1904 Was Supposed to Mark the End of the Morgan Dollar
In mid-to-late 1904, an article appeared in newspapers across the country with the blaring headline: “Passing of the Good Old American Silver Dollar”. Under the subtitle “It Is Probable That No More of Them Will Ever be Coined by the Government,” the author Katherine Pope reported “that ponderous and more or less troubling coin, the silver dollar, has had its day… the supply of silver bullion purchased under the Sherman act [sic] is exhausted… in all probability no more new silver dollars will be turned out by the government’s mint plants.
“Which, for old associations’ sake,” she wrote, “seems regrettable.”
… But for the New Orleans Mint, It Was
The New Orleans Mint’s last Morgan dollars were struck as the United States Mint prepared to shutter the facility. Economic turbulence in the 1890s spelled doom for these cartwheels prized by free silver advocates and the demise of the dollar prompted staff cutbacks at the southern branch mint.
The New Orleans Mint was a major part of the Morgan dollar’s life. Reactivated by the federal government in 1879 after its loss almost 20 years earlier during the Civil War, the facility struck Morgan dollars every year until the denomination’s end. Of all the Morgan dollars created by the Bland-Allison Act of 1878, those struck at New Orleans are known for a generally “weak” strike and saw perhaps the most actual circulation in commerce.
Ultimately, the New Orleans Mint struck 3,720,000 Morgan dollars in 1904.
The facility outlived the Morgan dollar by five years, its coining operations being suspended in 1909.
What Happened to Millions of Morgan Dollars?
Millions more Morgan dollars were struck than were needed for circulation, and the coins sat unused in bank vaults and Treasury facilities for years until 1918, when Congress passed the Pittman Act. Named for Senator Key Pittman of Nevada, the Act authorized the melting of up to 350,000,000 silver dollars and the sale of the resulting silver to Britain, whose monetary regime in India was stressed after a run on silver. The Pittman Act also called for the melted dollars to be recoined, precipitating the reintroduction of the Morgan dollar and the introduction of the Peace dollar in 1921.
270,232,722 Morgan dollars were melted under the terms of the Pittman Act. This was done without regard for date, making rarities of some previously common issues. For decades, collectors regarded the 1904-O Morgan dollar as this kind of rarity, as few Mint State 1904-O Morgan dollars entered the market, and prices reflected this belief. For instance, an ad published in The Numismatist in August 1951 by B.M. Douglas, a Washington, D.C.-based coin dealer, offered “Brilliant unc” 1904-O Morgan dollars (under the heading “RARE MORGAN DOLLARS”) for $50 USD.
This view held sway until the early 1960s.
Initially stored in the New Orleans Mint’s vault, the surviving coins were moved to Philadelphia in 1929. In October of 1962, large numbers of Mint State Morgan dollars were released – including many examples of the once-scarce 1904-O. The glut of supply drove prices down. In April 1963, a Philadelphia-based dealer offered 1904-O Morgan dollars in “BU” for just $2.00 in The Numismatist.
What Are 1904-O Morgan Dollars Worth Now?
Today, examples grading MS-65 routinely sell at auction for between $100 and $200.
Large numbers of 1904-O Morgan dollars survive in grades up to MS-66 and the date becomes conditionally scarce in MS-67. It is one of the most abundant issues in Mint State. According to Q. David Bowers’ Silver Dollars and Trade Dollars of the United States: A Complete Encyclopedia, more Mint State 1904-O Morgan dollars exist that any other date from the New Orleans Mint after 1885.
PCGS CoinFacts gives an estimate of 372,000 surviving examples, 100,000 of which grade MS-60 or better, with 40,000 grading better than MS-65. PCGS has certified more than 133,000 1904-O Morgan dollars; NGC has certified more than 151,000.
CAC has applied its sticker of approval on 353 coins and has certified nine examples since the company began accepting regular submissions in the summer of 2023.
As for collectible varieties, VAMWorld, a website dedicated to VAM varieties, lists 66 individual VAM varieties for the 1904-O Morgan dollar. A book dedicated to the VAM varieties of 1904-O Morgan dollars was written by Alan Scott and published in 2010; a new edition was released in 2014.
Randy Campbell, Senior Grader and Numismatist at Independent Coin Graders (ICG) and an expert on Prooflike (PL) Morgan dollars, stated in a phone interview that 1904-O Morgans with Deep Mirrored Prooflike (DMPL) obverses and reverses are rare; many coins exhibit DMPL or PL qualities on one side, but rarely both.
CoinFacts claims 9,900 surviving dollar coins are PL, all of which are MS-60 or better; 1,880 are MS-65 or better. DMPL 1904-O Morgan dollars number 1,761 in grades MS-60 and better. Three hundred and ninety-six examples grade MS-65 and better. VAMWorld explains that “Prooflike coins are quite available in terms of absolute population, but they comprise just under 3% of the uncirculated population at PCGS and NGC. Contrast on these tends to be poor.”
In his Getting Started column published in the December 2018 issue of The Numismatist, Mitch Sanders discussed “micro” and “macro” numismatics. Micro numismatics, Sanders wrote, involves “a highly detail-oriented examination of differences among coins with the same date and mint mark, usually focused on die varieties.”
Macronumismatics “emphasizes depth over breadth” and is interested in “coins as representations of the larger economic, political, technological and artistic contexts in which they were produced and used.” 1904-O Morgan dollars have something to offer to both camps.
Collectors can hunt well-struck examples, VAM varieties, and PL and DMPL coins, making the date a worthy endeavor for those who want to delve into the series’ technical minutiae with one of its penultimate dates – and the last date struck at the New Orleans Mint. The 1904-O Morgan dollar marked the beginning of the denomination’s hiatus and the beginning of the end for the New Orleans Mint.
1904-O Morgan Dollar Price Records
The following record prices are still current as of the time of publication:
- Regular Strike auction record: $39,950 USD – Legend Rare Coin Auctions – 7/13/2017
- PL auction record: $19,200 – Heritage – 9/7/2017 MS67PL
- DMPL auction record: $12,338 – Legend – 7/26/2018 MS66+DMPL
The obverse of the 1904-O Morgan dollar exhibits the characteristic left-facing Liberty Head motif seen on all issues of this classic dollar series. Lady Liberty bust wears a Phrygian cap encircled with a ribbon adorned with the inscription LIBERTY. Miss Liberty also wears a “vegetal” crown of wheat and cotton, which were two of the nation’s most lucrative natural agricultural assets in the 19th century.
The phrase E PLURIBUS UNUM is inscribed along the upper half of the obverse rim, and the date 1904 is centered at the bottom of the obverse adjacent to the rim. Seven stars appear between the left side of the date and the inscription E PLURIBUS UNUM, while six stars fill the gap between the date and motto on the lower right side of the coin. In total, the 13 stars represent the 13 colonies that combined to form the original Union of the United States. At the base of Liberty’s neck is the “M” monogram representing Morgan’s initial.
Morgan designed the Liberty head bust after the likeness of Anna Willess Williams, a Philadelphia schoolteacher who modeled for the coin. Williams received significant public recognition after her face appeared on the Morgan dollar, but she rejected the attention that was heaped upon her. She refused offers for acting roles and apparently had turned down an offer for marriage following her engagement to an unknown suitor. Before dying at the age of 68 in 1926, Williams, who sat for Morgan on the sworn condition of anonymity, rebuffed her single stint as a coin design model as little more than an “incident of [her] youth.”
The reverse of the 1904-O Morgan dollar is dominated by a heraldic eagle, its wings spread across the upper half of the coin. Between the upper tips of the eagle’s wings appears the national motto IN GOD WE TRUST. The eagle clutches an olive branch in its right claw representing peace and in its left claw are three arrows symbolizing the nation’s ability to defend itself. The central eagle design is partly encircled by a laurel wreath.
Along the rim of the upper two-thirds of the reverse is the legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, with the tip of the eagle’s left wing (which virtually touches the coin’s rim) penetrating the space between UNITED and STATES; the right wing visually divides the words OF and AMERICA. The words ONE DOLLAR, seen at the bottom center of the reverse, are flanked by a single, six-sided star on either side of the denomination inscription.
The mint mark “O” for New Orleans is located below the wreath and above the word DOLLAR.
The edge of the 1904-O Morgan dollar is reeded.
Engraver George T. Morgan was born in Birmingham, England in 1845. He emigrated to the United States and began work as an assistant to Mint Chief Engraver William Barber and continued to produce patterns and commemoratives under the administration of Barber’s son, Charles. Morgan himself became Chief Engraver in 1917. George Morgan died in 1925.
|Year Of Issue:||1904|
|Denomination:||One Dollar (USD)|
|Mint Mark:||O (New Orleans)|
|Alloy:||90% Silver, 10% Copper|
|OBV Designer||George T. Morgan|
|REV Designer||George T. Morgan|
* * *