The Morgan silver dollar was minted in an attempt to keep the price of silver stabilized after an enormous silver strike in Colorado caused a sudden crash in the price of silver. This dollar was minted from 1878 through 1904, then stopped because silver suddenly increased in price, and then minted for one more year in 1921.
In addition, it was minted in several locations: Carson City, Denver, San Francisco, New Orleans, and Philadelphia; only Denver and Philadelphia are mint locations today. The value of a Morgan silver dollar depends on its year, the mint that created it, and the quality of its preservation.
A Morgan silver dollar has the head of Lady Liberty on the front and a wing-spread eagle holding arrows and an olive branch on the back; you'll recognize the reverse as being very similar to that of a quarter. This coin is the first of our minted coins to use the slogan E Pluribus Unum. It's a large coin, about the same size as a half-dollar in use today or just a little bigger, and it has a silver fineness of .900, or 90% silver, so silver content by weight is just over 24 grams. The remaining metal is copper.
Morgan silver dollars, unlike many of the coins minted over a hundred years ago, have a top grade of DMPL, or Deep Mirror Proof Like; these coins have extremely heavily frosted images and devices, so that these parts show up matte, while the background is polished silver. Early Morgan silver dollars are more likely to follow this format than later ones, making the later DMPL dollars worth more.
The other grades for this dollar are Proof, Uncirculated, Good, Fair, and Poor. The degree of wear determines what level the coin is at. A sealed, perfect coin that has never been touched is a Proof; a perfect or near-perfect coin that has been used is Uncirculated; a near-perfect coin with a couple of flaws is Good; a coin that has seen some wear is Fair; and a coin that is very worn, with the edges worn smooth, is Poor, the lowest grade.
Of these grades, the Poor Morgan silver dollars are generally worth very little, though there are a few exceptions. Look also for the mint mark, a dash and letter next to the year of minting. Mint marks may be S (San Francisco), P (Philadelphia), O (New Orleans), D (Denver) and CC (Carson City). Of these, the Carson City coins tend to be worth the most.
There are also several short runs that are worth significantly more due to their rareness: 1889-CC, 1893-S, and1895 Proof are the most valuable by far. The last of these in theory only had 880 coins released into circulation, and probably fewer exist today; its value is calculated to be about $66,000. The Proof coin should not have a mintmark; attempts to forge it have been made by filing away the proofmark on another Morgan dollar released that year, but a coin expert should be able to spot this immediately.
For a coin collector, a Morgan silver dollar is a must-have: its history, its beauty, and its often low cost all make this an attractive coin for starting, or adding to, your collection.
Jay Villaverde is the owner of http://www.MorganSilverDollarStore.net A site dedicated to preserving the beauty and history of the Morgan Silver Dollar. If you're looking to start or add to your coin collection, this is a great coin to obtain and this is a great place to get them.