The 1878 Morgan dollar is extremely historic, but it can get confusing because there are a number of different 1878 Morgan dollars. All are worth knowing – and probably owning.
The Morgan dollar had been created by the Bland-Allison Act. Many people today may overlook the fact that it was not warmly received at the time.
The Morgan dollar was replacing the Trade dollar. The Congress in 1876 had revoked the legal tender status of the Trade dollar allowing them to trade it as 420 grains of .900 fine silver. The price of silver had dropped and many were unpleasantly surprised to find that they would get far less than the $1 face value.
Under the circumstances, no silver dollar was going to be well-received. The first Morgan dollars were produced in March of 1878 and it did not take long for the critics to fire away. The editor of the American Journal of Numismatics stated, “The long line of monstrosities issued from the United States Mint, certainly receives its crown in the new dollar. The ugliness of the piece adds another wrong to the original one of dishonesty.”
The first Morgan dollars showed the eagle with eight tail feathers, but that was quickly stopped when it was discovered that eagles had one feather longer than the others, suggesting an odd number of tail feathers.
The generally accepted total for the original Morgan dollar is on the order of 750,000 pieces. Many showed up in bags released by the Treasury in the early 1960s, so this variety is relatively available. It is priced at $128 in MS-60 and $1,375 in MS-65.
The first efforts to change the tail feather count was a hurried approach that resulted in doubled tail feathers, or what’s known as “7 over 8 tail feathers.” There is no established mintage on the 7 over 8 tail feathers variety, but Q. David Bowers puts the mintage at an estimated 500,000 in The Official Red Book Of Morgan Silver Dollars.
The variety is priced at $145 in MS-60, while an MS-65 is $2,600. The released Treasury vault coins provided a fresh supply for the market in Mint State.
The next type of 1878 Morgans are known as the reverse of 1878 and the reverse of 1879. The eagle’s breast is flat on the reverse of 1878 but round on the reverse of 1879. The reverse of 1878 is priced at $74 in MS-60, while the reverse of the 1879 is at $80. In MS-65 the reverse of 1878 is $1,375 while the reverse of 1879 is currently at $2,650. Bowers estimates that the reverse of 1878 had a mintage of 7,850,000. He puts the reverse of 1879 at 1,500,000.
Collectors have options with the 1878 Morgan dollar, but there is a solid case to be made for obtaining all four varieties. All are interesting since they reflect a very busy time at the Mint as it tried to deal with the demands of a new dollar and a public that was far from happy over recent events.