1879-S Morgan Dollar

1879-S Morgan Dollar

Coinage Context

Morgan dollar coinage: From 1879 through 1883 inclusive, the San Francisco Mint struck only dollars in the silver series. At the time there was an oversupply of lower-denomination silver coins available through the Treasury, and additional dimes, quarters, and half dollars were not needed. During this era the San Francisco Mint produced many very well struck, very high-quality dollars.

Numismatic Information

Two reverse varieties: Among 1879 Morgan dollars from the various mints, only 1879-S comes with two naked-eye differences in reverse hubs. In recent years these have attracted increased interest. The devotion of a separate chapter to the Second Reverse variety in the 1992 book by John Highfill, The Comprehensive U.S. Silver Dollar Encyclopedia, may focus additional attention on it.

Hoard coins: It is believed that as of June 30, 1913, most of the original mintage of 1879-S was stored at the San Francisco Mint, to be paid out over a period of decades thereafter. Vast quantities were released by the San Francisco Mint in the twentieth century, particularly in 1942 (when many dozens, possibly hundreds, of bags were distributed) and the 1950s. The Treasury Department released many additional bags in the 1962-1964 era. In The Forecaster, September 15, 1971, John Kamin ventured the suggestion that about 10% of the original mintage of 1879-S was released circa 1962-1964, a figure equal to about a million pieces.

Year in and year out, over a long period of time, the 1879-S has been readily available in quantity.

Nearly all of these bags contained coins of the Third Reverse type.


The 1879-S Second Reverse: The Second Reverse, to use the nomenclature of 1878, is the style with parallel top arrow feather (PAF) and concave breast on the eagle. Apparently, these were from leftover dies of 1878-S, which are all of the Second Reverse variety. It has been estimated by Walter H. Breen and others that fewer than 1 % of surviving Mint State 1879-S dollars are of the Second Reverse type. The Redfield estate hoard contained the truly remarkable quantity of 3,000 or 4,000 pieces (per Wayne Miller), heavily bagmarked, and constitutes the source of most of the known specimens today, though Harry J. Forman earlier had one bag.

The 1879-S Second Reverse was not publicized until the 1960s, thus very few collectors were aware of its existence. Mentioned in passing by G.W. Rice in 1898, the variety was also known to Howard Rounds Newcomb in 1913, and was exhibited by him at the 1913 ANA Convention as a rarity.(Cf. The Numismatist, June 1898 (quoted above at 1878 8TF) and October 1913, p. 511. Newcomb was very interested in the die varieties of Morgan dollars and was a pioneer in this respect. However, today he is better remembered by numismatists for his 1944 book, The United States Copper Cents, 1816-1857)The variety wasthereafter largely forgotten until 1963 when Francis X. Klaes first showed it in his Die Varieties of Morgan Silver Dollars as Figure 14.

Leroy Van Allen's Morgan and Peace Dollar Varieties (1965) first identified the 7 tail feathers with parallel arrow feathers as rare, perhaps over generously estimating that 120,000 were struck out of the 9.11 million total mintage = 1.3%. In 1971 Van Allen and Mallis continued by listing it in the Guide to Morgan and Peace Dollars (early title, later changed to Comprehensive Catalog and Encyclopedia of Morgan and Peace Dollars) and described three varieties, VAM4, 5, and 6, and considered each to be scarce.

Neither the 1971 nor the 1976 Scott-Taxay Encyclopedias mentioned the two types (7 tail feathers parallel arrow feather and 7 tail feathers slanting arrow feather) for 1879-S, though both listed small and large mintmarks. Mint State survivors were generally unknown, despite low catalogue prices, until Dean Tavenner turned up one roll of 20 pieces in 1967 John Highfill recalls in his Comprehensive Encyclopedia that he would go to a coin convention and study many silver dollars but not see a single coin of this variety.

In 1975, a few more rolls showed up in Montana-mostly higher grade EF and AU coins. In low grades, the 1879-S Second Reverse is less often seen than 1881-CC, 1885-CC or 1903-O (all of which are relatively rare). Apparently, few were released around the time of minting. Probably most were held by the Treasury and melted under the Pittman Act in 1918. Surviving Uncirculateds are from the several thousand in the aforementioned Redfield hoard. Some 2,000 or 3,000 of the Redfield hoard coins-amounting to the larger part of the Redfield holding-were distributed through Paramount International Coin Company to Leon Hendrickson, who dispersed them widely.(Recollection of John Highfill in his Comprehensive Encyclopedia)

Redfield hoard details: The following commentary is from John V. Kamin: (Letter to the author, October 29, 1992.)

The only known hoard of 1879-S dollars with the Second Reverse (Reverse of '78) consisted of three bags discovered in the Redfield estate, and sold as the 1879-S common variety to an Indiana dealer, who is now deceased. Forecaster readers bought an estimated one and one-half to two bags of those original three bags, at prices ranging from $300 to $425 per 20-coin roll, at a coin show around 1979, held at Harvey's casino on Lake Tahoe. We scurried around, got more a month later from the Indiana dealer, and some rolls from Harry Forman as well, who had also recognized the scarcity of this variety.

Prior to the release of the Redfield estate, no known bags of these Second Reverse flat-chested eagle coins had been seen. In an estimated two decades of searching for that coin, before the post-Redfield discovery of three bags, only a few circulated pieces were known, and maybe three or four individual Uncirculated coins. It is a truly scarce coin. I probably have 50 to 100 of that coin put away, from the coin show in Lake Tahoe, and do not know of anyone who has more. The actual number of bags in the Redfield Estate was three, no more, no less.