The "Schoolgirl" dollar features George T. Morgan's design of Liberty facing left, with E PLURIBUS at the left rim, seven stars above, UNUM at the right rim, four more stars, the date 1879, and finally two more stars before we come back around from whence we began. Liberty's hair is combed back and tied with a ribbon behind her head. A hairband is inscribed LIBERTY, and a string of pearls encircles her throat, as her flowing locks cascade down her shoulder. The reverse features a defiant eagle, seemingly about to take flight, facing left on a rectangular perch with IN GOD WE TRUST. An olive sprig is in the left field, with three arrows in the right field. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and ONE DOLLAR are at the rims, separated by periods. Struck in silver with a reeded edge.
The Schoolgirl is among the most celebrated and sought-after American coinage patterns, rated a High R.6 by the ninth edition of Judd's United States Pattern Coins. Unlike the unfortunate "Washlady" moniker, here the appellation is richly deserved, with a fresh-faced Liberty wearing a single strand of pearls, appearing to be 14 to 16 and in the first blush of young womanhood. The defiant eagle reverse is reminiscent not only of some of Morgan 1877 half dollar patterns (Judd-1512 and 1513), but Morgan also took it as the model for a much later commemorative gold design, the reverse of the 1915-S Panama-Pacific quarter eagle. Bowers, in his Guide Book of United States Commemorative Coins, opines that the "quarter eagle version looked much less elegant."
The USPatterns.com website credits the 1891 F.W. Doughty sale, conducted by David Proskey and Harlan P. Smith, with the origin of the Schoolgirl nickname. That website gives a census of some 14 pieces including the present example, with three of them off the market in institutional holdings: two at the Smithsonian, one at the American Numismatic Society. The site also notes that "it is likely that most known today in silver and copper trace their pedigree to the Woodin collection and were obtained in trade for 'returning' the two $50 gold patterns to the mint collection." The combined NGC and PCGS certified population stands at 11 pieces, which seems to square with the known census.
In the 1981 catalog of the William R. "Rudy" Sieck Collection--a landmark pattern collection that was especially strong in the half dollar and silver dollar patterns from the 1870s--the cataloger wrote this concerning the present specimen:
"For some reason nearly all known specimens have been cleaned. This and the Garrett coins are marvelous exceptions.
"The Schoolgirl represents a high in American artistic coin design. As a preface to this section notes, this particular coin is Rudy Sieck's all-time favorite. And, that certainly is the opinion of a connoisseur."
Sieck's own words, in the preface to that catalog, are touching: "Of course, the 'Schoolgirl' dollar of 1879 is my favorite pattern. In my opinion it is the most beautiful coin design ever made in America. After the sale I am sure that I will miss 'her' most of all."
The aptly named Schoolgirl dollar pattern is credited to George T. Morgan, designer of the eponymous circulating silver dollars that were roundly condemned at the time of their issue. Casting around for more pleasing designs that were never adopted, Morgan developed this delightful portrait of a young, fresh-faced Liberty. Her hair is tied back with a ribbon, and long waves flow down onto her neckline. She wears a delicate pearl or beaded necklace. The bust truncates in a sharp point. A headband with incused LIBERTY is midway back into her hair. E PLURIBUS is at the left obverse margin with UNUM at the right, with seven stars at the top separating them. The date 1879 is below the bust, with two more to the left and four to the right, for a total of 13. The reverse features the so-called Defiant Eagle design that would later reappear on the rush-job 1915-S Panama-Pacific quarter eagles.
Here, however, the much larger available canvas allows the painter to add detail and vigor: The eagle truly appears about to take flight, and olive branches and arrows flank him on either side. A small plaque underneath his claws reads IN GOD / WE TRUST, and UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and ONE DOLLAR at the rims complete the picture. Struck in copper with a reeded edge.
The Schoolgirl dollars are among the most popular of all U.S. pattern designs, along with the Amazonian and Shield Earring types. They were created only three years after George T. Morgan joined the Mint, a more talented engraver than either William Barber or his son Charles. The Schoolgirl dollars were struck only in copper; silver; and either white metal or lead, a single unique specimen sold by Superior in 1977.
Copper examples of this pattern number only about 10 specimens known today, according to USPatterns.com.