The United States Mint first minted silver dollars in 1794 and produced them continuously through 1804. It stopped for a period of time, but production resumed again in 1840 and continued through 1873. Upon Congress passing the Bland-Allison Act of February 28, 1878, the mint was authorized to resume producing silver dollars.
In 1891, the United States saw some prosperity and some difficulties. A new gold rush began in Cripple Creek, Colorado, after Robert Womack discovered gold in an area known as Poverty Gulch located on the western slope of Pike’s Peak. By 1900, Cripple Creek would be known as the richest gold district on earth with over 50,000 citizens residing there.
Financial conditions remained difficult in the prairie states, and many homesteaders gave up their efforts and headed back east. Politicians believed if the government would buy silver on a limited quantities conditions would approve. This practice was the predecessor to the “Free Silver” movement that would gain momentum in the coming years.
The Sherman Silver Purchase Act of July 14, 1890, required the United States Treasury to purchase 4.5 million ounces of silver each month and manufacture silver dollars with it. The Trade Dollar Re-Coinage Act of March 3, 1891, authorized the government to reclaim silver from 7.69 million Trade Dollars that it had stored in U.S. Treasury vaults. However, the declining financial situation in the United States led to reduced mintages of silver dollars until 1896 when large-scale production of Morgan silver dollars resumed.
1891 Morgan Silver Dollar Specifications
The obverse of the Morgan silver dollar features a personification of Lady Liberty facing left, while the reverse features a heraldic eagle surrounded by a half wreath. Additional specifications include:
- Designer: George T. Morgan
- Years of issue: 1878 to 1904, and 1921
- Weight: 26.73 grams
- Composition: 90 percent silver, 10 percent copper
- Actual silver weight (ASW): 0.7734 Troy ounces pure silver
1891 Morgan Dollar Values
Many Morgan silver dollars were stored in canvas bags by the United States Treasury Department and by banks that used them to back paper money. Therefore, many of the surviving specimens today are covered with bag marks and other surface imperfections that are evidence of their movement between bank vaults. Other coins have beautiful toning on them that adds premium value to the coin.
The first few strikes off of a fresh set of coin dies have proof-like surfaces and increase the value dramatically of the coin. Additionally, uncirculated examples grading MS-64 and above, are craved by collectors and carry a premium value.
In addition to producing business strike quality coins for circulation, the mint facility at Philadelphia also struck Proof coins. A total of 650 proof coins were produced throughout the year. Beware of altered or counterfeit 1891 Morgan silver dollar Proof coins. Make sure you buy your proof coin from a reputable coin dealer.
1891-CC (Carson City, Nevada)
Although no Proof coins were produced in Carson City, some coins may have a proof like look to them with mirrored fields and frosted devices. These are listed in price guides as DMPL (Deep Mirrored Proof Like).
- Mintage: 1,618,000
- Circulated: $90.00
- Uncirculated: $650.00
1891-O (New Orleans, Louisiana)
The mint facility at New Orleans produce the second-highest circulation strike Morgan silver dollar coins in 1891. Unfortunately, most of the coin struck did not have adequate pressure to bring up the finer details of the coin.
- Mintage: 7,954,529
- Circulated: $20.00
- Uncirculated: $300.00
1891-S (San Francisco California)
The mint facility at San Francisco struck slightly over 5 million coins. Most of these coins were well struck and have the finer details that one would expect in a properly produced coin.
- Mintage: 5,296,000
- Circulated: $20.00
- Uncirculated: $100.00
Top Five 1891 Morgan VAMs
Advanced collectors of Morgan silver dollars search for die varieties that identify an individual coin die pair that was used to produce a particular coin. This collecting technique was pioneered by Leroy C. Van Allen and A. George Mallis when they published a book on their research titled, "The Comprehensive Catalog and Encyclopedia of Morgan and Peace Dollars."
The term VAM derives from the first initials of Van Allen's and Mallis' last names. They began to photograph and catalog these differences to identify the different die varieties in the Morgan and Peace silver dollar series. Some of these differences can be seen without magnification. Other ones are so small you need a high-powered loupe or microscope to see them.
Van Allen and Mallis assigned a unique catalog serial number for each date and mintmark combination that identifies a unique die pair. Coin collectors started to use slang terms to identify popular VAMs based upon a particular look of the coin.
Here are the top five VAMs for the 1891 Morgan silver dollar:
- 1891-CC VAM-3 Spitting Eagle This die peering has a small die gouge in front of the eagle’s beak on the reverse side of the coin. This makes it appear as if the eagle is spitting.
- 1891-P VAM-2 Doubled Ear Strong doubling on Lady Liberty’s ear can be seen from the bottom to the middle of the ear. Additionally, the hair above the error also exhibits strong doubling.
- 1891-O VAM-1A Clashed E Reverse On the reverse of the coin, the letter E is clearly visible under the eagle’s tail feathers on the left-hand side.
- 1891-P VAM-2A Doubled Ear, Mustache, Clashed Obverse n A die break appears in front of Lady Liberty’s upper lip. Additionally, the letter “n” from “In God We Trust” on the reverse appears under Lady Liberty’s chin on the obverse from a die clash.
- 1891-S VAM-3 Doubled Stars & Eyelid, Near Date On the obverse, doubling can be seen on the stars near the lower left and Lady Liberty’s eyelid. Additionally, the date is positioned closer to the rim than other specimens.