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)
Hoard coins: Vast quantities of Uncirculated 1896 dollars were released in the mid-1950s and early 1960s, making this one of the most plentiful of all Philadelphia Mint dollars, and one of the most frequently seen Morgan dollars dated in the 1890s. I imagine that half a million or more Mint State coins exist, and the number may be well over a million.
John B. Love handled 16 or 17 bags from the Redfield estate, selling many of these to John Kamin of The Forecaster newsletter. However, the Redfield coins were just a drop in the ocean in relation to the total number of Uncirculated coins in existence.
Among rare coin dealers there is an awareness that if it is a Morgan dollar and if it is dated in the 1890s, chances are good that it may be rare. The most obvious exception is the 1896-which is among the most common of all Morgan dollars. Other contenders are 1897, 1898-O, and 1899-O.
Circulated grades: In all worn grades the 1896 dollar is extremely common. Many are in higher grades and are specimens that were first put into circulation in the 1950s. As is true with all other common dates of Morgan dollars, many lower grade coins were melted in the 1970s when silver bullion prices escalated sharply.
Mint State grades: Mint State coins are plentiful in all grades, although most are in the range of MS-60 to 63, and many are MS-64. Anyone with a desire to do so (and enough cash!) could accumulate a trunkful in no time at all.
The striking quality of 1896 Philadelphia Mint dollars is usually above average. Lustre ranges from frosty to somewhat dull or "greasy." Cherrypicking can be effective with this date.
Prooflike coins: Prooflike coins constitute a small percentage of Mint State coins on a relative basis, but because on an absolute basis so many Mint State coins exist, prooflikes are not rare. Thousands exist. The contrast is usually low and not at all cameo-like. Many semi-prooflikes remain. Thousands of DMPL pieces also survive. About 15% of these grade MS-65 or better.
1. Normal date: Breen-5642. The VAM text describes various obverses with one or more digits doubled. The doubled obverse and double date, respectively Breen-5643 and 5644, remain rare; the partly repunched dates much less so.
2. Blundered date: Chris Pilliod discovered one with part of top of 8 in dentils below 8; Coin World, October 3, 1990, p. 114. Subsequently, at least a dozen pieces have surfaced, several of which show only the left or right halves of the top of the 8, visible as a curved line on one or the other side of the denticle.
Note: Breen-5645, a very early state of VAM-1A, has been called an "1896/4" overdate by some, but today it is generally agreed that it is not an overdate. Part of the upright of what some people consider to be a 4 is within and above the loop of the 6. In COINage magazine, October 1976, Richard T. Deters discussed this variety in exhaustive detail in an article, "The Missing Morgan Dollar: Here's the Evidence. Decide For Yourself If There Is An 1896 Over 4 Variety." He cited correspondence with various authorities, and concluded that there was such an overdate, but it was extremely difficult to see and certainly was not unequivocal. The 3rd edition of VAM does not call it an overdate; it is listed as "Bar 6" with this notation: "6 in date has vertical die gouge as bar on right inside of lower loop and a short tip at right inside of the upper loop." In the early 1970s, prior to the appearance of the Deters article, Bill Fivaz and Thomas K. DeLorey studied the variety and concluded it was not an overdate. (Thomas K. DeLorey, letter to the author, November 6, 1992.)
Dies prepared: Obverse: Unknown; Reverse: Unknown.
Circulation strike mintage: 9,976,000; Delivery figures by month: January: none; February: 900,000; March: 900,000; April: 900,000; May: 900,000; June: 900,000; July: 162,000; August: 1,300,000; September: 1,300,000; October: 1,200,000; November: 514,000; December: 1,000,000.
Estimated quantity melted: Millions, probably including some under the 1918 Pittman Act.
Availability of prooflike coins: PL and DMPL pieces probably remain to the extent of at least 25,000- 50,000 (URS-16)
Characteristics of striking: Usually seen well struck. Lustre varies from frosty to dull.
Known hoards of Mint State coins: Many hundreds of bags-probably totaling well over a million coins-were released by the Treasury in the 1950s and in 1962-1964.
The 1896 is the most common Morgan dollar of the 1890s and is plentiful in all circulation strike grades.
Assay Coins Put Into Circulation
The Annual Report of the Director of the Mint, 1896 discussed the Assay Commission, which met that year (as in every year) to take a few samples from large quantities of coins set aside from coins of various denominations from the different mints.
A listing of sources from which bullion was received at the Philadelphia Mint shows "melted assay coins purchased" amounting to just $400.80 worth of silver and $539.12 worth of gold. This is only a tiny fraction of the amount of coins set aside by assay. We can thus assume that other assay coins were released into circulation. This has always been an unresolved point with numismatists. I believe that all or nearly all of the three known 1873-CC No-Arrows quarter dollars and the 20 or so known 1876-CC 20-cent pieces in collectors hands are from specimens submitted to Philadelphia for the annual assay, and that no coins were released into circulation through normal procedures.
Mint Matters (All Mints)
The Annual Report of the Director of the Mint, 1896, gave information in the following categories.
Distribution of silver dollars at various mints:
Philadelphia: In mint July 1, 1895,50,221,267; coinage fiscal year 18964,500,822; total 54,722,089; in mint July 1,1896, 54,522,267; distributed from mint 199,822. In addition, during fiscal year 1896 the assistant treasurer at Chicago branch of the Treasury Department transferred one million dollars to the Philadelphia Mint for storage.
San Francisco: In mint July 1, 1895,36,749,500; coinage fiscal year 1896 1,050,000; total 37,799,500; in mint July 1, 1896, 37,459,918; distributed from mint 339,582.
New Orleans: In mint July 1, 1895, 9,610,000; transferred from the Treasury 100,000; coinage fiscal year 1896, 1,950,000; total 11,660,000; in mint July 1, 1896, 11,610,000; distributed from mint 50,000.
Carson City: In mint July 1, 1895, 5,168,394; Total, 5,168,394; in mint July I, 1896, 5,137,118; distributed from mint 31,276.
Coinage accomplished to date under various acts: February 28, 1878 $378,166,793; July 14,1890 $56,306,876; March 3,1891 (coinage of trade dollars) $5,078,472. [This disposed of 4,987,785 trades.] Total $439,552,14l.
The cost per dollar was of producing coins at the various mints: This information was not the cost per silver dollar but was the cost per dollar of face value comprised of the total-of the coins made, a mixture of dimes, quarters, half dollars, and silver dollars. In fiscal year 1896 at Philadelphia the cost was $0.009 per dollar, or less than a cent, at San Francisco it was $0.011527, or slightly more than a cent, and at New Orleans itwas $0.036564, or nearly four cents.
Miscellany: The various mints were constantly purchasing and receiving obsolete coins. In fiscal year 1896, 183 trade dollars were received at the Philadelphia mint, none at San Francisco, and 6 at New Orleans.
1896 Anna Williams Marries The Numismatist, May 1896, printed this item:
"To Marry A Goddess, the Young Lady Whose Profile Appears on Uncle Sam's Silver Dollars: The announcement that the Goddess of Liberty is about to be married has aroused new interest in the woman whose face is known to more people than that of any other woman of the American continent. Every man, woman or child who has a silver dollar carries the handsome profile of the Philadelphia schoolteacher, Miss Anna W. Williams. Her classic features have been stamped upon millions of silver disks.
"It is twenty years since the pretty blonde girl became world-famous. It was then stated that Miss Williams' profile was the original of the Goddess of Liberty on that much abused, much admired and equally much disliked Bland silver dollar. The friends of the young woman placed every obstacle in the way of possible identification, but tailed in their object. The story of how Miss Williams came to be the Goddess of Liberty may be retold, now that it is said she is soon to become a bride.
"In the early part of 1876 the Treasury Department secured through communication with the Royal Mint of England. The services of a clever young designer and engraver named George Morgan. Upon his arrival in this country Mr. Morgan was installed at the Philadelphia Mint and was assigned the task of making a design for the new silver dollar. After many months of labor the young engraver completed the design for the reverse side of the coin upon which he represented the American eagle. His attention was then turned to the other side, and his original inclination was to place on it a fanciful head representing the Goddess of Liberty. But the ambitious designer was too much of a realist to be satisfied with a mere product of fancy. Finally he determined the head should be the representation of some American girl and forthwith searched for his beauteous maid.
"It was a long search, although pleasant. He told his friends of his desires, and one of them spoke of the really classic beauty of Miss Anna Williams. The English designer was introduced to the girl. Mr. Morgan was at once impressed by her beautiful face and studied it carefully. Then he told her what he desired, and she promptly refused to permit herself to be the subject of the design. Her friends, however, induced her to pose before an artist. After five sittings the design was completed.
"Mr. Morgan was so enthusiastic that he declared Miss Williams' profile was the most nearly perfect he had seen in England or America. His design for the Bland silver dollar was accepted by Congress, and so the silver coins have been pouring from the mints all these years adorned with the stately face of a Quaker City maiden.
"Miss Williams is a decidedly modest young woman. She resides on Spring Garden Street, not far from the school in which for years she has been employed as an instructor in philosophy and methods in the kindergarten department. She is slightly below the average height, is rather plump, and is fair. She carries her figure with a stateliness rarely seen and the pose of the head is exactly as seen on the silver dollar. The features of Miss Williams are reproduced as faithfully as in a good photograph.-New York Mail and Express.
The Numismatist, May 1926, carried another item on the former Anna Willess Williams:
"The Goddess of Standard Silver Dollar Dead: Miss Anna W. Williams, of Philadelphia, a retired public school teacher whose profile was used in preparing a design of the standard silver dollar in 1878, died in her native city on April 17. Death was due to apoplexy, induced by a fall she sustained last December and she had been confined to her bed since.
"The statement has been frequently made that the head on the Standard silver dollar was that of Miss Williams. This statement is not strictly true, Miss Williams possessed a Grecian profile, which was considered almost ideal for a typical head of Liberty, and chiefly on that account she consented to pose for the engraver while preparing the design. This is borne out of the fact that the entire head is much more mature in appearance than would be expected in a girl 18 years old. That was her age at the time she posed.
"In 1876 George Morgan, an expert designer and engraver, was assigned to the duty of preparing the new design for a silver dollar that was to be issued. Thomas Eakins, a Philadelphia artist, was a friend of both Mr. Morgan and Miss Williams' family, and he had 'been thrown into contact with the young girl often while she was an art student. I It was at Mr. Eakins' suggestion that Mr. Morgan and Miss Williams friends finally prevailed upon her to pose for the profile that was to go upon the face of the new dollar. The sittings took place at the home of Mr. Eakins in November 1876. It was some time later that the cap with its sheath was decided upon as the ornamentation for the head.
"Miss Williams was principal of the Girls' School of the House of Refuge in Philadelphia when she was chosen to be the model for the goddess upon the dollar. It was with great difficulty, however, that she was prevailed upon to give sittings to the artist. Only upon condition that-her identity should not be revealed would Miss Williams consent to pose.
"For two years the incognito of 'Miss Liberty,' the woman's face on the dollar, remained a secret in the keeping of the government arid the artist. A Philadelphia newspaperman revealed the Miss Williams was the "Silver Dollar Girl." Then came offers of stage engagements, all of which Miss Williams rejected. She consented, for $60 a month, to teach at the House of Refuge until she accepted, in 1891, the position of teacher of kindergarten philosophy in the Girls' Normal School.
"The story of how Miss Williams came to be the model has not been told often. She was besieged for the story many times, but in later years she smilingly referred to it as "an incident of my youth," and preferred to talk of her work in the kindergarten schools of the city which she supervised.
"Miss Williams was born in Philadelphia. Her mother was a Southerner, the daughter of Dr. Arthur N. Willess of Maryland. His daughter married Henry Williams of Philadelphia and went with him to that city.
"When she became the model, Miss Williams' complexion was fair, her eyes blue, her nose Grecian and her hair, which was almost her crowning glory, was of golden color, abundant in quantity and light of texture. It was worn in a becoming soft coil."