Peace Dollars (1921-1935)

Coins / United States of America / 1 Dollar

Overview / History

The Bland-Allison Act of 1878 required the treasury to purchase large quantities of silver each month for mining into silver dollars. The subsequent passage of the Pittman Act of 1918, allowing the U.S. to sell large quantities of silver coinage to the British government to offset German efforts to destabilize the British Economy, led to 47% of the existing stock of silver dollars, the Morgan Silver Dollar, being sold and melted down. The provisions of the Bland-Allison Act required that new silver dollars be minted from silver purchased from American mining companies to replace the lost stock.

Following the end of World War I in 1918, calls began for a coin to be created to commemorate the peace, particularly from noted Numatists of the time such as Frank Duffield and Farran Zerbe. The outgoing Chairman of the House Committee on Coinage, Weights, and Measures, Congressman William A. Ashbrook, worked a backroom deal with the incoming chairman, Congressman Albert Henry Vestal, to schedule a hearing in favor of the coins creation. After the hearings and the takeover of the Harding administration, Vestal met with Secretary of Treasury, Andrew W. Mellon, and Mint Director Raymond T. Baker and garnered their support in redesigning the silver dollar, as long as no expense was incurred.

A design competition was held in late 1921 by the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts to redesign the silver dollar, with specific instructions being given to participants regarding required characteristics. On December 13th, 1921, Commission Chairman Charles Moore, Commission Member/former Congressman/Buffalo nickel designer James Earle Frasier, and Mint Director Baker convened to review the submitted designs. After significant discussion, the design of Anthony de Francisci, an Italian immigrant, was selected. Prior to its release, the coin was redesigned to remove a broken sword from the reverse after some controversy arose due to the symbolism involved. Chief Engraver Morgan carefully redesigned the coin based on input of de Francisci, strengthening the rays of sunlight and extending the olive branch to cover the newly empty space.

The first Peace Dollars were minted on December 28th, 1921. The Philadelphia Mint reported striking 1,006,473 pieces in the remaining days of 1921, an amazing feat at the time. The first coin was allegedly sent to President Harding, however it could not be accounted for after his death and its whereabouts remain a mystery. In January 1922, the Mint determined that the high relief of the coin was wearing out dies too quickly, and requested the Commission's assistance in determining how to fix the problems. After several failed attempts, de Francisci was called in to modify his original design to reduce the relief of the coins. The new, low-relief coins began minting in San Francisco on February 13th, while minting began in Denver and Philadelphia on February 21st and February 23rd, respectively.

Production ceased in 1928 due to running to the end of the silver required to be purchased and struck under the Pittman Act. In 1934, further congressional action purchasing large quantities of silver led to the Peace Dollar being put back into production, striking over seven million Peace Dollars in 1934-1935. When it was determined that no commercial demand for the coins existed, production ceased at the end of 1935. The master dies were destroyed in January 1937.

In all, 190,577,279 Peace Dollars were produced between 1921-1935. Many of these coins have survived, and few of the mintages are considered particularly rare. The 1921-P high relief Peace Dollars are incredibly rare - only 32,400 coins were produced with the original high-relief design submitted by de Francisci, and most are believed to have been destroyed. At this time, only one known specimen exists from this run. Additionally, the 1928-P Peace Dollar only produced 360,649 coins, though many were saved which tends to drive down the value. 1934-S Peace Dollars are far more plentiful, however so many of them were circulated that uncirculated specimens can be quite pricey.

Details

  • Size & Makeup: In accordance with the Coinage Act of 1837, the Peace Dollar contains 90% silver and 10% copper. It measures 38.1 millimeters (1.50 inches) in diameter and weighs 412.5 grains (26.73 grams).
  • Obverse: The Peace Dollar features a profile of the head and neck of the Goddess Liberty with flowing hair and a radiant crown on her head. The coin is inscribed with the word "Liberty" across the top edge, and "In God We Trust" written across the coin separated by Goddess Liberty's neck in the lower third. The date of mintage is inscribed along the bottom edge.
  • Reverse: The Peace Dollar reverse features a bald eagle clutching an olive branch, perched on rays of sunlight. The word "Peace" is inscribed along the bottom edge. Along the top are the words "United States of America" and "E Pluribus Unum", as well as the words "One Dollar".
  • The 1926 Peace Dollars feature a slight variation from all mints - the word "God" on the obverse is slightly bolded, while no other words are. The reason for this is unknown, but it is suspected that John R. Sinnock, the engraver who replaced George T. Morgan as Chief Engraver in 1925, may have taken over part way through and never continued emboldening the entire sentence.

Interesting Facts

  • The profile of Goddess Liberty on the obverse was modeled after the designer's wife, Teresa de Francisci, since the short length of the competition did not allow enough time to find a model that completely met his vision. Teresa had immigrated from Italy with her family as a child, and stated that after falling in love with the statue upon first seeing it as they reached the U.S., becoming the face of Goddess Liberty was a realization of her childhood dreams.
  • Anthony de Francisci was the least experienced of the participants of the design competition. His only previous coin design at the time was creating the model for the 1920 Maine Centennial Commemorative Half Dollar. His victory in the competition came over several notable and experienced coin designers including Hermon MacNeil, Victor D. Brenner, and Adolph Weinman.
  • The Peace Dollar was the last silver dollar produced in the U.S. until the creation of the Eisenhower Dollar in 1971.
  • The Peace Dollar's original design caused a significant controversy due to its inclusion of a broken blade, which the New York Herald claimed was symbolic of defeat - a particularly sensitive topic, given the recently concluded World War I. For his part, de Francisci claimed that the inclusion of both the broken sword and the olive branch was a clear indication of peace, rather than defeat.
  • The creation of the Peace Dollar represented a historic first for numismatics - the first time that a coin collector directly influenced both the Bureau of the Mint and Congress. The original idea for a peace coin is officially unknown, but is usually attributed to an article published in The Numismatist by Frank Duffield, and amplified by a paper published by numismatist Farran Zerbe by the American Numismatic Association entitled Commemorate the Peace with a Coin for Circulation. Congressman William A. Ashbrook, an instrumental figure in the coins creation, was himself a noted coin collector.

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