5th National Silver Dollar Convention
St. Louis, Missouri
November 8 – 11, 1984
Total Uncirculated Silver Dollars Remaining
By Leroy Van Allen
As collectors, investors and coin dealers know, there is a tremendous number of uncirculated Morgan and Peace silver dollars around. Several hundred thousand bags of these silver dollars were released by the Treasury Department in the early 1960’s. The stock of silver dollar held by the Treasury was cleaned out by 1964 by speculators and investors as the price of silver steadily advanced to $1.29 per ounce when their bullion value equaled their face value.
Even twenty years later in 1984, bags of silver dollars are still being dumped on the market. Rumors persist of private hoards of 20 to 200 bags of dollars that still exist. The question is, how many uncirculated Morgan and Peace dollars remain in the hands of collectors, investors, and dealers today?
To answer this question, the Treasury Department records on production quantities and amounts in circulation have to be examined. Some 570 million Morgan dollars were minted between 1878 and 1904. About 270 million of these were melted in 1918 and 1919 under the Pittman Act. Another 86 million Morgan Dollars were minted in 1921 and 190 million Peace Dollars were minted from 1921 to 1935. Over 50 million silver dollars were melted in 1943 and 1944 for wartime use. Many more millions of circulated and some common date uncirculated silver dollars were also melted during late 1979 and early 1980 when the price of silver soared for a short time to $50 per ounce.
Thus, something like 250 million Morgan dollars still exist, about 60 to 70 million 1921 Morgan dollars exist and about 150 to 160 million Peace dollars exist. The total stock of silver dollars was 484,722,100 in 1964 which was later reduced by probably about 10 to 30 million during the 1979 and 1980 silver melts.
The accompanying charts show the total stock of silver dollars and amounts held by the Treasury Department and in circulation. During the coinage of the Morgan dollar from 1878 through 1904, only about one-forth to one-eighth of the coins were actually in circulation at any given time. Most silver dollars were held by the Treasury as backing for silver certificate paper money which was much preferred for use by the public. The vast quantities of silver dollars coined just sat unused in the Treasury vaults to back the paper money. This was also true for the Peace silver dollar which never saw much circulation either. Many of the silver dollars released into circulation didn’t remain there very long and were returned to the Treasury after just light circulation.
By the late 1950’s only half of the silver dollars were in circulation by Treasury Department figures. Most of these however, were not actually in circulation but were in various commercial bank vaults and private hoards such as the Redfield estate and gambling casinos. Few silver dollars were actually used regularly by the public in the eastern states. They only saw appreciable circulation in the western sate where some of the public preferred hard money.
Based on the relatively low quantities of silver dollars that were in circulation until the 1950’s, it is estimated that about one-sixth to one-fifth of the pre-1921 Morgan Dollars never reached circulation. It is also estimated that one-fifth to one-quarter of the 1921 Morgan and Peace dollars never circulated. This would mean that about 40 to 50 million pre-1921 Morgans, 10 to 15 million 1921 Morgans and 30 to 40 Peace dollars exist today in uncirculated condition. Total uncirculated Morgan and Peace dollars are estimated at 80 to 100 million out of a total of about 450 to 470 million surviving silver dollars.
This may seem like an excessively large estimate of the quantity of uncirculated silver dollars to some people. But it must be remembered that almost 3 million uncirculated Carson City dollars were held back by the Treasury in 1964 because they were scarce compared to other Morgan and Peace Dollars. Vastly greater quantities of uncirculated common date Morgan S, O and P mint dates of pre-1921 Morgans were released and available at that time as well as large quantities of uncirculated 1921-P Morgan and common date Peace dollars of 1922-P & 1923-P.
No other contemporary U.S. coin has such availability in uncirculated condition. Compared to the Barber quarters and halves and the coins of the 1920’s this is a tremendous quantity of surviving uncirculated coins. Gold coins of the comparable time period were too expensive for many people to hoard. Subsidiary coins circulated extensively for commerce with few being held by the Treasury form year to year in uncirculated condition. Not many subsidiary coins were hoarded by rolls and bags throughout the silver dollar production time period. Only the U.S. Government could afford to store million and millions of silver dollars unused for many decades to back the silver certificates. Whereas silver dollars are available by the rolls and bags, most other contemporary uncirculated coins are traded only by individual pieces.
It is this very availability of the uncirculated silver dollar that such a large coin market has developed with them. At $30 to $50 average price per coin, the value of the uncirculated silver dollars is something like 2 to 5 billion dollars. The 350 to 390 million circulated silver dollars at $10 to $15 per coin represents 3.5 to 6 billion dollars in value. And that makes the silver dollars one of the largest segments in the current U.S. coin market.