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US Coins – The Morgan Dollar vs. the American Silver Eagle: A Primer

morgan silver dollar and the American Silver Eagle

The Morgan Silver Dollar and the American Silver Eagle

By Ron DrzewuckiModern Coin Wholesale …..
The Morgan dollar was born from two impulses.

One was the curious political alliance of populist “free silver” advocates–who wanted a bimetallic (gold and silver) monetary standard and an inflationary monetary policy in order to relieve the crippling debt many American farmers faced–and western silver mines, who wanted to earn a profit. After a five-year economic depression, Congressman Richard Bland (D-MO) and Senator William Allison (R-IA) cosponsored a bill in 1878 that became known as the Bland-Allison Act. It mandated that the U.S. Treasury buy $2-4 million worth of silver at market prices every month. The silver would then be used to make new, circulating silver dollars.

Morgan_dollarThe other was the beautification of American coinage. Once Congress overcame President Hayes’ initial veto, Director of the Mint Dr. John Linderman tasked English-born engraver George T. Morgan to design the new coin. Passing over more senior engravers, and believing Morgan’s skills superior to what could be found elsewhere at the Mint, Linderman wanted to create a coinage worthy of an America newly aware of its potential on the world stage.

Many would say he did exactly that. Named for its designer, the Morgan dollar is a classic. It is the most popular collectible coin on the market, and responsible for one of the biggest booms in the history of the hobby. But when it first came out, demand was so low that the vast majority of Morgan dollars ended up in Mint vaults, and most of those were melted under the Pittman Act of 1918.

Spanning the years 1878-1904 (not including its one-off minting in 1921), the Morgan dollar’s run matches up nicely with what many people consider the classic era of America’s “Wild West”. The glamour and romance of the Morgan dollar attracts collectors like no other coin series.

This includes San Francisco issues from the early 1880s. The San Francisco Mint was the most technologically-advanced mint in the world, and the quality of its coinage was second to none. For Morgan dollar collectors, S-Mint coins offer the best chance to see and appreciate every detail of George T. Morgan’s impressive design.

Again, the Morgan dollar is America’s most popular and most collectible coin. In terms of beauty, historical association, and price, no other coin comes close.

Unless you consider the American Silver Eagle.

The American Silver Eagle bullion program is one of the U.S. Mint’s great modern success stories.

First issued in 1986, these one-troy-ounce silver bullion coins (with a face value of one dollar) aren’t just for the investor in precious metals. The classic yet modern design gives it an appeal few other recent coins can match.

ASEMore than one hundred years after the Morgan dollar debuted, the government approach to matters concerning silver had taken what looked like a 180-degree turn. President Ronald Reagan wanted to sell off excess silver from the Defense National Stockpile. Congress and silver mining interests opposed the sale due to fears that it would lower the price of silver on the open market. They were right, and Congress soon put the kibosh on further sales.

But Reagan was still interested in getting rid of government-owned silver. So, in 1985, Congress passed legislation requiring any surplus silver that might be sold to be dispensed of in the form of bullion coinage. That way, once the excess commodity hit the market it wouldn’t have a negative impact on prices. Thus was a modern-day classic created!

The coin itself features two great designs. A much-loved favorite of collectors and the general public alike, Adolph Weinman’s “Walking Liberty” (or Liberty Walking) adorned the obverse of the American Silver Eagle nearly 40 years after it was last featured on the circulation strike half dollar. The reverse is home to an impressive contemporary take on the heraldic eagle, rendered by the ever-popular former Mint engraver John Mercanti.

Combine fantastic artwork with the accessibility of silver to the average coin or bullion investor, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for a perennial best-seller. Even after the defense stockpiles of silver were used up, the program was such a hit that it was renewed in 2002 and continues to this day.

This means that demand for this coin is so high that the government is now buying silver at market rates just to produce Silver Eagles!

And those production runs include quite a number of different options for the consumer. Coins are made at Philadelphia, San Francisco and West Point. Strike and finish varies, too. Examples include Regular, Proof, Burnished, Cameo and Reverse Proof. Regular issues lack a mint mark; Proof and Burnished coins show where they were made.

Best of all? Beautiful, certified specimens of this 99.9% pure silver bullion coin can be had for not a lot of money at all.


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  1. Correction: Burnished American Eagle Silver Coins also have a Mint Mark, it is not only the Proof version of the coin, as it is stated in the article.

    The Bullion version of the American Eagle Silver coin is the only version that does not have a Mint Mark or as the article states “show where they were made.”

    The Bullion version of the ASE are not sold directly by the US Mint, these coins are sold to a select group of bullion dealers who distribute the coins to the public.


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