The silver dollar, authorized by the Mint Act of April 2, 1792, was intended to be the standard unit of the American monetary system, a symbol of the growing stature of the fledgling nation. In size and composition similar to that of Spanish and Mexican dollars, the denomination seemed to be the ideal means of exchange both for domestic use and international trade. However, the reality was somewhat different, and though trade usage was more successful (because of the value of the metal), silver dollars for the most part did not actively circulate. The problem was the size and weight of the coin, the largest of all U.S. silver issues. The dollar coin simply was not convenient to carry, and except for western and some southern states, silver dollars often made a short journey from bank vault to customers as gifts or prizes, and then back to bank vault. Added to the scarcity of use for commerce was the issue of bimetallism, where the U.S. established ratio of gold to silver often didn’t correspond to international bullion rates and/ or domestic political policies. Thus, either gold or silver coins were often melted as bullion or were being stockpiled; or, oddly enough, sometimes both melted and stockpiled at nearly the same time.
Photos used with permission and courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries
Morgan dollars were minted from 1878 through 1904, and then in one last effort, in 1921. Following the end of World War I, the War to End All Wars, a movement grew to issue a coin that simultaneously celebrated victory but also commemorated the peace. Originally proposed as a half dollar, the coin was instead made a dollar issue, and prominent sculptors were invited to participate in a design competition. Anthony de Francisci’s design was selected, the Liberty portrait said to have been modeled after his young wife. The original design showed the reverse eagle breaking a sword, the image meant to be a symbol of disarmament (as in the Biblical ‘swords into plowshares’ reference), but some thought the symbology instead showed defeat. Mint Engraver George Morgan modified the design to remove the sword, making those changes without de Francisci’s approval.
Dollars minted in 1921 and some produced in 1922 had a high relief, but that caused problems in striking and resulted in coins that would not stack well, so the relief was lowered for most 1922 and all subsequent issues. Dollars were struck yearly through 1928, and then again in 1934 and 1935 as backing for silver certificates. Remarkably, in 1964 legislation authorized the minting of additional Peace dollars, and over 300,000 were made. However, objections were raised about a issuing a coin that seemed to be designed only for the benefit of special interests, and those complaints coupled with rising silver prices resulted in production being halted by the Treasury. As far as is known, all of the 1964 dollars were recalled and melted, and unfortunately no samples were saved for national collections. Because Mint employees presumably were able to purchase examples at the time, rumors persist that a few of the dollars might have survived. With a questionable claim to title by individuals if those coins do indeed exist, any 1964 Peace dollars will probably never be seen in a public presentation or offering.
Liberty faces left on the obverse, hair tied in a bun but with several strands flowing freely to the right at the back of her neck. A tiara with long rays is placed above her forehead, the rays intersecting the widely spaced letters BE of LIBERTY that arcs across the top inside a smooth rim. The designer’s initials AF, displayed as overlapping letters, are at the base of the neck. IN GOD WE TRVST (a classical U that looks like a V) stretches horizontally across the coin, broken into two parts (IN GOD WE and TRVST) by Liberty’s neck. Centered dots separate the words and lie on the outer side of the phrase; none is located between WE and TRVST, the location of Liberty’s neck. The date is at the bottom, with the front point of the neck truncation slightly overlapping the 9 digit.
The reverse displays an eagle perched on a rock, with an olive branch extended out to the right. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and E PLURIBUS UNUM below form two concentric arcs at the top of the coin inside a smooth rim, the eagle’s head overlapping S and U of the phrase. Where visible, the words are separated by centered, somewhat triangular dots. ONE DOLLAR in a horizontal line intersects the eagle at the lower part of the coin, ONE to the left and DOLLAR to the right. Behind that text and the eagle thin rays emanate upward and slightly to the left from the edge of the rock base, as if rays of the sun. The word PEACE is on the rock at the bottom, below the eagle, the only time that word has appeared on a circulating U.S. coin. Peace dollars were minted at Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco; D and S mintmarks are located at the bottom left, below ONE and between the eagle’s tail and the rim.
Hundreds of thousands of business strike Peace dollars have been certified, including one prooflike example. Prices are moderate for many dates to MS63, and for some early and later dates to MS65 and MS66. A few dates are expensive to very expensive as MS64 and finer, with higher prices in general for 1924-S, 1925-S, 1928, and 1934-S, the last considered a key date. Proofs were issued in 1922 (in both high relief and normal relief) in matte or satin finish, and are represented in census/ population reports by fewer than 25 pieces. All proofs are very expensive to extremely expensive, with prices topping a quarter of a million dollars as Gem and finer.
Designer: Anthony de Francisci
Circulation Mintage: high 51,737,000 (1922, Normal Relief), low 35,401 (1922, High Relief)
Proof Mintage: 10 (1922, estimated)
Diameter: 38.1 mm, reeded edge
Metal Content: 90% silver, 10% copper
Weight: 26.73 grams
Varieties: Many VAM varieties identified, with the best known the 1922 High Relief pieces.
Coin Encyclopedia: www.ngccoin.com
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