U.S. Silver Dollars -- A Brief History

By the time of the American Revolution in 1776, the Spanish "Milled Dollar" (perhaps more familiar to us as the "Piece of eight") had become the predominant large silver coin in the Western Hemisphere. Thomas Jefferson was chairing a Congressional committee to devise a coinage system for the infant United States and the Spanish "dollar" was adopted as the weight and fineness standard to be used.

Silver dollars were first coined in the United States Mint in 1794; these were the "Flowing Hair" Liberty Head design. They were followed, from 1795-1803, by the "Draped Bust" Liberty design. Due to changes in the international exchange ratio between gold and silver, our silver dollars were, by 1803, undervalued at face in relation to gold coins, so they were being exported in massive quantities for bullion melting abroad. This led to a government decision here to cease striking them After the 1803 issue, no silver dollars were struck in the U.S. for more than three decades.

The U.S. Coinage Act of 1834 revised the ration of exchange between gold and silver to bring it into line with international practice. As a result, it again became possible to coin silver dollars without fear of them being melted for bullion. In 1836, the U.S. Mint exployed Christian Gobrecht to create a new design, featuring an obverse of Liberty seated and a reverse of a flying eagle. Before the end of that year the design was approved and 1,000 peices were placed into circulation. Need for more of the new Gobrecht dollars led the Mint to strike another 600 pieces in 1837. To distinguish these pieces from the 1836 pieces, the reverse die was intentionally rotated 180 degrees from the normal standard used for coins in this country.

From 1840-1873, the "Seated Liberty" dollars were struck, and this series for the first time included pieces struck at Mints other than Philadelphia. In 1873, coinage of the Seated Liberty Silver Dollars ended, and for several years thereafter (1873-1878), only a new, heavier piece known as the "Trade Dollar," was struck. The Trade Dollar was produced solely to combat the Mexican Silver Dollar which was beginning to monopolize the lucrative Chinese trade. In 1878, under tremendous pressure from the silver mining states and their lobbyists, the "Bland-Allison Act" was passed, under the authority of which the new "Morgan Dollars", designed by George T. Morgan, began to be coined in large quantities by all of the existing branches of the U.S. Mint. This design continued in use through 1904, and was revived for one year in 1921, when the new "Peace Dollar" design was not quite ready for use. From 1921-1935, the Peace Dollars were struck at all three mints in most years.

From 1935, until the striking of the 1983 "Olympic Commemorative Silver Dollar," no U.S. Dollar coins contained 90% silver. Therefore, neither the Eisenhower, nor the Susan B. Anthony dollars should be called "silver" dollars. Collecting of Silver Dollars of the U.S. Mints began in the 1840's, with the appearance of the new Seated Liberty pieces. At first, most collectors entered the field, prices generally rose, and rare date and mint mark combinations came to recognized as rare and carried an appropriate premium. This growing collector and investor interest was enhanced in 1964 by the elimination of silver from our coins.

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