Profile of the 1895 Proof Morgan Silver Dollar

The King of Morgan Silver Dollars

1895 Morgan Silver Dollar
Heritage Auction Galleries

The 1895 Morgan silver dollar is known as the "King of the Morgan Dollars" because it is the rarest and one of the most valuable coins in the entire Morgan Dollar series. The highest price ever paid for a Proof 1895 Morgan silver dollar $199,750.00 in April 2017 at Heritage Auctions' U.S. Signature Coin Auction in Chicago, Illinois.

According to U.S. Mint records, there were 12,000 circulation strike Morgan silver dollars struck for 1895, and 880 Proof specimens struck.

However, research has accounted for 750 to 800 of the 1895 Morgans, all of them Proofs. What baffles the experts is, where did 12,000 plus coins go?

A Mysterious Disappearance?

Numismatic scholars do not agree amongst each other with how or why the 12,000 circulation strike specimens of the 1895 Morgan silver dollar have vanished. Most scholars believe that the Mint never produced the coins in the first place and that this notation in the Mint accounting ledgers is in error. Some believe that the coins were minted, but melted down for various reasons. Another theory proposes that the coins were lost at sea in a shipwreck.

Why Is It Called "the "King" When It Depicts Lady Liberty?

The Morgan Dollar (so-called because George T. Morgan designed it) has been called much worse. When it first came out, it was an unpopular coin frequently derided as the "Buzzard Dollar" because of the shape of the eagle's head and its scrawny appearance.

Another popular term for the Morgan was "Cartwheels." The proper numismatic term for the coin type is the "Liberty Head" silver dollar.

Millions and Millions of Morgans!

Although the Morgan Dollar wasn't very popular when it first came out, we know today that it is one of the most popular coin types in the entire U.S. coinage series.

Why did this change?

The answer is, millions and millions of Morgans! The United States Mint made almost a billion Morgan silver dollars between 1878 and 1921, largely because of a law called the Bland-Allison Act, passed by Congress in February of 1878, which mandated that the Treasury must buy between two and four million troy ounces of silver per month.

The "Silver Dick" Lobby

The Treasury was forced to buy this incredible amount of silver, which was flowing out of the Comstock Lode in Nevada, because of a group of silver mine owners who had formed a lobbying group. Led by Congressman Richard "Silver Dick" Bland, the silver lobby was able to pass legislation that made the U.S. Treasury its biggest customer. The Treasury had to do something with all this silver, so it had the Mint produce the Liberty Head, or Morgan, silver dollars.

Morgan Dollars are Called the "Buzzard Dollars"

The Morgan Dollar was not very popular while the United States Mint was producing it. The eagle on the reverse was considered ugly, and the coin was derisively called a "cartwheel" for its large size and weight. Therefore, the millions of Morgan silver dollars sat in government vaults for many decades, languishing in obscurity.

The Treasury Department melted hundreds of millions of them throughout the years, and maybe the unaccounted for 12,000 coins made in 1895 were melted. But there were still plenty of Morgans to go around since they only circulated in a few small areas.

The Silver Certificate Secret

Sometime around 1960, certain coin dealers became aware that the Treasury Department was swapping Morgan Dollars that were more than 80 years old, on a dollar for dollar basis, in exchange for silver certificates. Many of the dealers were just after the silver bullion at lower-than-market cost, but others realized the potential collector value of these 60 to 80-year-old mint state silver dollars. Tens of millions of Morgans were bought at face value until 1964 when the Treasury shut down the silver certificate exchange program.

The Public Finally Wakes up to the Beauty of the Morgan Dollar

The Treasury had about 2.9 million Morgans left in 1964, mostly scarce Carson City specimens, which the GSA put up for public sale via mail-bid auctions starting in 1972. By 1980, as the supplies dwindled, the public finally became interested in collecting the beautiful Morgan Dollar. The real feeding frenzy came when an amazing hoard of more than 400,000 Morgans was found in the basement of Nevada miser LaVere Redfield after his death in 1975.

Morgan Mania at Last

The Redfield hoard got a lot of publicity, and as the U.S. population had become a lot more familiar with the value of its silver coins in the years following the change from silver coinage to clad coinage, the Morgan dollar became a popular collectible coin series. The publication of the "Comprehensive Catalog and Encyclopedia of Peace and Morgan Silver Dollars" by Leroy Van Allen and George Mallis, also known as the VAM book, also spurred significant collector interest in Morgan silver dollars.

Coin Collectors Pursue Morgan Die Varieties

The VAM book, so named for the initials of its authors, really boosted the values of Morgan dollars into the big time. This book lists all of the known die varieties of the Morgan dollar series and got collectors to examine their coins more closely for detail. Coins that were previously valued based on a given year's known mintage of a certain number of specimens now had sub-categories of specimens for that year based on die varieties. These sub-categories were naturally more scarce than just any coin from that year, so collectors who might previously have been satisfied with one specimen from each year and mint now had to have several from each year to complete the "set."

The Holy Grail of the Morgan Dollar Series

Out of all the different dates and mintmark combinations, the 1895 no mint mark is the rarest of them all. Given that there are no business strike specimens known to exist, a Proof specimen will have to be obtained to complete your collection of Morgan silver dollars.

Some of the Proof specimens have been circulated, usually by accident because the Mint didn't always package them so nicely as they do today, but no business strike example of the 1895 Morgan Silver Dollar has ever been found.

Edited by: James Bucki