Q. David Bowers:
The following narrative, with minor editing, is from my "Silver Dollars & Trade Dollars of the United States: A Complete Encyclopedia" (Wolfeboro, NH: Bowers and Merena Galleries, Inc., 1993)
A new source of silver: The Act of March 3, 1891 directed the secretary of the Treasury to, "as soon as practicable, coin into standard silver dollars the trade dollar bullion and trade dollars now in the Treasury, the expense thereof to be charged to the silver profit fund."!
Conversion of trade dollar bullion to Morgan dollars took place at the Philadelphia and New Orleans mints. Under the Summary of Characteristics listings for 1891 and 1891-O, the specific numbers for mintages under various acts are given.
The Annual Report showed that 1,543,856 1891 Philadelphia Mint dollars and 3,534,6161891-O dollars were struck from reclaimed trade dollar bullion, totaling 5,078,472. These were not specifically identified as to varieties and were mixed with 1891 and 1891-O coinage struck from metal purchased under the Sherman Silver Purchase Act of 1890.
Hoard coins: The Federal Reserve released many bags of these in 1954-1955 and again in the late 1950s and very early 1960s (before the massive releases of 1962-1964). There were so many that Harry J. Forman reported that virtually every bank in Philadelphia was loaded with them, and that they were by far the most common dollar date available. The 1891 dollar was not represented in quantity among the dollars released in 1962-1964. By that time, most had been dispersed. Many had acquired light wear and had slipped into the "slider" category. By the mid-1960s the supply had been absorbed by the public and by investors, and the 1891 was no longer considered to be among the most common dates. (The ability of the American public to absorb vast quantities of collectibles has never ceased to amaze me• witness the countless millions of limited-edition silver medals sold by the Franklin Mint in the late 1960s and 1970s.)
Circulated grades: In worn grades the 1891 dollar is not among the commonest dates in the Morgan series, but it is still quite plentiful.
Mint State grades: Striking of 1891 Philadelphia Mint dollars varies from flatly struck to excellent, with the typical coin being in the poorly struck category. While sharply struck, frosty, lustrous coins exist, these are few and far between, especially in higher levels. Some coins have poorly struck obverses and sharp reverses; others have sharp obverses and weak reverses. Most coins have average to below average lustre. As so many die pairs were used to strike 1891 dollars, no single rule applies to all coins. Cherrypicking is strongly advised.
In 1982, Wayne Miller wrote this: "A mediocre bag from a Pennsylvania hoard was sold to one investor in 1979. This date is unpopular at all Mint State levels short of superb gem." John Highfill estimated that the Redfield hoard contained one or more bags of MS-60 and MS-61 coins.
In the late 1980s, Boston dealer Lee J. Bellisario told me that he liked this date, considered it to be a sleeper, and in several months of looking had not been able to find many high-grade pieces. Indeed, the elusive quality of truly high-grade 1891 dollars, such as MS-65, is borne out by high market listings.
1. Normal date: Breen-5619. Some obverses have closed 9; others (date heavily repolished or die lightly logotyped) open 9.
2. Doubled Ear: Breen-5620, VAM-2. Originally considered to be scarce by VAM, the variety is now considered to be fairly plentiful; late state, VAM-2A, break below nose, is scarcer.
Dies prepared: Obverse: Unknown; Reverse: Unknown.
Circulation strike mintage: 8,693,556; Delivery figures by month;(Coinage January through June from silver under the Act of July 14,1890; later months' coinage from trade dollar bullion under the Trade Dollar Recoinage Act of March 3, 1891. The yearly total of 8,693,556 is subject to slight variation; the monthly totals do not equal this amount.)January: 1,600,000; February: 1,200,000; March: 1,200,000; April: 1,000,000; May: 1,250,000; June: 900,000; July: 350,000; August: 500,000; September: 200,000; October: 250,000; November: 243,556; December: none.
Estimated quantity melted: Many under the 1918 Pittman Act.
Characteristics of striking: Varies, but the typical coin seen is poorly struck and has unsatisfactory lustre. Sharply struck coins exist and are rare in higher grade levels.
Known hoards of Mint State coins: Probably a million or more were released by the Treasury in the late 1950s and very early 1960s (before the great release of 1962-1964). Most went into circulation through banks.
The 1891 dollar is common in lower Mint State grades but is rare at the MS-65 level.
Complying With the Sherman Act
The Annual Report of the Director of the Mint, 1891, told of silver dollars produced at various mints during the preceding fiscal year:
"The Act of July 14, 1890, required 'That the secretary of the Treasury shall each month coin two million ounces of the silver bullion purchased under the provisions of this act into standard silver dollars, until the first day of July 1891, and after that time he shall coin of the silver bullion purchased under the provisions of this act as much as may be necessary to provide for the redemption of the Treasury notes herein provided for, and any gain or seignorage arising from such coinage shall be accounted for and paid into the Treasury.'
"In order to comply with the mandatory coinage of silver dollars required by this act (two million ounces monthly, equivalent to 2,585,000 silver dollars), there were coined from August 13, 1890, to June 30, 1891, from bullion purchased under the Act of July 14, 1890,27,292,475 silver dollars.
"The quantity of silver used in this coinage was 23,454,470 standard ounces, costing $22,747,860.42, while 27,272.98 standard ounces, costing $25,466.43, were wasted and sold in sweeps, leaving a balance of uncoined silver purchased under the Act of July 14, 1890, on hand at the coinage mints June 30, 1891, of 30,288,381.93 standard ounces, costing $27,804,171.59, distributed as follows ....
"The total amount of silver purchased, during the fiscal year, under both acts, February 28,1878, and July 14, 1890, was 56,878,325.08 standard ounces, costing $53,626,924.90, an average cost of $1.04-3/4 per fine ounce .... In addition, 200,000 silver dollars were coined in the last month of the fiscal year from trade dollar bullion .... "
New Coin Designs Wanted
Following the law of September 26, 1890 (the Sherman Silver Purchase Act), a circular was sent in early 1891 to artists and relief designers in the United States inviting designs for the obverse and reverse of the silver dollar and for the obverse only of the half dollar, quarter dollar, and dime, and offering a reward not to exceed $500 for each design accepted. The text of the letter follows:(Text from the Report of the Director of the Mint, 1891, p. 69.)
"CIRCULAR LETTER TO ARTISTS.
"TREASURY DEPARTMENT, BUREAU OF THE MINT, "Washington, D.C., April 4, 1891.
"Under the provisions of the Act of September 26, 1890, authorizing the director of the Mint, with the approval of the secretary of the Treasury, to cause new designs or models of authorized emblems or devices to be prepared and adopted for the coins of the United States, it has been decided to invite designs for the obverse and reverse of the silver dollar, and for the obverse only of the half dollar, quarter dollar, and dime.
"The following are the conditions under which designs will be considered:
"1. They must be presented in the form of models or medallions in plaster, the models to be from 4 to 8 inches in diameter; a separate design to be submitted for the obverse and reverse of the silver dollar, and separate designs for the obverse of the half dollar, quarter dollar, and dime.
"2. The models must be in what is known as 'low relief,' suitable for coins.
"3. Each model submitted must be complete, with the denomination of the coin, and only such inscriptions as are required by law, together with the date (year).
"4. The models must be submitted under seal to the director of the Mint on or before June 1, 1891.
"5. An award not to exceed $500 will be made for each design accepted.
"Full facilities will be afforded at the Mint at Philadelphia to artists who may desire to examine coins belonging to the cabinet of that institution.
"The following is a list of coins for which new designs are proposed, with the diameter and thickness of each ....
"Extracts from the laws prescribing the devices and legends are attached hereto.
"Very respectfully, "Edward O. Leech, "Director of the Mint."
The Annual Report of the Director of the Mint, 1891, told what happened:
"By invitation of the secretary of the Treasury the following gentlemen met in the office of the director of the Mint, in Washington, on June 3,1891, and passed upon the designs submitted, viz: Augustus Saint-Gaudens, sculptor, of New York City; Henry Mitchell, engraver, of Boston, and Charles E. Barber, engraver, United States Mint at Philadelphia.
"The following is the report of the committee:
"TREASURY DEPARTMENT, "BUREAU OF THE MINT, "Washington, D.C., June 3, 1891.
"DEAR SIR: We would respectfully report that in conformity with your written request we have opened in the presence of the director of the Mint the new designs or models submitted for the silver coins of the United States, under Department circular of April 4, 1891, and have carefully examined the same.
"We are of the opinion that none of the designs or models submitted are such a decided improvement upon the present designs of the silver coins of the United States as to be worthy of adoption by the government.
"We would respectfully recommend that the services of one or more artists distinguished for work in designing for relief be engaged at a suitable compensation to prepare for the consideration of the Department new designs for the coins of the United States.
"Very respectfully, "Henry Mitchell. "Augustus Saint-Gaudens. "Chas, E. Barber.
"I concur in the findings. "Edward O. Leech,
"Hon, Charles Foster, "Secretary of the Treasury.
"New designs for the subsidiary coins-the half dollar, quarter dollar and dime-have been prepared, under my direction, by Mr. Charles E. Barber, the engraver of the Mint at Philadelphia, and with your approval have been adopted .... "
Cost of Coinage at the Mints
The Annual Report of the Director of the Mint, 1891, reported on the costs of coinage, not including minor coins, at the four mints: Philadelphia $0.0175+; San Francisco $0.0239-; New Orleans $0.0203+; Carson $0.0564+. Further:
"While it is inequitable to draw comparisons between the relative cost of coinage at the various mints, as exhibited in the above table, for the reason that the character and amount of the coinages executed at them are so dissimilar, it is gratifying to report that the expenses of coinage was considerably reduced as compared with prior years, the cost per piece last year being slightly less than 1 cent, against a cost per piece exceeding 1 cent the prior year, and, exclusive of minor coinage, 2-1/10 cents per piece during the last fiscal year against 2-1/2 cents in the preceding year."
Distribution of Silver Dollars
The Annual Report of the Director of the Mint, 1891, told of the distribution of silver dollars at the Philadelphia Mint: In mint July 1, 1890, $39,448,758; coinage of the fiscal year 14,902,475; in mint July 1, 1891,51,163,675; distributed from mint: 3,187,558.