History of the American Silver Dollar

Posted on February 15, 2021

As the primary metal used to make U.S. coins before 1965, silver found its way into many American coins. Silver dollars have a value of $1, and due to their historic value and size, they are among the most collectible coins on the market.

History of the Silver Dollar

After the passage of the Mint Act of 1792, the silver denomination received approval for mintage [1]. It took two years for the first silver coins to be struck, but the first was a silver dollar. Over the years, the silver dollar has evolved and changed designs, yet it remains a must-have for collectors.

Flowing Hair (1794-1795)

As the first silver dollar and the largest silver coin minted in the United States, the Flowing Hair Dollar coins were printed at the Philadelphia Mint. In its first year, 2,000 were printed, with about 1,758 ready for distribution. The remaining coins were melted due to a lack of quality [1].

Chief Engraver of the Mint Robert Scot, who had designed some copper coins in 1793 and 1794, designed the coin. The obverse has the right profile of Liberty with her hair flowing behind her. The reverse has a bald eagle surrounded by a wreath. As was the case with all silver and gold coins, no denomination was found on the coin's surface. Instead, 'HUNDRED CENTS ONE DOLLAR OR UNIT' is found on the coin's edge.

Draped Bust (1795-1803)

Also created by Robert Scot, the Draped Bust features the head of Liberty facing right with 'LIBERTY' above and the date below. Her bust is draped with fabric, hence the name of the coin.

The reverse of the coin is the same as the silver dollar from 1794 and 1795 and is referred to as the Small Eagle. In 1798, a new reverse debuted called the Heraldic Eagle. This eagle has its wings and claws spread, a shield on its chest and its talons grasping arrows and an olive branch.

Seated Liberty (1840-1873)

After a hiatus from 1804 until 1839, the Seated Liberty hit the production line. The design for the Seated Liberty came from the Gobrecht Dollar, named after its designer Christian Gobrecht, who designed many coins during the 19th century.

The obverse was based on British coinage and has Liberty sitting on a rock, holding a pole with a liberty cap atop. The reverse is somewhat based on John Reich's design found on silver coins earlier in the century. A bald eagle faces left and holds an olive branch and arrows. After the Civil War, 'IN GOD WE TRUST' was added above the eagle.

Trade Dollar (1873-1885)

Designed by William Barber, the Trade Dollar has Liberty sitting on merchandise near the sea. In her right hand is an olive branch, while her left hand holds a scroll. On the reverse side is an eagle holding arrows and an olive branch.

Morgan Dollar (1878-1921)

As one of the more popular silver dollar coins, Morgan Dollars were struck in large quantities at five different mints [2]. It was also one of the first silver coins to be printed with 'UNITED STATES OF AMERICA' on it. The obverse has Liberty's head facing left, while the reverse has an eagle with outstretched wings. These coins were 90% silver and 10% copper [3].

Peace Silver Dollar (1921-1935)

The design for the Peace Silver Dollar commemorates the peace established after the end of World War I. The left portrait of Liberty is on the obverse, while the reverse has a bald eagle staring into the sun. The coins were printed from 1921 until 1928, with no coins struck for six years, only to resume for 1934 and 1935 [4].

Eisenhower (1971-1978)

After an almost 40-year hiatus, the mint resurrected the coin with the Eisenhower Silver Dollar. Designed by Chief Engraver Frank Gasparro, the obverse of coin depicts President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and the reverse shows the Apollo 11 moon landing insignia. Because of a rise in bullion prices, the mint used copper-nickel clad coins instead of silver [5].

Susan B. Anthony (1979-1981, 1999)

The Susan B. Anthony Silver Dollar was printed from 1979 until 1981 when production was suspended because the public didn't accept the new coin. It's smaller than the Eisenhower Silver Dollar at 1.04 inches compared to 1.5 inches. It was oftentimes confused with the quarter due to its size. The coin depicts women's suffrage activist Susan B. Anthony, who became the first real female on a circulating U.S. coin [6].

The coin has her right profile on one side and an eagle on the other. Just like the Eisenhower Dollar, this coin was made out of a copper-nickel composition. It was struck again in 1999 when the Treasury was low on the coin and the Sacagawea coin was still a year from production [5].

American Silver Eagle (1986-Present)

As the official bullion coin of America, the American Silver Eagle contains 1 troy ounce of 99.9% pure silver. It reverted to the larger size of 1.5 inches. The coin's obverse was taken from the Walking Liberty Half Dollar coin produced from 1916 to 1947. Liberty is standing with the sun shining in the background.

Its reverse has an eagle behind a shield, holding an olive branch and arrows. Above the eagle are 13 stars. The Philadelphia, San Francisco and West Point mints produce these coins.

Future for the Silver Dollar

When the global recession hit in 2008, the demand from investors for bullion coins decreased. It did pick up some, but although the price of silver has increased over the years, it hasn't gotten more than $20 per ounce since 2016 [7].

Don't let the price of silver sway your interest in grabbing one of these coins for your collection. Silver dollar coins remain a popular option for all types of collectors, as the coins are still a hot commodity.

1. My Coin Guides. 'Flowing Hair Dollar,' https://flowinghairdollar.com/. Accessed September 29, 2020.

2. My Coin Guides. 'Morgan Dollars,' https://morgandollars.net/. Accessed September 29, 2020.

3. Hobbizine. 'Morgan Dollar Values,' http://values.hobbizine.com/morgan-dollars.html. Accessed September 29, 2020.

4. My Coin Guides. 'Peace Dollars,' https://peacedollars.com/. Accessed September 29, 2020.

5. National Archives. 'The Susan B. Anthony Dollar Coin -- the Dollar of the Future?' https://text-message.blogs.archives.gov/2016/07/19/the-susan-b-anthony-dollar-coin-the-dollar-of-the-future/. Accessed September 29, 2020.

6. The Spruce Crafts. 'Susan B. Anthony One Dollar Coin Values and Prices,' https://www.thesprucecrafts.com/susan-b-anthony-dollar-coin-values-4046950. Accessed September 29, 2020.

7. Investing News Network. 'Could the Silver Price Really Hit US$130 Per Ounce?' https://investingnews.com/daily/resource-investing/precious-metals-investing/silver-investing/silver-in-the-future/. Accessed September 29, 2020.