Is there any one of the commemorative half dollars struck before World War II that can be traced as the cause of the government refusal to strike more such coins?
If any one of the coins could be blamed over the others, it would probably be the Oregon Trail piece. Severe abuses resulting from loopholes in the authorization act finally culminated in an amendment to the act to shut off further minuscule production, and was a major factor in the ban on further commemoratives.
Was the decision in 1804 to stop striking dollars (and $10 eagles) based on a law of some kind, like the Coinage Acts?
Actually, according to numismatic historian R. W. Julian, the government committed a technical foul of sorts at the time. The Coinage Act of 1792 still applied, and under that anyone depositing bullion could demand payment in any denomination coin he chose. If some astute depositor had challenged the Mint, our whole hobby might have changed radically.
Much has been said about the silver dollars not really circulating, except in limited areas. Was this true of the early half dollars as well, like the current halves, that seem to have disappeared?
As for the old ones, I note one contemporary comment that half dollars before 1834 “circulated to the bank, were distributed to the different vaults, and to brokers who exported them.”
There is strong evidence that the trend away from a circulating half dollar actually began right after World War II, and by the mid 1950s the quarter already had become the principal coin in commerce. Many, if not most, of the postwar vending machines were built to only take quarters, hastening the trend.
Is there a lettered edge variety of the 1885 Morgan dollar?
It’s a pattern (Judd 1747-49), rather than a variety. The edge has the “E PLURIBUS UNUM” motto in relief. Since normal obverse and reverse dies were used, the motto appears twice on the pattern.
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2011 U.S. Coin Digest: Commemoratives 1982-Present
your best reference for the latest details and values for these circulating and non-circulating coins.