Morgan vs. Peace Dollar: Which has a silver lining?

Morgan and Peace silver dollars are the quintessential dollar coins issued from 1878 through 1935 considered the most aesthetically pleasing coins ever produced by the United States. This example sold for $7,500 (plus buyer’s premium) in 2006. Image courtesy: Brunk Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

A silver dollar is impressive any way you look at it. It’s hefty, artistically beautiful, and symbolically as American as apple pie. It’s no wonder that the Morgan Dollar and Peace Dollar, both noted for their intricate designs, are the ones most sought after at auction. Which one is the more collectible of the two, though?

Morgan Dollar

Coins — both silver and gold — were first issued for circulation by the United States Mint in 1794. But it may surprise you to know that, at that time, anyone possessing either silver or gold bullion could request that the US Mint create coinage from their bullion in fractional values for use as legal tender. The Coin Act of 1873 changed that policy when it demonetized silver for the first time, putting the United States on the gold standard.

By 1878, the Bland-Allison Act re-monetized silver into dollars. The Mint intended to strike a new silver dollar beginning that year and turned to Assistant Engraver George Morgan, a die engraver originally from Great Britain, to design it. The final design featured a profile of Liberty wearing a Phrygian cap of freedom (modeled after teacher and philosopher Anna Willess Williams) on the obverse and an American Bald Eagle with outstretched wings on the reverse. The Morgan Dollar, named for its designer, was circulated from 1878 until 1904 (it was reissued in 1921 and reintroduced in 2021 as a commemorative proof coin).

The redesigned silver dollar of 1878 was so pleasing to collectors, compared to previously minted coins, that it was promptly named the Morgan Dollar for its designer, George T. Morgan, an Assistant Engraver for the US Mint. This closeup shows a first issue that recently sold for $59,500 (plus buyer’s premium). Image courtesy: 3 Kings Auction and LiveAuctioneers

Peace Dollar

The Pittman Act of 1918 required the melting down of existing silver dollars into bullion and purchasing an equal amount of silver from western silver mines to be re-minted into new silver dollars, initially continuing the Morgan Dollar design. However, coin collectors strongly encouraged a unique design to commemorate the world at peace with the end of World War I.

In 1921 a new silver dollar was designed by sculptor Anthony di Francisi after winning a competition sponsored by the Commission of Fine Arts. The obverse featured a profile of Liberty wearing a stylized crown (modeled after his wife Mary Teresa) and a perched Bald Eagle with sun rays in the background on the reverse that together would “…capture the spirit of the country – its intellectual speed, vigor and vitality.” The new silver dollar was immediately nicknamed the Peace Dollar.

The Peace Dollar would remain in circulation from 1921 until 1928, with reissues in 1934, 1935 and a collectible proof coin beginning in 2021.

Following War I, a new silver dollar was being considered to celebrate the final victory. The result was sculptor Anthony di Francisi’s design for the Peace Dollar. It was first issued in 1921. This lot of 40 uncirculated ones together with 60 uncirculated Morgan Dollars for $4,000 (without buyer’s premium) in 2011. Image courtesy: US Asset Forfeiture & Seizures, Inc. and LiveAuctioneers

A Comparison

The Morgan and the Peace Dollars are considered by collectors to be the most attractive and collectible of all United States coins. Both feature Liberty on the obverse and a Bald Eagle on the reverse, but each design’s details and artistry make them so distinctive that when they were first released, they set the standard for all future coin designs.

The composition of Morgan and Peace Dollars is identical, but their numbers are dramatically different. Both are of the same thickness, diameter, and weight, minted with 90% silver and 10% copper (the 2021 proof coins of each are .999 silver content). Only the Morgan Dollar was minted in larger quantities, about 650 million circulated for more than 27 years. In comparison, 190 million Peace Dollars were circulated over nine years. For that reason, the Morgan Dollar is the more “collected” of the two types.

Collectors will find many Morgan Dollars in uncirculated condition, meaning that the coins do not feature the usual scratches and wear such coins would naturally encounter over a long period of public use. Coin dealers may point this out as a selling point, however many Morgan Dollars weren’t generally circulated by the US Mint and instead were kept in vaults. For that reason, uncirculated Morgan Dollars aren’t necessarily scarce.

While assembling a complete collection of Morgan Dollars is more of a challenge and amassing a full set of circulated Peace Dollars is more manageable, each type has its rarities. For example, the Morgan Dollar, reissued in 1921, was minted in San Francisco, but it was also minted in Denver for that year only, making the 1921 D Morgan Dollar quite rare. The 1893 S had a small mintage of only 200,000, and any with an early mint mark of CC (Carson City, Nevada Mint) is quite scarce.

The Peace Dollar was initially minted in high relief in 1921 and 1922 to call attention to the detail of its design. The dies used to highlight the coin’s fine detail were subjected to too much pressure. Frequently they would crack or break and would immediately be replaced with the latest coin design, featuring a lower relief. One might occasionally encounter a high-relief Peace Dollar for 1921 or 1922 at auction, but, except for the existence of about 10 or so, all of the high-relief coins were melted down and never circulated. Also, many of the Peace Dollars minted in San Francisco beginning in 1923 are considered rare for their relatively low mintage and are a collector’s favorite at auction.

Each Morgan or Peace Dollar will have its distinguishing characteristics such as rarity, condition, mintage, and errors that collectors should watch for at auction. Always check with a reputable dealer, the American Numismatic Association,, and prominent coin-grading companies such as the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) and the Numismatic Guaranty Company (NGC) to help track the rarities and follow the current value of any Morgan and Peace Dollar.

In the end, both the Morgan and the Peace Dollar are collected equally, based on a personal interest in their symbolism, design, and overall collectibility in the marketpplace. Their history, alone, instills a feeling of pride in any collector who holds one of these beautiful coins in their hand.

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