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MORGAN SILVER DOLLARS (1878-1921)

1921 Morgan Silver Dollar

Optimal Collecting Grade MS-65
Circulation Strike Mintage
44,690,000
Proof Mintage

25-30 (estimated)
1921 Morgan Silver Dollar

The Pittman Act of 1918 ordered that hundreds of millions of dollars be melted at a profit. The reason is that the German government during World War I hoped to destabilize British rule over India by spreading rumors that the British could not redeem their paper currency for silver. Hoarding of silver followed and the price rose, which risked the British war effort. The British asked the United States, its ally to sell silver to increase the supply and lower the price. The Pittman Act was passed in response. It gave the U.S. the authority to melt and sell silver to the British government from 350 million silver dollars at the rate of $1.00 per ounce of silver plus the value of the copper in the coins. Over 270 million coins were melted. The proceeds were to be used to purchase new silver for dollar coins at a premium over the market price. As in the Bland-Allison Act of 1878 and the Sherman Silver Purchase Act of 1878, the Western silver industry was again supported at taxpayer expense.

At the Mint, the Morgan dollar hubs had been destroyed because no one expected further dollar coinage. Morgan assisted by Assistant Engraver John R. Sinnock made copy hubs. Because they had less detail and were made with lower relief, they were of poorer quality. The new 1921 dollars had Liberty with a flat cheek, bold lines of hair, and no crease above the chin. The stars were larger than the original. The reverse showed the eagle with a flat breast with virtually no feathers and arrows parallel to each other. Since it was believed that most of the new dollars would not circulate, no great care was used in making them. Eventually they were released in mint-sealed bags and used primarily in the Nevada gambling industry. During the 1970s, millions were melted for bullion as the price of silver increased.

In 1921 there were no official proof sets sold; however, Henry Chapman, a noted collector-coin dealer, went to the Mint and asked that mirrored proofs to be struck for him. Evidently Morgan had a private business using Mint equipment to make secret products like these proof coins. Morgan sold ten proofs to Chapman and five to Ambrose Swasey, an engineer, scientist, and philanthropist. In 1924 Chapman bought another 1921 proof dollar from Thomas Elder, a noted dealer. He paid $5.75, which was a large amount for a proof dollar at the time. Researchers believe that Chapman paid the higher price to raise the value of the pieces he had in stock.

Genuine proofs of this date are extremely rare; the situation is confused because a number of prooflike coins were sold as “Zerbe Proofs.” Farran Zerbe was the former president of the American Numismatic Association and publisher of The Numismatist. Allegedly a number of proofs were struck at his request to provide quality examples of the final issue of the Morgan dollar.

In the July 1955 issue of The Numismatist Stuart Mosher wrote, “In 1921 he [Farran Zerbe] was in California awaiting the arrival of the dies that were to be used to strike the first Peace dollars at the San Francisco Mint. The mint phoned him that the dies had arrived and he hastened there to see them put into operation. The new 1921 dies had arrived all right but they turned out to be dies for the old Morgan design which had not been coined since 1904, and not the dies for the Peace dollar which he had worked so hard and long to promote.

“Mr. Zerbe told … [Mosher] that he suggested to the chagrined mint officials that they could assuage his disappointment somewhat if they would strike off a few Morgan dollars from the new 1921 dies in Proof condition. They were happy to oblige and manufactured about two dozen which he bought and later handed out to his various coin collecting friends throughout the country.” It’s reasonable to assume that Zerbe did the same thing at the Philadelphia Mint as well. Hence, there may well have been two different strikings of the 1921 Philadelphia proofs.

In its population report, NGC has certified 23 Chapman proofs and 44 Zerbe proofs, one of which is a cameo. Similarly, PCGS has certified 42 Chapman proofs, one of which is a cameo. PCGS has also certified 82 1921 “Specimen Zerbe Special Strikes” and 4 1921-S “Specimen Zerbe Special Strikes.” In his Silver Dollar Encyclopedia, Bowers makes a distinction between proofs and presentation pieces. Evidently PCGS agrees with Bower’s point of view.

Specifications:
Weight: 26.73 grams
Composition: .900 silver, .100 copper
Net weight: .77344 ounces ASW
Diameter: 38.1 millimeters
Edge: reeded




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