Posted by John Dale
George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four is one of several books I read when I was in high school but did not fully understand until I re-read it years later. Among those influenced by Orwell’s novel was Anthony Burgess of A Clockwork Orange fame, who wrote a 1970s update on Orwell’s idea which he titled 1985. For me, though, the best dystopian work titled “1985” is not the Burgess novel but the song by early 2000s alt-rock band SR-71, more famously covered by pop punk band Bowling for Soup, about a woman’s unfulfilling, antidepressant-supported suburban life and her yearning for the music and pop culture of her youth.
While it turns out that the popular story for the origin of the title of Nineteen Eighty-Four, that Orwell switched around the last two digits of the year 1948, is untrue, I’m not one to let a clever folk derivation go to waste, so I’ll take the year 1985 and mix up the middle two digits. The result is 1895, and while the possibilities for an alternate-history tale are limitless, if the writer had a coin-collecting background, perhaps the silver dollars of that year would appear in a subplot.
Morgan dollar enthusiasts collect the proof silver dollars struck in Philadelphia that year, mostly because there is no corresponding business strike issue to speak of; while Mint records indicate that Philadelphia coined 12,000 pieces for circulation, no matching coins have been authenticated. Like any good numismatic enigma, the conundrum of the missing 1895 Morgan dollars has accumulated its fair share of possible solutions:
Some claim the coins never existed, that they were a trick of accounting or that the coins struck in 1895 were actually dated 1894; others believe that the coins were indeed struck, but that the whole mintage was wiped out when silver dollars in Treasury vaults were melted in the early 20th century – with more than a quarter-billion Morgan dollars melted, 12,000 coins are nothing by comparison. Then there are the handful of numismatists who hold out hope that somewhere a business strike 1895 Morgan dollar exists, waiting to be found. I’m one of them.
In the absence of business strikes, though, collectors have turned to proofs and done so for decades, making the 880 proof Morgan dollars minted in 1895 among the most coveted coins in existence. Many of them survive today, but few of them have lasted more than a century and done so as well as the PR68 Ultra Cameo specimen coming up in Heritage’s August Los Angeles Auction. It is a shining exemplar of the coiner’s art with gorgeously contrasted mirror-fields and frosted design elements. Unlike the existence of business strike 1895 Philadelphia Morgan dollars, this specimen’s beauty is no mystery.
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-John Dale Beety