outside the lines

  • In 1873, an act was passed in the U.S. to end free silver coinage. After this, the first silver dollar produced was the Morgan Dollar which was minted from 1878-1904, then again in 1921. It is named for its designer, Assistant Mint Engraver George T. Morgan, who studied at art college to learn how to skillfully engrave the images on the coin.

    Morgan Dollars are recognized by their representation of Liberty (her image inspired by the face of Anna Willess Williams who sat for Morgan) and an eagle with his wings stretched out. On the eagle side, the words ‘In God We Trust’ are engraved. Liberty’s face fills the space fully with her aquiline Roman nose and a strong chin.

    The first coins off of the press were given to President Hayes, John Sherman (then Secretary of the Treasury), and Mint Director Henry Linderman. They were produced at the Philadelphia Mint.

    There was a great deal of political maneuvering over the value of silver during this period. At one point, consumers could have bullion turned into coins when it suited them to make a profit. This practice was ended, but more problems arose when the value of silver dropped following extensive mining operations.

    Legislation in 1890 to produce a set number of silver dollars each month was designed to increase inflation and protect suffering farmers. This led to a surplus of coins. Morgan Dollars minted in 1895 are among the rarest because few coins were minted in this year as a result of the surplus.

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  • In early 1883, a new design was released for the five cent denomination, commonly referred to as the nickel. In fact, the denomination itself was still relatively new as up until 1873, the so-called half dime also with a value of five cents was also being struck for circulation.

    The Liberty Head Nickel was designed by Charles E. Barber and incorporated the iconic figure and many agricultural elements. The front of the coin pictured the head of Liberty wearing a crown, with sprigs of wheat and cotton placed in her hair. The reverse featured a large Roman numeral V surrounded by a wreath of corn, wheat, and cotton. Important to note, the denomination was only expressed with the large “V” and nothing more.

    Immediately some began to take advantage of the ambiguity. They took newly minted Liberty Nickels, gave them a thin coating of gold, and passed them off as $5 gold pieces!

    Once the problem became apparent, there were rumors of a recall of the new coins, although this never took place. What did happen was a slight redesign of the reverse. The word “CENTS” was added immediately below the wreath.  Presumably this solved the problem, as the coins continued to be minted in this design without further modification until 1912.

    More unscrupulous action would eventually lead to the creation of the 1913 Liberty Nickel. It is believed that five examples of this coin that was not supposed to exist were secretly minted and removed from the Mint. Years later when they were publicized, they became valuable rarities. Despite their checkered history, the coins now reside in collections and are valued in millions of dollars!

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