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Part 1: Examining the symbolism of the Morgan Silver Dollar

Updated: Oct 25, 2021

This is not merely a description of the Morgan Silver Dollar, it is an exploration of the symbolism contained in the robust design of the coin by George T. Morgan.We may simply admire the coin as a numismatic treasure based upon luster, eye appeal, details and contact marks along with other aspects of grading coins. Yet, the true treasure lies in the complex theme of Liberty and Freedom illustrated on the obverse design. Part 1 will focus upon the features and the fluidness of this theme which has made this one of the most popular numismatic coins collected.

Many times we hear the obverse of the coin simply described as "Miss Liberty" which obscures the complexities contained within this intricate design that artistically blends numerous messages of Liberty. Certainly the meaning of the obverse of the Morgan Dollar has been lost over the course of 143 years. Nevertheless, the meaning of the symbolism impacts and personifies the American Spirit of yesteryear and present time.

The key components of the obverse design include:

  1. Miss Liberty Profile

  2. A band in the hair with the word "Liberty" inscribed on it

  3. A bouquet of cotton boll, cotton leaves and hearts of wheat

  4. A phrygian cap

  5. Thirteen stars

  6. The phrase "E Pluribus Unum"

It is surely a testament of the artistic skill of George T. Morgan detailing six symbolic components with the message of "Liberty" on a coin measuring 38.10mm in diameter. This is no small feat in itself.

Miss Liberty Profile:

Although controversial, it is believed that the model for the profile was a school teacher named Anna Willess Williams from Philadelphia. Although originally desirous of a model for the Goddess of Liberty. Mr Morgan decided upon an American woman who was later described as having the most perfect profile he had ever seen.

A Band in the hair with the word "Liberty" inscribed on it.

The imagery is in plain site "Liberty" is shouted from the mountain tops personifying the theme intended for the obverse of the coin.

A bouquet of cotton boll, cotton leaves and hearts of wheat

Located just behind the band in the hair of Miss Liberty is a symbolic bouquet representing unity. Let's step into our time machine for a moment and visit the 19th century. Cotton is King in the south with tobacco a close second. Grown on Plantations with slave labor business is booming. In the north we have subsistence agriculture with a large demand for wheat milled into flour, especially white flour. Unfortunately, America becomes embroiled in the Civil War which last until 1865. President Lincoln released the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 which read;

"all persons held as slaves within any State, the people whereof shall be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free;"

The Civil War is now centered on the abolishment of slavery and freedom. The Blue against the Gray. In the end General Robert E Lee surrenders to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House and within 16 months all of the Confederate armies had surrendered.

Returning to the present we ask why are these historical events significant in understanding the symbolism of the Morgan Silver Dollar? First and foremost, the bouquet in the hair is not a sheath of leaves as some descriptions have stated. One does not need a loupe or magnification to identify a bouquet of cotton bolls, cotton leaves and hearts of wheat which considering the tumultuous historical times there was a need for unity which is best symbolized by the elements of the bouquet.

The Phrygian Cap

With hair swept back on Miss Liberty it becomes neatly nestled in a Phrygian cap also known as the Liberty hat or the Slave hat. Dating back to 18th century France revolutionist wore this type of hat seeking freedom and liberty. Historical records indicate a similar style hat was worn in Roman times by slaves that became a freeman. Again we witness Morgan's commitment to utilizing symbolism to express freedom and liberty.

Thirteen Stars

There is no better symbolism of freedom and liberty in the United States than referencing the original thirteen colonies who united and fought together for independence during the Revolutionary War. Alas, we recall the stories of Paul Revere, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington among others that began a war with the British resulting in the formation of the United States of America.

The Phrase "E Pluribus Unum"

A latin phrase meaning "of the many,one". which was the unofficial motto of the United States until 1965. A fun fact of E Pluribus Unum is the phrase consist of 13 letters which symbolically represents the original 13 colonies. It is no surprise that the founding fathers Adams, Franklin and Jefferson proposed this as the motto for the United States which they may have chosen for the symbolism it represents.

As with any article prepared by the Millyard Team we encourage comments, criticisms or questions concerning the subject of this blog.

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