The Farmer, The Miner and The Politician

Silver Dollar Coins

The year was 1873. Union General Ulysses S. Grant was president of the United States. February 12, Grant signed the Coinage Act of 1873 into law, ending the reliance on both Silver and Gold to back the currency of the United States. As of April 1, U.S. currency would instead be backed solely by Gold, effectively putting the United States on a Gold Standard. The United States government had officially stopped buying Silver for its coinage. Later that year, Germany demonetized their Silver coinage, creating a significant drop in Silver demand worldwide. The price of Silver plummeted.

After the discovery of huge deposits of Silver at the Comstock Lode in Nevada in 1859, the Silver market flourished in the Western United States. But the Coinage Act of 1873 would become a death knell for Silver… unless something happened. Western Silver miners were watching their boom go bust. Midwest farmers, who relied on a strong economy to move their wheat and other crops across the country, were extremely worried.

For five long years, Silver prices dropped, farmers’ wheat languished in the fields and Silver mines closed as demand for Silver dropped. Something needed to be done, and fast! U.S. Representative Richard P. Bland of Missouri and U.S. Senator William B. Allison of Iowa set out to help the price of Silver.

Their plan was simple – they would create legislation forcing the United States Treasury to purchase $2 to $4 million of Silver each month from mines in the Western United States. This Silver would be coined in Silver Dollars and would bring the U.S. out of its economic depression, spiking the price of Silver and helping sell American produce.

When the Bland-Allison Act was presented to Rutherford B. Hayes, Grant’s successor, for a signature, he vetoed the bill. Hayes thought the bill would be bad for the United States and for the price of Gold. 

But Congress had other ideas. They overturned Hayes’ veto and the Bland-Allison Act became law. The Hayes Administration went about buying $2 million worth of Silver from Western mining interests each month.  So now that they had all that Silver, what type of Silver Dollars would be produced?

In 1876, Director of the U.S. Mint Henry Linderman wanted to redesign the nation’s Silver coins, most notably the Silver Dollar. Linderman hired a new assistant engraver named George T. Morgan, who, at age 30, was accomplished in Great Britain but relatively unknown in the United States.  His Silver Dollar would bear the likeness of Liberty on the obverse and have an American eagle on the reverse. Morgan hired Anna Williams of Philadelphia to model for Miss Liberty.

Morgan tried numerous designs for these Silver Dollars and while subject matter remained the same – Liberty on the obverse and an eagle on the reverse –the efforts would look significantly different.

 After reviewing “patterns” designed by both George T. Morgan and U.S. Mint Chief Engraver Charles Barber, the mint director and the Treasury approved Morgan’s designs. They went into production just one week after acceptance. The coins were so important that all other Silver coins that were supposed to be struck in Philadelphia were shipped to San Francisco, Carson City and New Orleans for striking.

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