$100 Silver Union by George Morgan

This 1 oz. silver round carries a rare design on its face – a forgotten sketch created nearly 100 years ago by George T. Morgan! Based off of the obverse of the silver trade dollar, this design was intended to be used on a 5 oz. gold coin used for large money transfers. Instead, it now has been used on this 1 oz. silver round in order to commemorate the splendid design of George T. Morgan.

George T. Morgan, who lived from 1845 to 1945, is perhaps the greatest American coin designer of all time.  He served as the 7th Chief Engraver of the United States Mint and is best known as the designer of the Morgan dollar (which is named for him), the most widely minted and collected classic U.S. coin ever created, but he was born and raised in Birmingham, England. 

After working at the British Royal Mint for some years, where he excelled as a coin designer, he was offered a position at the U.S. Mint as Special Engraver. The U.S. Mint Director needed someone to create original, new designs for the silver dollars the U.S. wanted to produce. At the time, the U.S. was experiencing a major silver rush and a boom in mining, and the Director felt that the existing silver dollar designs looked too similar to each other and that something fresh was needed. He contacted the Royal Mint’s Deputy Master, who recommended George Morgan for the position.

In the summer of 2006 while doing research for a book on U.S. gold coins, the legendary coin dealer and noted numismatic expert Jeff Garrett, who is currently the President of the American Numismatic Association, discovered some extraordinary sketches by Morgan at the Smithsonian Institution within the archives of the National Numismatic Collection.  These sketches were contained in a book Morgan owned and used that were donated to the NNC by a famous New York numismatic firm in 1966 and had been forgotten until Mr. Garrett found them.

The sketches were collected into a 2013 book by NNC curator and researcher Karen Lee, The Private Sketchbook of George T. Morgan: America’s Silver Dollar Artist , which is an amazing book that includes sketches Morgan created over the course of two decades.  The book uses these sketches to recreate the life and work of Mr. Morgan in England and the U.S.

One of the sketches that Mr. Garrett discovered has received considerable attention.  It is the design for a proposed pattern piece, a $100 Gold Union that is dated 1876.  The coin would have been the largest denomination coin issued by the U.S. at the time, or ever until 2015 when the $100 American Liberty high relief coin was issued.  And it also would have weighed approximately five ounces if it were ever actually struck.  However, the proposal to issue a pattern that might eventually become a coin was rejected.

This coin was intended for use not in circulation, given its hefty weight, but rather was designed to be used in international commerce to settle transactions of large amounts, especially between countries and banks.  It was clearly inspired both in concept and design by the U.S. trade dollar – a coin that ModernCoinMart frequently has available, along with many other classic U.S. dollars.

Because of the 1876 date, some people speculate the piece could have also been intended to mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of the U.S. in 1776.

The idea was floated because at the time there was a paper shortage in the U.S, which reduced the amount of paper currency that could be issued, but at the same time, this was the height of the 1873-1879 economic depression.  In such an economic environment there was very little need for high denomination gold pieces.  However, two $50 Half-Union gold patterns were issued, and they reside in the Smithsonian Collection.

Coin collectors and admirers of the great work of Morgan now have a chance to see what the proposed 1876 $100 Union coin would have looked like because the Smithsonian partnered with the New York Mint to produce silver proof examples of this amazing piece.  Each one has been encapsulated by NGC and comes with a certificate of authenticity and information about the item.

In addition to the fascinating history behind the $100 Union and the discovery of Morgan’s sketch, the appeal of this pattern piece lies mainly in the superb design that evokes the Seated Liberty coinage and Trade Dollars of the 19th century. 

On the obverse it depicts a seated Lady Liberty wearing a long gown and a cap and facing to the right, holding an olive branch in one hand and a staff in the other.  In the left background is a harbor with incoming ships to symbolize commerce and to Liberty’s left is some wheat chaff.  There are 13 stars in a circle for the 13 original colonies along the inner rim plus the inscriptions, “LIBERTY” and “1876.”

On the reverse is a defiant heraldic eagle perched on top of a union shield with three arrows and an olive branch at its feet plus inscriptions for “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,” “ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS,” and “IN GOD WE TRUST.”

One of the many mysteries surrounding Morgan’s sketch is exactly when he produced it.  It is believed that he may have begun working on the design for the $100 Union while he was still in England, though that is not certain.

Don’t miss this chance to own a piece of history at a great price; to see what the remarkable 1876 $100 Union coin may have looked like; and to celebrate the classic coin designs of the 19th century and the artistic achievements of one of the greatest coin designers in history, George Morgan.

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