When a Dollar is Better Than a Dollar! The History and Value of the 1890 Silver Dollar

Posted - January 19, 2022
When a Dollar is Better Than a Dollar! The History and Value of the 1890 Silver Dollar

There are a few sayings when it comes to American coins, such as “a penny saved is a penny earned.” But did you know it costs more to make a penny than the coin is worth? One American coin that you can be sure is worth more than its production cost, as well as worth your time and effort, is the 1890 Silver Dollar. This coin is not only one of the largest in circulation, weighing 26.73 grams with a diameter of 1.5 inches, but it is also one of the rarest, making it a favorite of coin collectors everywhere.

For generations, Americans have collected and saved coins, some in jars around the house and some for keepsakes, some just for pocket change when needed but unlike baseball cards, with values that rise and fall each year, the 1890 Silver Dollar steadily increases in price due to the aesthetic beauty, limited minting, and composition. The name says it all; the 1890 Silver Dollar is actually made of 90% silver, a precious metal that holds its value in good economic times and bad.    

Designed by George T. Morgan, the 1890 Silver Dollar is beautifully set apart from other coins by the profile of Lady Liberty, facing left, on the front or obverse side. On the reverse side, is an American Bald Eagle clasping arrows and an olive branch. These classic American icons make the 1890 Silver Dollar one of the most recognizable and valued coins in the world. 

Just imagine going through your old coin collection and finding this beautiful All-American coin shining through the dull copper and nickel pile in front of you. What a find! It’s only natural to ask, “What is the value of my 1890 Silver Dollar?” The price is determined by many factors, which we will go over in greater detail a little later, but know that the condition and mintmark can seriously impact the coin’s value on the open market. But first, let’s take a look at the history of your 1890 Silver Dollar and find out why it is so unique and sought after by thousands of coin collectors. 

1890 Silver Dollar History

Today there are only four US mints producing coins; Philadelphia, Denver, San Francisco and West Point. When the Morgan Dollar, your 1890 Silver Dollar, was being minted, there were also four locations, but only two were the same; Philadelphia, Carson City, San Francisco, and New Orleans. A fifth mint, Denver, produced the Morgan Dollar for only one year, 1921. 

It all started in 1878, when an Assistant Engraver at the Mint at Philadelphia, Mr. George T. Morgan designed his now famous dollar coin. As an aside, it’s of interest to note that Mr. Morgan, the creator of your 1890 Silver Dollar, was born and raised in England, not in America. The production of the first Morgan Dollar started on March 11, 1878 in Philadelphia and was given to Rutherford B. Hayes, the 19th President of the United States. The mints in San Francisco and Carson City started producing the Morgan Dollar on April 16, 1878 and the New Orleans Mint started its production of the new silver dollar in 1879.

This was during a time of the great American discovery of precious metals. The Comstock Lode in Virginia City, Nevada, was the first major silver find and helped bolster the American bullion economy. Shortly after, the government passed the Bland-Allison Act, in which the U.S. Treasury began buying bullion for the purpose of minting silver coins, which would eventually include the Morgan Dollar. 

Who was George T. Morgan? Like stated before, he immigrated to the United States from England in 1876 for work in the U.S. Mint. He was the assistant to William Barber, who, at the time, held the title “Chief Engraver of the United States Mint”. Within two years, Morgan designed the dollar coin, the same design used for your 1890 Silver Dollar. Morgan himself was appointed Chief Engraver of the United States Mint in 1917 and held the title until his death in 1925.

That is not the last significant historical note about your 1890 Silver Dollar. The reason it is so rare is because in 1918 the U.S. Government passed the Pittman Act to help England during World War I. The act stated “sales of silver bullion under authority of this act may be for the purpose of conserving the existing stock of gold in the United States, of providing silver for subsidiary coinage and for commercial use, and of assisting foreign governments at war with the enemies of the United States”. The Pittman Act authorized the U.S. to melt up to 350,000,000 silver dollars, of which 270,232,722 coins were destroyed. 

1890 Silver Dollar Design

Like many coins, dating back more than a thousand years, the obverse side of your 1890 Silver Dollar features the Roman Goddess Libertas, or Lady Liberty in America. She is facing to the left wearing a Phrygian cap and “Liberty” inscribed on her hair band.  

Unlike those earlier coins, Morgan wanted to depict an American woman via a Greek-style figure. Morgan found his model, a teacher and philosophical writer named Anna Willess Williams. Over the course of five sessions with Williams, Morgan declared her profile to be the most perfect he had seen. 

On the reverse side of your 1890 Silver Dollar, Morgan continued his patriotic theme by including a Bald Eagle holding a bundle of arrows and an olive branch, much like the Great Seal of the United States. These symbols are a statement of America’s rise to world prominence and its commitment to a strong desire for peace, but its readiness for war. The arrows represent the ability to fight and the olive branch, which has been a symbol of peace for centuries, goes back as far as ancient Egypt. 

Identifying the 1890 Silver Dollar

As stated above, the Morgan Dollar is unique among coins produced throughout the world. The first thing you will notice is the size. The 1890 Silver Dollar is 1.5 inches in diameter. As a point of comparison, the American quarter is less than an inch in diameter. The next thing worth noting is the silver composition. It will stand out among the other metals in your coin collection. While quarters and nickels look silver, they are actually composed of nickel and copper. 

Another identifying feature is the face value of your 1890 Silver Dollar. On the reverse side of the coin you will read “One Dollar” at the bottom, below the American Bald Eagle. 

The great thing about the Morgan Dollar is that it remained relatively unchanged throughout its minting. As stated above, the obverse side features Lady Liberty facing left and the reverse side features the American Bald Eagle. 

To identify whether your coin is an 1890 Silver Dollar or another year, just look below the neck of Lady Liberty on the obverse side; inscribed there will be the year of your coin’s minting. Please note that all coins have different values to collectors and the year of minting is very much a determining factor as it comes to the actual value of your own coin or collection.

If in doubt on whether you have the pleasure of holding an 1890 Silver Dollar in your hand or not, you can always refer to one of the many resources online. There are websites dedicated to silver coin collecting and collector communities to assist in determining what treasure you possess.

1890 Silver Dollar Value 

The two most important factors in determining the value of your 1890 Silver Dollar are its mintmark and its condition. The mintmark is where your coin originated. As previously stated, the Morgan Dollar was minted in only four locations during 1890; Philadelphia, Carson City, San Francisco, and New Orleans. To locate where your coin was minted, look on the reverse side above the “O” in dollar and you will find the mintmark. Here is the list of mintmarks possible on your 1890 Silver Dollar:

  • No Mark: The Philadelphia Mint
  • CC: The Carson City Mint
  • S: The San Francisco Mint
  • O: The New Orleans Mint

The mintmark is important because each mint produced varying amounts of coins in 1890, which means some 1890 Silver Dollars are rarer than others. For perspective, the Carson City Mint only produced 2,309,041 silver dollars making the CC mintmark a defining feature as the most valuable 1890 Silver Dollar. The San Francisco Mint produced 8,230,373 silver dollars making it the second rarest coin of 1890. The New Orleans Mint produced 10,701,100 silver dollars and the Philadelphia Mint produced 16,802,000 silver dollars. 

While this may seem like a lot of coins minted in 1890, remember that the number of surviving coins are unknown due to the Pittman Act, which resulted in millions of Morgan Dollars being melted down. An estimate from the Professional Coin Grading Service states that maybe less than 10% of all Morgan Dollars are still in existence. If that is the case, out of the 38,042,514 silver dollars minted in 1890, less than 3,804,251 are still around. This makes your 1890 Silver Dollar a rare and valuable collectible!

All of the 1890 Silver Dollars are worth more than their face value, but the question is how much more. We explained the mintmark, but now we must consider the condition of your silver dollar. Since the 1890 Silver Dollar was used in circulation, there could be wear and tear on your coin. The amount of wear on the coin helps to determine the value. The more wear, the less valuable and vice versa, the less wear, the more valuable. Grading Systems vary, but here is an example from least valuable grade to most valuable grade:

– Good (G)

– Very Good (VG)

– Fine (F)

– Very Fine (VF)

– Extremely Fine (EF)

– About Uncirculated (AU)

– Uncirculated (MS)

– Brilliant Uncirculated (MS)

– Proof (PR)

Since there are many factors in determining the value of your 1890 Silver Dollar, we recommend contacting a local collector or online support to get a definitive price. Until then, keep in mind that each silver dollar is different and the value of your coin or coins can range from an easy 20 dollars to a thousand or even thousands of dollars.

Frequently Asked Questions about the 1890 Silver Dollar

Q: What is the most valuable Morgan Dollar?

A: For the 1890 circulation, the most valuable mintmark is from Carson City. According to usacoinbook.com, the Carson City version of the 1890 Silver Dollar ranges from $80 for Good, up to $5000 for Brilliant Uncirculated. 

Q: How pure is the silver in a Morgan Silver Dollar?

A: The 1890 Silver Dollar was minted with .7734 pure silver, which is less than silver coins today. A reminder though, the value of this coin comes from more than its silver content. The rarity and historical significance of this coin makes it a collector’s item, keeping the demand high.

Q: Are all Morgan Dollars valuable?

 A: Yes, all 1890 Silver Dollars are worth more than their face value. The silver content alone makes this coin worth ten times or more than its face value. However, the most important factors in the value of the Morgan Dollar are the mintmark and condition. 

Q: Were 1890 Silver Dollars used as currency?

A: Believe it or not, but yes! This beautifully designed patriotic coin was used as a regular form of currency. Much like pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters the 1890 Silver Dollar passed through the hands of customers and vendors on a daily basis. 

The 1890 Silver Dollar Overview

So, when is a dollar not a dollar? When you hold in your hand the 1890 Silver Dollar! The history, patriotism, precious metal and rarity all contained within a diameter of 1.5 inches makes this coin a collector’s must have. 

The next time you are going through an old coin collection, be sure to keep an eye out for this piece of history. You cannot mistake the beautiful face of Lady Liberty on the obverse with the year at the bottom and on the reverse side, the Bald Eagle above the inscribed “One Dollar”. Once you find this collector’s item, look for the mintmark on the reverse side above the “O” in “dollar” to find out where it was produced. Remember, CC stands for Carson City and is the most valuable 1890 Silver Dollar variety. 

Once you verify that you are in possession of a Morgan Dollar, be sure to have it professionally graded so you have a better understanding of its potential value. 

Above all, have fun. Coin collecting is something that you can do alone or with friends and family. It has something for everyone: money, history, geology and even math. Good luck and good fortune. 

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