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Peace Dollars: A Brief History

Peace Dollars: A Brief History
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Posted: 09-24-2018

Issued from 1921 to 1928 and again in 1934 and 1935, the Peace dollar, is one of the most popular classic American coins and about 187 million of them were produced.  Many people collect Peace dollars – whether by date, mintmark, grade and condition rarity, among other approaches. 

Peace Dollars: A Timeless Favorite

1935 Silver Peace Dollar Issued from 1921 to 1928 and again in 1934 and 1935, the Peace dollar, is one of the most popular classic American coins and about 187 million of them were produced.  Many people collect Silver Peace dollars – whether by date, mintmark, grade and condition rarity, among other approaches.    

The coin sports a beautiful, iconic design featuring a side profile of the goddess Liberty on its obverse wearing a crown with rays. The reverse depicts an American eagle with folded wings, perched on a mountain and clutching an olive branch that symbolizes peace. 

The design was created by Anthony de Francisci, an Italian-American sculptor who used his wife, Theresa, as his model for the Liberty design.  But he explained at the time to journalists that it was a ‘composite’ face that ‘typified something of America’.” De Francisci also said about the design of the Peace Dollar "that his goal was to capture the spirit of the country--its intellectual speed, vigor and vitality." 

Why Do Collectors Love the Peace Dollar?

The Peace dollar is distinct from other U.S. coin series in several ways.  First, it is the only American coin ever issued specifically to celebrate peace, in this case the armistice that followed the First World War. 

Second, it is one of the shortest series of silver coins the U.S. Mint has ever issued with only 24 coins, including all dates and mintmarks and can be assembled in a set of nice uncirculated, MS63-graded pieces for about $10,000.  Almost half of that would go towards the purchase of the key date, 1934-S, which is scarce in mint state examples and runs over $4,000 in MS63. 

Peace Dollar ObverseThird, it was the first American coin that would not have been issued without a concerted push by several prominent numismatists and the American Numismatic Association.  In November 1918 Frank Dufield, a numismatist, published an article in The Numismatist, the ANA’s monthly magazine, in which he suggested a circulating coin be issued to celebrate the U.S. victory in the war.  Two years later prominent expert Farran Zerbe gave a speech at an ANA convention in Chicago arguing for a coin sold at face value to honor the treaties ended the war, which he felt was especially fitting since American silver played an important role in the war. 

A Brief History of the Silver Peace Dollar

During the war the Germans spread rumors that the British did not have enough silver to back their money, which led to hoarding of the metal.  This led the British to ask the U.S. to purchase silver to help stabilize the price.  The Pittman Act of 1918 called for the U.S. to melt as much as 350 million silver coins and sell them to the British at $1 per ounce.  It also called for replacing that silver with newly mined American silver.  Over 270 million Morgan dollars, or almost half the entire mintage of that coin was melted.  The law also authorized production of a new silver dollar, whose design was not specified in the law and could be selected by the Treasury Secretary. 

Legislation was passed in May 1921 that called the new coin “a peace dollar” and that July the Commission on Fine Arts suggested a competition be held to design the coin.  De Francisci, who was only 34 at the time, won the competition for the new coin in which several much more well-known artists participated such as Adolph Weinman, designer of the Walking Liberty half dollar, George T. Morgan, who designed the silver dollar named after him, and Victor David Brenner, who designed the Lincoln cent.  Winning the competition greatly boosted de Francisci’s reputation as an important artist, who until then was largely unknown.  His most known work before this was the 1920 Maine half dollar.

The plaster models he provided for review included the final obverse design and two version of the reverse – the one ultimately used on the coin and a second one with a broken sword and the eagle, which was controversial because for some it suggested American weakness or surrender. 

However, the hub for the coin had already been produced with the sword on it, so that element had to be manually removed by Chief Engraver Morgan before production could begin.  These late delays in the process resulted in the first coins being struck on December 28.  Since over a million 1921 coins were eventually issued, most people suspect that most of them were made in early 1922.

1921 High Relief Peace Dollar

1921 High Relief Peace Dollar It is the only silver coin series that features a coin, the 1921 issue, that was struck in high relief.  While the design looks amazing in high relief, especially in well-struck examples that are very hard to find, when the coin was made the dies kept breaking because of the pressure needed to strike the deep design.

Eventually, the only solution was to reduce the relief of the design, which is why the rest of the series is struck in normal relief.  However, fully-struck examples of many of those coins, especially the ones produced at the San Francisco Mint are hard to locate.        

One of the great aspects of the series is that the four most common dates – 1922, 1923, 1924, and 1925 – can be purchased in uncirculated condition for $35, and in MS65 for only about $100, whereas almost any other classic U.S. coin in that grade costs a lot more.

1922-1935 Silver Peace Dollars

The coin continued to be issued in large numbers from 1922 to 1927, and the mintage was decreased in 1928 to 360,649 coins, which is why that is the other key to the series, along with the 1934-S.  The requirements of the Pitman Act had been reached at this point, so production of Peace dollars ceased.

But then gold coinage was recalled in 1933, which increased the need for silver coins to replace the gold coins.  Under the Silver Purchase Act of 1934, the Peace dollar was again issued for two years from 1934 to 1935.  The issuance of all those silver dollars (about 4 million in those two years) helped to stabilize the economy during the Great Depression.

1964 Peace Dollar- The Failed Come-back.

But the coin made one final attempted comeback in 1964, when 45 million coins were authorized mainly for use in the Western states, and the Denver Mint produced 316,076 of the 1964-dated coins starting in May 1965.  But after passage of the Coinage Act of 1965 later that year, silver dollar production was prohibited, and all those coins were melted, including the trial strikes.  There have been rumors over the years of 1964-D Peace dollars, but none have surfaced.  They would be subject to confiscation by the Secret Service if someone tried to sell one. 


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About The Author

Louis Golino Louis is an award-winning numismatic journalist and writer specializing on modern coins. He has been writing a weekly column for CoinWeek since May 2011 called “The Coin Analyst,” which focuses primarily on modern U.S. and world coins and developments at major world mints. In August 2015 he received the Numismatic Literary Guild’s award for Best Website Column for “The Coin Analyst.” He is also a contributor to several magazines, including Coin World, where he writes a bimonthly feature;The Numismatist, the American Numismatic Association’s monthly publication, where he writes a monthly column on modern world coins; and American Hard Assets. He began writing about coins in 2009. He is a founding member of the Modern Coin Forum hosted by ModernCoinMart and has written articles for MCM since 2014. He has collected classic and modern U.S. and world coins since he was about 10 and first joined the ANA in the 1970’s. He was previously a congressional relations specialist and policy analyst at the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress and a syndicated columnist and news analyst on international politics and national security for a wide variety of publications. He has been writing professionally since the early 1980s.

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