Discovering the Rich History and Value of the 1890 Morgan Silver Dollar

As a coin collector and numismatic expert, I have long been fascinated by the Morgan silver dollar series. These iconic coins, minted from 1878 to 1904 and again in 1921, are a cornerstone of American numismatics and a favorite among collectors worldwide. The 1890 Morgan dollar, in particular, offers a wealth of history, variety, and collecting opportunities. In this comprehensive guide, we‘ll delve into the origins, characteristics, and value of this remarkable coin, providing insights and advice to help both new and experienced collectors navigate the market and build a meaningful collection.

The Birth of the Morgan Dollar: A Legacy of Silver and Politics

The story of the Morgan dollar begins with the Comstock Lode, a massive silver deposit discovered in Nevada in 1859. As the United States grappled with the economic and political implications of this influx of silver, Congress passed the Bland-Allison Act of 1878, requiring the Treasury to purchase between $2 million and $4 million worth of silver each month to be coined into silver dollars.

Enter George T. Morgan, a talented British engraver hired by the U.S. Mint to design the new coin. Morgan‘s obverse featured a striking portrait of Lady Liberty, modeled after Philadelphia schoolteacher Anna Willess Williams. The reverse depicted a powerful eagle with wings outstretched, clutching arrows and an olive branch – symbols of America‘s readiness for both war and peace.

From 1878 to 1904, five different mints struck Morgan dollars: Philadelphia (no mintmark), San Francisco (S), New Orleans (O), Carson City (CC), and briefly, Denver (D). The coins circulated widely in the West but also accumulated in Treasury vaults. In 1918, over 270 million Morgan dollars were melted under the Pittman Act to support World War I efforts, drastically reducing the supply of many issues.

This dramatic history set the stage for the 1890 Morgan dollar – a coin that emerged during the peak of the series‘ production and survived the mass meltings to become a prized collectible today. Understanding this context is key to appreciating the 1890 Morgan dollar‘s place in numismatic history.

Key Characteristics and Varieties of the 1890 Morgan Dollar

The 1890 Morgan dollar adheres to the same basic specifications as other coins in the series:

  • Composition: 90% silver, 10% copper
  • Weight: 26.73 grams
  • Diameter: 38.1 mm
  • Edge: Reeded

However, the 1890 issue is notable for its four distinct mintmarks, each with its own mintage figures and characteristics:

Mintmark Mint Location Mintage
(none) Philadelphia 16,802,000
O New Orleans 10,701,100
S San Francisco 8,230,373
CC Carson City 2,309,041

The Carson City issues are particularly sought-after due to their lower mintage and the mint‘s enduring popularity with collectors. Additionally, several notable die varieties and errors specific to 1890 Morgan dollars add further interest and value for specialists:

  1. 1890-CC "Tailbar" variety: A rare die chip creates a distinctive bar shape below the eagle‘s tail feathers on the reverse. Fewer than 10 examples are known, making this a highly prized variety. In 2019, a PCGS MS-62 specimen sold for $28,800 at auction.

  2. 1890-O "Micro O" variety: Some 1890-O dollars display a smaller, more rounded mintmark than the typical "Tall O" coins. This scarce variety adds depth to collecting New Orleans issues.

  3. 1890-S "Spitting Eagle" variety: Caused by a die crack from the eagle‘s beak to the left wing, this distinctive variety is scarce in mint state.

  4. 1890 Proof: Coin the limited-edition proof run of just 590 coins, this issue is a prize for high-end registry set collectors. An 1890 Proof-66 Cameo sold for $52,875 in a 2021 Heritage Auction.

  5. 1890 Error Coins: Off-center strikes, planchet clips, and other mint errors can significantly enhance the desirability and value of an 1890 Morgan dollar.

Collectors who specialize in 1890 Morgan dollars enjoy the challenge of assembling sets that showcase the range of mintmarks, varieties, and errors available. By learning to identify these distinctive features, collectors can build more focused and valuable collections.

Grading and Valuation: The Key to Collecting 1890 Morgan Dollars

As with any numismatic pursuit, understanding grading standards and market values is essential for collecting 1890 Morgan dollars effectively. Coins are graded on a 70-point scale developed by William Sheldon in the 1940s, with numerical grades ranging from Poor-1 to Perfect-70. Key grade thresholds for 1890 Morgan dollars include:

  • Good-4 (G-4) to Very Good-8 (VG-8): Well-worn coins with visible mintmarks, date, and major design elements.
  • Fine-12 (F-12) to Very Fine-30 (VF-30): Moderate wear with all design elements clear, including finer details like hair and feathers.
  • Extremely Fine-40 (EF-40) to About Uncirculated-58 (AU-58): Light wear with most luster intact, sharp details, and minimal marks.
  • Mint State-60 (MS-60) to Mint State-70 (MS-70): Uncirculated coins with no wear, graded by luster, strike sharpness, and the presence of marks or blemishes.

Professional third-party grading services like PCGS and NGC encapsulate coins in sonically-sealed holders with standardized grades, adding confidence and value for collectors. Across all grades, 1890 Morgan dollars from the Carson City mint command the highest premiums, followed by New Orleans issues. Philadelphia and San Francisco coins are the most common and affordable.

Here‘s a value chart based on recent auction data and price guide estimates for 1890 Morgan dollars in different grades:

Grade 1890-P 1890-O 1890-S 1890-CC
G-4 $35 $38 $36 $135
VG-8 $40 $45 $42 $150
F-12 $45 $55 $50 $175
VF-20 $55 $65 $60 $200
EF-40 $70 $85 $75 $275
AU-50 $90 $110 $100 $350
MS-60 $150 $175 $160 $550
MS-63 $220 $280 $240 $950
MS-65 $750 $1,200 $825 $6,500

*Data compiled from PCGS CoinFacts, NGC Price Guide, and recent auction results as of 2023. Actual prices may vary based on market conditions and individual coin characteristics.

As you can see, grade and mintmark significantly impact the value of an 1890 Morgan dollar. Collectors on a budget may focus on circulated examples in the Good to Very Fine range, while those with deeper pockets might pursue gem-quality Mint State coins, especially from the Carson City mint.

Beyond technical grade, factors like eye appeal, toning, and strike sharpness can influence a coin‘s desirability and market value. Exceptional eye appeal or attractive toning can boost a coin‘s value within its grade, while weak strikes or distracting abrasions may limit its appeal. Studying high-resolution images of professionally graded coins can help train your eye to recognize these nuances.

Building a Meaningful Collection: Strategies and Advice

With so many collecting options available for 1890 Morgan dollars, it‘s essential to define your goals and develop a focused strategy. Here are some common approaches:

  1. Mintmark Set: Assemble a set of 1890 Morgan dollars featuring one coin from each mint: Philadelphia, New Orleans, San Francisco, and Carson City. This approach offers variety and the challenge of acquiring the scarcer CC issue.

  2. Grade Set: Focus on collecting 1890 Morgan dollars across a range of grades, such as one coin each in Good, Very Fine, Extremely Fine, and Uncirculated. This set demonstrates the progression of wear and preserves different stages of the coin‘s life cycle.

  3. Variety and Error Set: For specialists, hunting down the various die varieties and errors specific to 1890 Morgan dollars can be a rewarding pursuit. Assembling a set showcasing the "Tailbar," "Micro O," "Spitting Eagle," and other notable varieties is an ambitious goal.

  4. Top Pop Set: Registry set collectors aim for the finest known examples, often competing to assemble sets with the highest average grade. An 1890 Morgan dollar set with all coins graded MS-65 or above by PCGS or NGC would be a world-class achievement.

Ultimately, your collecting strategy should align with your budget, interests, and long-term goals. Don‘t be afraid to start small and refine your focus as you learn more about the series. Collecting is a journey, and the joy of the hunt is often as rewarding as the destination.

When purchasing 1890 Morgan dollars, consider the following expert tips:

  • Buy from reputable dealers with a proven track record of integrity and numismatic expertise. Look for members of the American Numismatic Association (ANA) or Professional Numismatists Guild (PNG).
  • Invest in quality over quantity. A single high-grade coin with exceptional eye appeal may bring more satisfaction and value than several lower-grade pieces.
  • Study grading standards and market trends using resources like PCGS CoinFacts, NGC Coin Explorer, and the Red Book. Knowledge is power in numismatics.
  • Consider long-term value and liquidity when making purchasing decisions. Rare die varieties and high-grade Carson City coins may be more challenging to acquire but can also offer stronger appreciation potential.
  • Protect your collection with proper storage materials, such as archival-quality albums or certified coin slabs. Safeguard your coins and their value for future generations.

The Future of 1890 Morgan Dollar Collecting

As the numismatic market evolves and new collectors enter the hobby, the popularity of 1890 Morgan dollars shows no signs of waning. The series‘ rich history, stunning designs, and diverse collecting opportunities continue to captivate enthusiasts of all ages and backgrounds.

In recent years, the rare coin market has experienced significant growth, with high-grade Morgan dollars leading the charge. In 2021, a PCGS MS-68 CAC 1890-CC Morgan dollar sold for a record-breaking $132,000 at auction, underscoring the enduring demand for top-quality examples. As collectors increasingly prioritize rarity, condition, and eye appeal, exceptional 1890 Morgan dollars are poised to appreciate further.

Moreover, the rise of online marketplaces and digital resources has made it easier than ever for collectors to research, acquire, and sell 1890 Morgan dollars. From virtual coin shows to social media communities, the internet has democratized access to numismatic knowledge and fostered a global network of enthusiasts.

As we look ahead, the future of 1890 Morgan dollar collecting is bright. By embracing both traditional wisdom and innovative technologies, collectors can continue to explore the depths of this fascinating series and build meaningful collections that preserve its legacy for generations to come.


The 1890 Morgan silver dollar is a microcosm of American numismatic history – a coin born of political compromise, forged in the crucible of the Wild West, and cherished by collectors for its enduring beauty and variety. From the elusive Carson City issues to the rare die varieties and errors, the 1890 Morgan dollar offers a wealth of opportunities for both novice and seasoned collectors.

By understanding the coin‘s historical context, key characteristics, and grading standards, collectors can navigate the market with confidence and build collections that reflect their unique interests and goals. Whether you aim to assemble a complete mintmark set, pursue the finest known examples, or specialize in rare varieties, the 1890 Morgan dollar is a rewarding and enriching pursuit.

As we celebrate the enduring legacy of this iconic coin, let us also embrace the camaraderie and shared passion that defines the numismatic community. Through education, collaboration, and the joy of discovery, we can ensure that the story of the 1890 Morgan dollar continues to be told, treasured, and passed down for generations to come.

Happy collecting!

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