By 1884, the San Francisco Mint was clearly run low on space to store millions of unneeded silver cartwheels. As a result, the 1884-S Morgan dollar is its smallest issuance until that date. The San Francisco Mint struck 3.2 million Morgan dollars in 1884 – a 51% decrease from the prior year. Nevertheless, in regard to the current surviving population, this 3.2 million number is quite deceptive. Especially since unlike the Carson City issuance of this year that was held in Treasury Department vaults until it was sold in the GSA sales, at least some portion of the San Francisco issuance was released quickly into circulation during the 19th century.
What 1884-S Morgan dollars that remained in Treasury control most likely fell victim to the Pittman Act of 1918. It wasn’t until the early 1930s that melt survivors were released to the public. Author Q. David Bowers describes how, in his Guidebook of Morgan Silver Dollars, the largest dispersals of this type were in 1926 and during the 1950s. These coins were so scarce, even when released, that only several 1,000-coin bags were available, and all examples after 1964 came either individually or in rolls.
The collector community had truly begun to understand the rarity of Mint State 1884-S Morgan dollars, and the type began to skyrocket in value. Especially since in the 1940s and ’50s, MS 60 examples sold for only $200 to $300 (adjusted for inflation). Today, these coins regularly bring $8,000 to $13,000.
The 1884-S Morgan Dollar in Today’s Market
Due to their early release into circulation, most examples survive today in circulated grades. Today, roughly 66% of all graded pieces are considered AU 50 or below. It is also probable that this population figure is artificially low, due to a lack of submissions in lower grades. This provides the average collector with adequate opportunity to acquire a reasonably priced example. Most coins certified as VF 20 and below regularly sell for $60 or less, with only a few examples hitting $100 in recent (2021) eBay sales.
Collectors willing to pay a slightly higher price can easily acquire a handsome coin graded between AU 50 and AU 55 for $350 to $700. These mid-grade coins were mostly used by casinos and other businesses between the 1950s and ’70s. Coin dealer Rusty Goe from Southgate Coins in Reno, Nevada has described how several local casinos ordered over 1.5 million silver dollars from the US Treasury in the mid-’60s. Since the desirability of these Morgans was known even back then, it was not uncommon for people to pull them from circulation. One casino owner in Reno even sand-blasted his Morgan dollars in an attempt to disincentivize people from taking them.
As a conditional rarity, Mint State examples do sell for extremely high prices. Morgan dollar expert Wayne Miller gave this type a rarity score of 10 out of 12 for MS 60, and a score of 11 for MS 65. In fact, high-grade specimens are some of the more valuable Morgan dollars. In 2020, when Stack’s Bowers sold the Larry H. Miller Collection, the single-finest known example graded as MS 69 by PCGS sold for an eye-watering $750,000. Wayne Miller even stated in his 1983 book The Morgan and Peace Dollar Textbook that this particular piece was a “wonder” coin. Completely deserving of the grade, this coin is fully lustrous with sharp details and the faintest hint of iridescent gold toning.
The central bust of Liberty wears a Phrygian cap encircled with a ribbon adorned with the inscription LIBERTY. Miss Liberty also wears a crown of wheat and cotton, which were two of the nation’s most lucrative agricultural assets in the 19th century.
The phrase E PLURIBUS UNUM is inscribed along the upper half of the obverse rim, and the date 1884 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 symbolize 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 designer George T. 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, refusing offers for acting roles and apparently turning down an offer of 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 my youth.”
The reverse 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 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. The words ONE DOLLAR are seen at the bottom center of the reverse. The “S” mint mark for San Francisco is found beneath the wreath’s bow.
The edge of the 1884-S 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 United States 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. He died in 1925.
|Year Of Issue:||1884|
|Denomination:||1 Dollar (USD)|
|Mint Mark:||S (San Francisco)|
|Alloy:||90% Silver, 10% Copper|
|OBV Designer||George T. Morgan|
|REV Designer||George T. Morgan|