The 1885 silver dollar, commonly known as a Morgan silver dollar, features the profile of Lady Liberty on the obverse side and an eagle on the reverse side. The value of silver dollars has risen considerably, and the 1885 silver dollar is no exception. Morgan dollars from 1885 are not considered rare, but low production from the San Francisco and Carson City mints provide a range of prices for collectors to choose from.
The Morgan silver dollar was created by politics. Many in Congress lobbied to have the mint produce silver dollars after the unpopular Seated Liberty dollar ceased in 1873. Another major factor in the production of the Morgan silver dollar was the massive quantities of silver being mined in Nevada. Both factors led to the passing of the Bland-Allison Act of 1878 that authorized the design and minting of a new U.S. silver dollar.
The design of the Morgan half dollar was created by British engraver George T. Morgan. The design was awarded to Morgan because the mint director Henry P. Linderman was dissatisfied with past coin designs by the the chief engraver William Barber and his son, Charles. They were in charge of designing the Barber dime, Barber quarter and Barber half dollar. Morgan assumed his design would end up on a half dollar, but was soon informed it would be placed on a silver dollar. Morgan then chose a local schoolteacher, Anna Willess Williams, to pose for the design of Lady Liberty's profile.
All silver dollars have a minimum melt value. This value helps determine the starting value for silver dollars in good condition. The Morgan silver dollar has a net weight of 0.77344 ounces of pure silver, making it a target for melting in 1918. Many of these coins were melted by the mint and replaced with the silver Peace dollar according to the Pittman Act, requiring all melted coins to be replaced. Although the number of Morgan dollars was significantly reduced, many bank vaults and the U.S. Treasury still had many brilliant uncirculated coins that eventually ended up in the hands of collectors.
Condition plays a vital role in the value of an 1885 Morgan silver dollar. Proofs and uncirculated coins bring in double or triple the value of the same coin in circulated condition. There are three places where a coin collector can detect wear on the 1885 silver dollar. The first area is on the reverse side on the crest of the eagle's chest. Two other points on the obverse side are the upper fold of Lady Liberty's cap and the hair just above her eye and ear.
The 1885 silver dollar ranges in value from $11 in good circulated condition up to $400 for brilliant, uncirculated coins with specific mint marks. The Carson City mint mark values begin at $300 for good condition because the mint only produced 228,000 coins. The easiest 1885 silver dollars to find are the Philadelphia and New Orleans versions, each worth $11 to $25. These two mints produced more than 25 million coins. The San Francisco mint produced more than 1 million, making it worth slightly more in uncirculated condition.