Five United States Mints struck Morgan Silver Dollars from 1878 to 1921. The main mint at Philadelphia prepared the obverse and reverse dies, replacing them as needed. The mint marks were punched into the reverse dies by hand either in Philadelphia before shipping, or at the branch mint. On occasion, the dates or mint marks on the dies were altered. Sometimes a sloppy die engraver or mint worker would accidentally make a gouge on the die. All these man made alterations to the dies resulted in what numismatists call variations or die varieties.

The year 1878 was the first year of issue for the Morgan Silver Dollar. The reverse features an eagle with either 7 or 8 tail feathers. A unique variety made at Philadelphia is the 1878-P 7/8 Tail Feathers. The Philadelphia Mint modified some 8 tail feather reverse dies by grinding out the existing feathers and re-engraving 7 tail feathers. This resulted in a clearly visible doubling on some of the bottoms of the tail feathers. This variety should be part of any Morgan Dollar checklist for 1878.

In 1879, the Carson City, Nevada Mint struck two varieties of Morgan Dollars. One shows a clear “CC.” The other variety shows a doubled “CC” mint mark. This variety is known as the 1879-CC “Capped Die.” There are two schools of thought among numismatists as to how this occurred. Some say the “CC” mint mark rusted after being punched, resulting in a doubled image on the struck coins. Others say that the “Capped Die” variety is the result of a doubly punched mint mark by a sloppy worker. No matter what the explanation, the 1879-CC “Capped Die” variety is highly sought after and very difficult to obtain in higher grades.

In 1880, again at Carson City, some 1879 dated dies were ground out (the 79 in 1879) and re-punched to depict 1880. These dies were not perfectly altered by the mint. This resulted in four distinct varieties of 1880 Carson City dollars; the 1880-CC, the 1880/79-CC, and the 1880-CC “high” and “low” 8/7 varieties. The 1880/79-CC clearly shows the “ghosting” of 79 under the intended 80. The “high” and “low” 7 varieties show a “ghosted” 7 in either a high or low position under the intended second 8 in 1880. These varieties are needed for a complete “CC” set and are highly sought after.

Carson City also gives us two unique die varieties in 1890 and 1891. In 1890 someone at the mint “messed up” by allowing a tool to create a gouge in the reverse die between the left side of the tail feathers and the wreath. This gouge in the die, when minted, created a visible bar connecting the eagle to the wreath! In 1891, a mint worker (the same suspect as in 1890?) allowed a tool to create another gouge in the reverse die. This time it was located just under the eagle’s mouth. When minted, it appeared as if the eagle was spitting! The 1890-CC “Tailbar” and 1891-CC “Spitting Eagle” varieties are colorful additions to the “CC” Morgan dollar set. These recognized varieties are sought after by both collectors and investors.

A final variety is the famous 1900-O/CC Morgan Dollar. This coin was created due to the closing of the Carson City Mint. Surplus dies from the Mint were shipped to New Orleans in 1900. The “CC” mint mark was ground out from the die and re-punched with the “O” of New Orleans. As before, someone didn’t do a thorough job removing the “CC.” This variety clearly shows a “ghosted” “CC” under the “O.” This well known coin is a must for any Morgan Dollar set as it combines the defunct mints from New Orleans AND Carson City in one coin!