Coin collectors have long believed Anna W. Williams was the model for George Morgan’s 1878 silver dollar design, but was she?
It was a time when any female who modeled for an artist was lumped with immoral and fallen women. The public morality enjoyed praise for allegorical female figures in painting, architecture and sculpture, but heaped collective scorn if the same creation was identified as a specific woman. Anna W. Williams, known to her friends as “Nannie,” was caught in this hypocritical morality. She left no written expression of its emotional effects, but we know that she and her friends denied the accusations. To do anything else would have meant personal humiliation and ruin.
Within a year of the first release of George Morgan’s silver dollar design in 1878, Philadelphia newspapers were speculating about identity of the woman who posed for the Liberty portrait. Speculative reports were that a local woman, Anna W. Williams, had modeled for Morgan and it was her profile depicted on the new coin. Reporters interviewed Miss Williams and some of her friends, but could find no definitive answer – so they invented stories based on a few scarce facts. Curiously, one newspaper, at the close of a lengthy article, admitted that the dollar’s Miss Liberty did not resemble Miss Williams, but looked more like Morgan’s wife.
But such little touches of reality never deterred speculative “truth.” Until the time of her death in 1926, Anna Williams was followed by a plague of tall tales, and innuendo that left little doubt that she had compromised her feminine morals and modeled for an artist.
Roger W. Burdette’s latest research book, Girl on the Silver Dollar, is a search for truth after over 140 years of confusion. More than a decade of patient research, investigation and validation have produced a meaningful story of real people, behaving as people do in their daily lives. That Nannie modeled for George Morgan in October 1876, just weeks after he landed in America, is clearly established. A contemporary portrait titled “Anna W. Williams” was created by Philadelphia realist painter Thomas Eakins and his future wife Susan McDonald – exactly as described by one of Nannie’s friends. Morgan’s sketch book includes untitled pencil drawings that match Nannie’s features. An engraved illustration in Harper’s Monthly Magazine from 15 years later shows Nannie older but with the same distinctive features.
Yet, none of her features resemble any part of the 1878 silver dollar Liberty portrait.
Along with images of Anna’s other modeling work, Burdette presents details of her career as teacher, advocate and later Supervisor of Kindergartens in Philadelphia’s early childhood education system.
But Girl on the Silver Dollar is more than about Anna Williams. A separate chapter chronicles the development of a new “standard silver dollar” to replace the one eliminated by the Coinage Act of 1873. Here we find Mint Director Linderman on the verge of accepting William Barber’s new Liberty portrait (often called the “Sailor Head” by pattern collectors), only to suspend work when Morgan arrived from London. Copious pattern pieces photos, descriptions and quotations bring the reader into behind-the-public-scene discussion and controversy.
Controversy is also a theme in the following chapter dedicated to uncovering the truth behind elusive 1895-P silver dollars struck for circulation. Long in demand by coin collectors, none of the 12,000 pieces struck for circulation have ever been
identified. This forced collectors to include an 1895 proof dollar in their cabinets and albums to fill that gaping hole. Normal Philadelphia Mint operations suggest the twelve bags of circulation dollars were placed in a crowded vault, then transferred to the new Philadelphia Mint sometime between 1899 and 1901. Some authors have speculated that the 1895 coins were actually dated “1894” even when ample evidence argues otherwise. The most common explanation is that all 1895 circulation dollars were indiscriminately melted during the rush to convert coins into bullion for sale to Great Britain in 1918.
The final chapter of Girl on the Silver Dollar brings us to the original and implementation of the Pittman Act of 1918. This urgently passed Act of Congress caused nearly half of all existing U.S. silver dollars to be converted into bullion and sold to Great Britain to help stabilize the economy in India during World War I. Although we know the number of silver dollars destroyed, no records were kept of coin dates or mints. Thus, a great anonymous hoard was destroyed and an equally anonymous hoard remained in Treasury vaults until the great silver dollar distribution of 1963-64. (See Burdette’s early 2019 book release, Private Pattern and Related Pieces: International Nickel & Gould Incorporated, for details about the run of Treasury silver dollars.)
Together, Girl on the Silver Dollar is a feast for the eyes and minds of coin collectors everywhere. Every owner of a Morgan silver dollar who has wondered about the origin of this beloved, if somewhat stuffy Liberty portrait, will find new revelations. Ideas and facts not only about the coin but about the people who designed and manufactured theses silver dollars are found on every page. We can see the coins pilling in unwanted masses, shuttled from vault to vault, and eventually used as war-time tools for the Allied victory.
Order Girl on the Silver Dollar from Wizard Coin Supply. The cover price for the 8.5″ x 11″, 135 pages, hard cover, full color book is $24.95.