Question: Regarding Morgan dollars, what does it mean when books say the coin is a reverse of a particular year, and what are the differences between them? Thanks, great column!
When a new coin is issued there are often changes made to strengthen or correct problems in striking the coin. I’ll use Morgan Dollars as an example. In 1878, the first year of the Morgan Dollar, someone noticed that the eagle on the coin had eight tail feathers. This bit of important news was brought to the attention of the United States Congress where a debate begun on the real number of tail feathers on an American eagle. It was finally decided that an eagle only had seven tail feathers and the correction was ordered. There was also another design change, this one involving the eagle’s breast. The original 1878 had a concave breast which was replaced by a convex breast that became the standard for the rest of the series.
Because dies were so expensive to make, the original dies continued to be used or corrected. That economy gave us several varieties of the 1878 Morgans:
- 1878 8 tail feathers
- 1878 7 tail feathers
- 1878 7 tail feathers, convex breast
- 1878 7 over 8 feathers (the old design reverse was salvaged)
There is also an 1879 Morgan Dollar with the concave reverse of 1878. ‘More government economy at work’.