The silver dollar was authorized by Congress on April 2, 1792, and first coined in 1794. This denomination includes some of the most popular series in American numismatics. Starting in 1971, the U.S. Mint has released copper-nickel, clad, and other non-silver dollar coins, which are also included in this section.
The first silver dollar type, with Flowing Hair, is easy enough to obtain in grades from VF through low Mint State. Striking usually ranges from poor to barely acceptable, and adjustment marks (from an overweight planchet being filed down to correct weight) are often seen. Accordingly, careful examination is needed to find a good example.
The silver dollar with the Draped Bust obverse in combination with the Small Eagle reverse was made from 1795 through 1798, with most examples being dated 1796 or 1797. Today both the 1796 and 1797 exist in about the same numbers. Although mintage figures refer to the quantities produced in the given calendar year, these do not necessarily refer to the dates on the coins themselves. Silver dollars of this type are fairly scarce. Sharpness of strike presents a challenge to the collector, and usually there are weaknesses in details, particularly on the reverse eagle.
Next follows the 1798–1804 type with Draped Bust obverse and Heraldic Eagle reverse. Many such coins exist, again mostly in grades from VF through lower Mint State levels. Striking can be indifferent, but the population is such that collectors have more to choose from.
The Gobrecht silver dollars of 1836 (starless obverse, stars on reverse, plain edge) and 1839 (stars on obverse, starless reverse, reeded edge) present a special challenge in the formation of a type set. For quite a few years these were considered to be patterns, and thus anyone forming a type set of regular-issue U.S. coins did not have to notice them. However, in recent decades research by R.W. Julian (in particular), Walter Breen, and others, has revealed that the vast majority of 1836 and 1839 silver dollars originally produced went into circulation at face value. Accordingly, they were coins of the realm at the time, were freely spent, and are deserving of a place among regular coinage types.
The 1836 Gobrecht dollar is easy enough to find, although expensive. The original coinage amounted to 1,600, to which an unknown number of restrikes can be added. The main problem arises with the 1839, made only to the extent of 300 pieces. Those that exist nearly always have abundant signs of circulation. This is the rarest of all major United States design types, even outclassing the 1796–1797 half dollar and the 1808 quarter eagle.
In 1840 the regular Liberty Seated dollar made its appearance, with the reverse depicting a perched eagle holding an olive branch and arrows. This style was continued through 1865; however, in 1866 the motto IN GOD WE TRUST was added to the reverse. Generally, both of these types can be easily enough found in circulated grades from VF up, as well as low Mint State levels. MS-63 and higher pieces are in the minority, particularly of the 1840–1865 type.
Morgan silver dollars, made by the hundreds of millions from 1878 through 1921, are easily found, with the 1881-S being at once the most common of all varieties existing today in gem condition and also usually seen with sharp strike and nice appearance.
Peace silver dollars of 1921 through 1935 exist in large quantities. Some collectors select the first year of issue, 1921, as a separate type, as the design is in high relief. The 1921 is plentiful in Mint State, but rarely comes sharply struck at the obverse and reverse center. Later Peace dollars with shallow relief abound in MS-63 and finer grades, although strike quality can be a problem.
Among later silver dollars of the Eisenhower, Susan B. Anthony, Sacagawea, Native American, and Presidential types, large supplies are in the hands of dealers and collectors, and finding an excellent example is easy.