint mark Morgan dollars in Brilliant Uncirculated in a February 1951 Numismatist ad, where he listed 1881-S Morgan dollars for sale for $1.90 apiece.

Many were released in the 1960s. Four to six million remain in Mint State today. The date was included in the Lincoln Highway Hoard. Coin dealer Dale Williams offered “strictly original” rolls of 1881-S Morgan dollars for $500 each in a January 1991 Numismatist advertisement.

Modern Market Data

Top Population: PCGS MS69 (2, 3/2024), NGC MS69 (2, 3/2024), and CAC MS69 (1:0 stickered:graded, 3/2024).

Through November 2013, NGC had certified 225 1881-S Morgan dollars in MS68 with none finer, seven of which were PL and two DPL. By July 2023, the NGC-certified population had risen to 414 MS68, 20 MS68+, and two MS69, with 10 MS68 coins being PL and two DPL.

  • NGC MS68+ #6824067-003: Stack’s Bowers, March 28, 2024, Lot 7261 – View. Light rim toning.
  • PCGS MS68 #43056400: Heritage Auctions, March 29, 2024, Lot 3362 – $4,080. Rose-colored toning along rims.
  • NGC MS68* #6835441-006: Heritage Auctions, March 29, 2024, Lot 3363 – $4,320. Dark obverse rainbow toning.
  • NGC MS68 #1573718-003: Heritage Auctions, March 29, 2024, Lot 3364 – $4,680.
  • PCGS MS68 #84103062: Stack’s Bowers, March 27, 2024, Lot 7263 – $5,760. All over rainbow toning on the obverse. 
  • NGC MS68* #5743898-011: Stack’s Bowers, March 27, 2024, Lot 7263 – $7,800. Vivid obverse rainbow toning.
  • NGC MS68 #6678346-001: Heritage Auctions, July 20, 2023, Lot 3660 – $3,360.

 

  • PCGS MS67+ #48844977: Heritage Auctions, March 29, 2024, Lot 3361 – $4,320. Obverse rainbow toning.
  • PCGS MS66 PL CAC #25102008: was featured on Cool Coins! Episode #14 above, where dealer Don Rinkor was marketing the coin for $2,500.
  • PCGS MS65 CAC #38896739: Legend Rare Coin Auctions, May 14, 2020, Lot 240 – $6,756.25.

 

  • NGC MS64* #3145917-006: In Cool Coins! Episode #1 above, dealer Jeff Wuller shared this rim-toned 1881-S toned Morgan Dollar.

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Design

Obverse:

The leftward facing bust of Miss Liberty is topped with a Phrygian cap encircled with a ribbon bearing the inscription LIBERTY. Miss Liberty wears a crown adorned with cotton and wheat, which, in the 19th century, were two of the nation’s top crops.

Along the rim on the upper half of the obverse is the motto E PLURIBUS UNUM. At the bottom center of the obverse near the rim is the coin’s date, 1881. 13 stars are seen on the obverse – seven on the lower left and six on the lower right; collectively, these symbolize the original 13 colonies that joined to form the United States. At the base of Liberty’s neck is an “M” to serve as Morgan’s initial.

Reverse:

Reverse of the 1881-S Morgan silver dollarA heraldic eagle claims the reverse of the 1881-S Morgan dollar. The eagle’s wings spread across much of the upper half of the reverse, with the tips of the wings virtually touching parts of the upper reverse rim of the coin. The eagle clutches an olive branch in its right claw to symbolize peace, while a bundle of three arrows in the left claw represents the nation’s ability to defend itself in war.

A laurel wreath encircles much of the central reverse design and the motto IN GOD WE TRUST is centered in part of the field space between the eagle’s outstretched wings. The inscription UNITED STATES OF AMERICA rides along the upper portion of the reverse rim while the denomination ONE DOLLAR is centered at the bottom near the rim, with a single six-pointed star near either end of the denominational inscription. The coin’s “S” mintmark is centered above and between the “D” and “O” of “DOLLAR,” just under a bow at the bottom of the laurel wreath.

Edge:

The edge of the 1881-S Morgan dollar is reeded.

Designer

Engraver George T. Morgan was born in Birmingham, England, in 1845. He emigrated to the United States and began working as an assistant to Mint Chief Engraver William Barber. Morgan continued to produce patterns and commemoratives under the administration of Barber’s son, Charles. Morgan himself became Chief Engraver in 1917. He died in 1925.

Coin Specifications

Country: United States
Year Of Issue: 1881
Denomination: One Dollar (USD)
Mint Mark: S (San Francisco)
Mintage: 12,760,000
Alloy: 90% Silver, 10% Copper
Weight: 26.73 g
Diameter: 38.10 mm
Edge Reeded
OBV Designer George T. Morgan
REV Designer George T. Morgan
Quality: Business Strike

 

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Sources

Allen, Leroy C. and A. George Mallis. Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Morgan and Peace Dollars, 4th Edition. Worldwide Ventures (1998). Print. 75.

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CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes presents expert analysis and insights from Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker, the award-winning editors of CoinWeek.com.

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4 COMMENTS

  1. Silver will tarnish and that is possibly what has happened the raised parts of coin is touched so tarnish wiped away so looks like its silver n black get a silver cleaning solution and that would make nice n shiny again

  2. NO!!! The Prime Directive of coin cleaning is Do Not Try Home Cleaning!

    Anything you find at home or in a retail store will damage the coin’s surface, even if only at the microscopic level, and reduce its value.

    If you’re concerned about a coin’s appearance you should talk to a professional conservator first.

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