A Dave's Collectible Coins Article

1878 Morgan Dollar Varieties

In 1878 the first Morgan dollar coins were struck. These are some of the most prized coins among coin collectors. There were several varieties of the coin which occurred in that first year. As a collector, you should know the differences as these help establish value.

There are three varieties of Morgan dollar which are separated by differences on the back (reverse) of the coin. The differences can be found in the following:

  • Breast of the Eagle
  • Tail Feathers of the Eagle
  • Feathers on the Shafts of the Arrows

We will take these up separately.

1878 Morgan Dollar, Original Design

Photo by Dave's Coins

BREAST OF THE EAGLE

There are two separate designs for the breast of the eagle. Following is a photo which shows the original design. It is rather flat to the touch.

Later, the breast was changed to be rounded.

This design was used in part of 1878 and all through 1879.

Flat Breast

Photo by Dave's Coins

Rounded Breast

Photo by Dave's Coins

TAIL FEATHERS OF THE EAGLE

The original design of the Morgan dollar reverse had eight tail feathers.

The Director of the U.S. Mint pointed out to the engraver, George T. Morgan, that all previous eagles on coins had odd numbers of feathers. They decided to conform with this tradition and change the number of tail feathers to an odd number. The first attempt came in the form of modifying the original dies to show seven tail feathers. But, the eight tail feathers still showed through under the seven tail feathers as shown in the picture on the side.

Following this, new coins were minted with seven tail feathers. This is also known as “Reverse of 79” because it was used as the reverse in 1879.

There were only 749,500 Morgan dollars minted with eight tail feathers.

It’s uncertain how many “seven tail feathers over eight tail feathers” variety were minted.

The mintage of the 1878 Morgan dollars with seven tail feathers was 9,759,300!

1878 Morgan Dollar with Eight Tail Feathers

Photo by Dave's Coins

1878 Morgan Dollar with Seven Tail Feathers

Photo by Dave's Coins

1878 Morgan Dollar with Seven Tail Feathers OVER Eight Tail Feathers

Photo by Dave's Coins

FEATHERS ON THE SHAFTS OF THE ARROWS

On the original design, the feathers on the shafts of the arrows were rather parallel.

This design changed at the same time the number of tail feathers was lessened and breast was rounded. You can see in the photo on the side, the top arrow is now slanted.

Looking for the style of feathers in the shaft of the arrows is valuable in determining which kind of 1878 Morgan dollar you have.

1878 Morgan Dollar with Parallel Feathers on the Arrow Shafts

Photo by Dave's Coins

1878 Morgan Dollar with Slanted Feathers on the Arrow Shafts

Photo by Dave's Coins

7 TAIL FEATHERS MIX & MATCH

There are three combinations which occurred on the 1878 coins with the seven tail feathers.

First came the 7 Tail Feathers OVER 8 Tail Feathers with FLAT breast and PARALLEL arrow feathers. This can be referred to as “1878 Morgan Silver Dollar 7 Over 8 Tail Feathers”.

There is a 7 tail feathers variety with FLAT breast and PARALLEL arrow feathers. This can be referred to as “1878 Morgan Silver Dollar 7 Tail Feathers Rev 78”.

And, there is a 7 tail feathers with ROUNDED breast and SLANTED arrow feathers. This can be referred to as “1878 Morgan Silver Dollar 7 Tail Feathers Reverse of 79”

Reviewing the information above, you can determine which type of Morgan dollars you have.

1878 Morgan Silver Dollar 7 Over 8 Tail Feathers

Photo by Dave's Coins

1878 Morgan Silver Dollar 7 Tail Feathers Reverse of 79

Photo by Dave's Coins

1878 Morgan Silver Dollar 7 Tail Feathers Rev 78

Photo by Dave's Coins

1878 PROOF MORGAN DOLLARS

Per PCGS, there are believed to be less than 750 proof 1878 Morgan dollars in existence. The proofs have a mirror-like surface and extra care was taken in their minting to make them superior to business strike coins.

You may come across the term “proof-like” when reviewing Morgan Dollars. This is not a proof coin. It is actually a business strike coin which by luck or fortunate happenstance is a great example of the coin. It has some qualities normally associated with a proof coin. For example, it probably has a great press and is shiny.

Don’t confuse the two! There could be a significant difference in value!

EVEN MORE VARIETIES!

The U.S. Mint, producing these coins in abundance, occasionally made errors when creating the dies. At any one time, two or three SLIGHTLY different dies have been in production of Morgan dollars. These different dies then created coins with SLIGHT variances that some collectors have documented. The numismatists Leroy Van Allen and A. George Mallis did much work on this and wrote a book concerning these varieties. Some of the imperfections are very amusing! For example, in one version, Lady Liberty looks like she’s puckering up for a kiss. This one was minted at the New Orleans Mint in 1888 and is known as “Hot Lips”.

These coins with slight imperfections are called “VAMs” which is just an abbreviation of “Van Allen” and “Mallis”. This can be a very amusing study. And, it could be profitable if you find a Morgan dollar that has a rare defect. But, bear in mind, not all numismatic circles recognize VAMs.

Which Morgan Dollars do you need for your collection? More importantly, which ones do you want just because they are a beautiful coin?

Hot Lips Variety of 1888 O Morgan Dollar

Photo by CoinWeek

References:

USA Coin Book – 1878 Morgan Dollars : 7 Tail Feathers – Reverse of 1878 – Parallel Arrow Feather, Early Silver Dollars
https://www.usacoinbook.com/coins/3188/dollars/morgan/1878-P/7-tail-feathers-reverse-of-1878-parallel-arrow-feather/

CSN – 1878 7/8 Tail Feathers Morgan dollars
https://shopcsntv.com/blog/1878-78-tail-feathers-morgan-dollars

PCGS – 1878 7TF $1 Reverse of 1879 (Regular Strike)
https://www.pcgs.com/coinfacts/coin/1878-7tf-1-reverse-1879/7076

PCGS Coinfacts – Morgan Dollar
https://www.pcgs.com/coinfacts/category/morgan-dollar-1878-1921/744

Coin Week – Hot Lips and Scar Face: Two Dramatic 1888-O Morgan Dollar Varieties
https://coinweek.com/us-coins/hot-lips-scar-face-two-dramatic-1888-o-morgan-dollar-varieties/

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