Silver Dollars at the Back of Vault Survived
By Paul M. Green
impact of the Pittman Act of 1918 on the
supplies of silver dollars today can never be
overlooked. In one brief period a total of
270,232,722 silver dollars were melted, with the
bulk of the silver being shipped to India.
It could have been worse. The Pittman Act
actually authorized the melting of up to 350
million silver dollars. That said, 270 million
silver dollars is a significant number as it
probably represented 50 percent or more of the
number in vaults at the time.
We have no choice but to live with the fact that
all those dollars are gone forever from the
market. What has historically made the matter
difficult is that there was never an accounting
of what numbers of what dates were actually
melted. It has produced some surprises along the
way, and for some they have been costly
It must be remembered that for decades
collectors had very little knowledge about the
supplies of most Morgan dollars. There were
hundreds of millions of Morgans in the vaults
and no one was providing any information as to
what dates they were. Additionally, there were
the better than 270 million that had been
destroyed. The problem was that if a date was
tough, no one knew if that meant it had been
melted or if it was simply yet to be paid out
from the vaults.
New Orleans dates proved to be the classics of
"rare yesterday, common today." The 1898-O,
1903-O and 1904-O were all tough. The assumption
by many at the time, however, was that the three
had all been basically destroyed under the
provisions of the Pittman Act. Certainly that
was possible, and the three became key dates.
The 1903-O was actually the key Mint State
Morgan dollar in the late 1950s and early 1960s
at a price of around $1,500.
Then in November of 1962 the 1903-O suddenly
began to emerge from the Treasury by the bag.
The estimates vary, although it was probably at
least 200,000 examples. Suddenly the 1903-O was
readily available at about $15 and not $1,500.
The same thing happened to a lesser degree with
the 1898-O and 1904-O.
Ironically, despite the fact that large numbers
of the three previously tough dates emerged,
there is reason to believe that some numbers of
each of the date had been melted under the
Pittman Act. All three dates had mintages in the
millions, and the numbers that emerged from the
Treasury could not account for anything close to
their full mintages.
Misunderstandings because of the Pittman Act
melting have been a constant factor in the
Morgan dollar story over the years. The
proof-only 1895, which has an officially listed
mintage of 12,880, was a date where some felt
that the case could be made that the entire
mintage except for 880 proofs was actually
destroyed. That would have been, except for the
fact that the listed mintage turned out to be in
error. To the best of our knowledge, there were
never 12,000 business strikes. This is just
another example of some of the confusion created
by a huge melting where the records do not
include the numbers of each date.
The case can certainly be made that the majority
of Morgan dollar dates had some losses because
of the Pittman Act. One group of exceptions
might be the Carson City dollars of the period
from 1880 to 1885. These are the dates that were
found in large numbers in the Treasury vaults
and became the coins sold in the 1970s by the
General Services Administration.
Their story is likely to be simple in that they
were shipped east around 1900 after the Carson
City facility stopped producing coins. Being the
first coins shipped from any facility to the
Treasury, they probably ended up in the back of
the vault. When dollars were needed for melting
or for use, it would have been natural to simply
take the bags from the front of the vault.
Consequently, these Carson City coins were never
melted or paid out, resulting in the enormous
numbers that were eventually sold in the 1970s.
Other dates, however, were not so lucky. Stored
in vaults in the various mints or in the front
of the Treasury vault, they would potentially be
pulled out to be shipped to the casinos in Reno
or the melting pot as a result of the Pittman
Act. Almost all would have suffered some losses,
but which ones had the largest losses from the
There were many factors besides the Pittman Act
that could have played a role in certain dates
not being available today. That said, coins that
were paid out or not saved in the 1930s and
1940s, for example, is something we can usually
trace. Finding the dates that simply vanished
and left no record of having been released into
circulation is where we find the dates most
likely to have been destroyed as a result of the
Generally there is a belief that most Carson
City dates were not destroyed, and that seems to
be correct. The 1879-CC may, however, be an
exception. Today the 1879-CC is seen as
basically the second-toughest of the Carson City
Morgan dates behind only the 1889-CC. This is a
little unusual since the 1879-CC actually has a
reasonably solid mintage of 756,000.
There are reports of a few examples of the
1879-CC in the Redfield hoard and a bag or two
in the 1950s, but there are never reports of any
numbers of the 1879-CC being released at any
time. The best guess to explain the lack of
numbers has to be Pittman Act melting. It did
not destroy the entire mintage of the 1879-CC,
but it looks very possible that hundreds of
thousands of an already fairly low total ended
up in the melting pot.
Another date that might surprise some as a
likely candidate to have been heavily melted is
the 1881-S. The 1881-S is the date that most
turn to today if they want an inexpensive top
quality Morgan dollar. There are literally
millions of 1881-S Morgans in the market today,
and a huge percentage of them are unusually
Under the circumstances, it seems unlikely that
large numbers were melted, but it must be
remembered that the 1881-S had a mintage of
12,760,000. Some were released around 1881, but
it seems that at least a few million would have
made their way into the Pittman Act melting pot
simply because there were so many to spare. It's
an ironic thing to have a very available date
also be heavily melted, but that seems to be the
situation with the 1881-S.
The 1884-O is another case of a large mintage
that was seemingly cut down by some force that
would most likely have been the Pittman Act
melting. The 1884-O had a mintage of 9,730,000.
We know because of circulated examples that some
numbers were released in circulation at the time
of striking, but after that there are not a lot
of reports of the 1884-O appearing.
Some 1884-O bags were released in the 1930s and
there were other releases in 1962, but the
totals come well short of that 9,730,000
mintage, which is a good indication that some
numbers were melted around 1918.
The mintage of the 1884-S was not as large at
3,200,000, but it just does not seem to be found
in any numbers today. Over the years there were
reports of a few bags being paid out, but never
many. Those few bags paid out in the 1950s look
to be the survivors as the 1884-S just never
appears to have had a heavy release. That
suggests there were scattered bags and not the
sort of quantity one would expect from a mintage
of 3.2 million pieces.
The 1885-CC is interesting, as it might be one
exception to the 1880s Carson City dollars. In
fact, 65 percent of its mintage was found in the
GSA sales. The other 35 percent, however, is
subject to question.
The 1885-CC is easily the toughest Morgan dollar
to find in circulated grades. That's right,
tougher than the 1893-S or 1889-CC. Only the
proof-only 1895 might be tougher. That extreme
lack of circulated examples suggests that the
remaining 35 percent of its mintage did not get
released into circulation.
That makes the Pittman Act a reasonable
explanation for what happened to them. The
numbers would not have been large since the
1885-CC only had a mintage of 228,000, but the
percentage of that mintage destroyed could well
have been significant.
The 1885-CC might be the most extreme case, but
it is very possible that among the Carson City
dollars that we assume were melted in 1918,
there were some of almost every CC date. After
all, the highest percentage in the GSA sale was
about 85 percent, but most others were closer to
50 percent of the original mintage. Certainly
the other half of the mintages of those dates
went somewhere, and the Pittman Act destruction
might be a pretty good guess as to why those
dates were so tough prior to the GSA sales.
The 1886-S, with a mintage of 750,000, is
another date that potentially seems to have lost
some numbers in the melting of the Pittman Act.
With a modest mintage, we would not expect to
see too many examples of the 1886-S floating
around. However, for many years after the
Pittman Act melting, the 1886-S was seen as a
rarity. Finally a few bags did emerge, but it
never showed up in any numbers and that includes
the massive releases of the 1960s. The likely
reason is that it was simply gone long by then,
having been melted back in 1918.
The 1890-S is a date with a large mintage of
8,230,373. It appears that large numbers of the
1890-S ended up in a variety of places. It looks
to have been released in some numbers at the
time it was produced as was fairly normal for
San Francisco Morgans. They were seeing use in
the San Francisco area. Certainly there still
would have been ample numbers of the 1890-S
sitting in the vaults when the call for dollars
to be melted was received.
Even with perhaps millions hitting the melting
pot, the 1890-S was still seen in some numbers
in later years. Bags were released in the 1940s
and 1950s. While there were not large numbers in
the Treasury releases of the 1960s, the Redfield
hoard reportedly had 20 to 40 bags. So, while
available, the 1890-S would probably be much
more available had numbers not ended up in the
Pittman Act melting.
The 1891-CC was another Carson City date that
seems to have potentially been lost in some
numbers to the Pittman Act melting. With a
mintage of 1,618,000 coins, the 1891-CC should
have been available, yet it was not in the GSA
sales in any numbers.
Some were probably released into circulation at
the time, but the most likely reason for the
disappearance of most of the mintage would be
the Pittman Act. There were less than 6,000 in
the GSA sales, and the few bags reported in the
1940s and 1950s are just a drop in the bucket of
the supply that should have been present.
The 5,296,000 mintage 1891-S is another date
that seemingly had a lot of its mintage
disappear about the time of the Pittman Act.
Once again, some were probably paid out, while
others did appear in the 1940s. But as the years
passed, there were no great numbers of 1891-S
dollars emerging as might be expected. They had
to disappear somewhere. They never appeared in
the Treasury releases, and that is usually the
sign that they were melted.
The 1896-O was another date with a solid mintage
of 4,900,000. It should have been around in bags
for many years. While a few did appear in 1953
and 1956, the numbers were certainly nothing
like what would be expected. The one best answer
as to where they all went was the melting pot
back in 1918.
The 1896-S with a mintage of 5 million is a very
similar case. It should have been seen over the
years in some number, but that has not happened.
In fact, by the 1970s the 1896-S was seen as
tough in Mint State, which is very unusual
considering its mintage.
The 1898-O was the first of the three dates that
was assumed to have been virtually totally
destroyed. That was before large numbers of the
1898-O appeared in the 1960s, causing its price
to drop as suddenly there were enough 1898-O
dollars to go around. Even with high surviving
numbers and a mintage of 4,440,000, there is
actually a very good chance that some of that
mintage was melted. However, the melting was not
as large as many had suspected prior to the
release of large numbers of the 1898-O in the
There are virtually no Philadelphia Morgan
dollars where we can find clear evidence of
Pittman Act losses. The 1901 may be the one
exception, as it had a mintage of 6,962,000.
With that sort of mintage, the 1901 should have
been relatively common and large numbers of bags
should have been released over the years. In
fact, the 1901 was somewhat available but the
expected numbers of bags never appeared. Somehow
large numbers of the 1901 simply disappeared
and, as usual, the leading suspect for that is
Pittman Act melting.
The 1903-O was the classic. Almost unavailable
prior to November of 1962, the working
assumption was that the entire 4,450,000 mintage
had been destroyed. The Pittman Act likely did
claim a large percentage of the 1903-O mintage,
but not all as everyone had assumed. When the
1903-O went from $1,500 to $15 in price, it an
interesting situation. It is easy to
misunderstand what happened. Yes, large numbers
were released, but the initial assumption that
large numbers of the 1903-O were melted is
probably correct. Three million of the 4,450,000
were probably destroyed, and the total might
have been more.
The 1903-O was virtually unknown prior to
November of 1962 when the first bags started
appearing. That's highly unusual for a coin with
a mintage of 4,450,000. The few known examples
at the time tended to be circulated, and then
came the release of the bags. The number
released has been estimated at up to 1 million,
although more likely it was fewer than 500,000.
Whatever the total, all the other examples from
the 4,450,000 mintage simply disappeared and
that probably means in the Pittman Act melting.
The 1904-O was in a very similar situation. With
a mintage of 3,720,000, the assumption was that
virtually all had been destroyed by the Pittman
Act because there were very few available in the
early 1960s. This made the 1904-O a key date,
although not quite as tough as the 1903-O. Then
suddenly in the 1960s more than a million
examples hit the market. They had been sealed in
a Treasury vault since 1929. That release was
enough to make the 1904-O available, but it is
worth remembering nowadays that the total
released was still only about one-third of the
entire original mintage. As the 1904-O was a key
date prior to the Treasury release, we have to
assume virtually none of the remaining
two-thirds of the mintage was ever seen. Those
more than 2 million examples were almost
certainly victims of the Pittman Act melting as
Certainly there are other dates where the case
can be made that some numbers were probably
destroyed. It stands to reason that when 270
million pieces are melted, almost every Morgan
dollar date would have at least a few examples
involved in the destruction. These dates,
however, appear to be ones where we can see
greater evidence than usual that they were
melted and that the melting had a significant
impact on our supply today.
It was fortunate for collectors that the
supplies of most Morgan dollars were so large.
Pittman Act melting reduced the supplies, but
did not really create many rarities. Some dates
are tougher than they should be, but generally
speaking, the bulk of the dates heavily
destroyed in the Pittman Act melting still are
available to collectors today. There are a few
exceptions. The 1879-CC is a tough date, for
example. But realistically the Pittman Act
melting could have created many more problems in
terms of supplies today than appears to actually
be the case.