The Morgan dollar often gets the spotlight for American dollar coinage, but the Peace dollar is no ugly stepdaughter. It also has a rich history full of some controversy and is an attractive coin with interesting design elements. Due to a greater supply, the Peace dollar presents an enjoyable challenge for collectors.
The Need for a New Dollar
The iconic Morgan dollar premiered in 1878 and was minted steadily from that year until 1904. More than 500 million Morgan dollars were in circulation by the time of the Great War. To help supply their English allies with bullion during World War I, Congress passed the Pittman Act of 1918. Short on gold, Congress decided to make use of the large number of silver dollars in circulation. This resulted in the melting down of more than 270 million silver dollars, almost half of all of the Morgan dollars in existence.
In 1920 U.S. Mint engraver George T. Morgan was tasked with revisiting the design of the Morgan dollar and producing dies for a new silver dollar. As required by the Pittman act, these coins would replace the silver that had been melted down. Morgan dollars were struck in 1921, but the idea of a coin to commemorate victory and peace began to gain popularity with some numismatists. Support was not universal, though, and despite some politicking, Congress failed to pass a Peace dollar authorization bill.
Fortunately for Peace dollar proponents, they did not need Congress to act because the Morgan dollar had been first struck over 25 years, so, according to an 1890 act, it could be replaced at the discretion of the Secretary of the Treasury.
The Design of the Peace Dollar
In May of 1921 Mint Director Raymond T. Baker, Buffalo nickel designer James Earle Fraser, and U.S. Commission of Fine Arts Chairman Charles Moore met and discussed holding a design competition for the Peace dollar with the winner to receive $1500. In November, the highly regarded sculptural talent their committee selected received personal letters with the rules and regulations of the contest. They were invited to submit their designs by December 12.
The head of Lady Liberty (“made as beautiful and full of character as possible”) was to be on the obverse of the coin and an eagle on the reverse, as prescribed by the Coinage Act of 1792. When the designs were in, the committee unanimously selected Anthony de Francisci’s. De Francisci was the youngest of all of the competitors and the least experienced. His design for Lady Liberty was inspired by the features of his wife, Teresa de Francisci. Liberty wears a radiate crown that is meant to resemble the one on the Statue of Liberty. He submitted designs for eagles that were warlike and peaceful. The eagle at rest, clasping an olive branch is the one that appears on the Peace Dollar.
There was a brief controversy about a design element - a broken sword on the reverse. The New York Herald ran a scathing editorial about it, stating that it carried only unpleasant associations. After short but intense public comment, the sword was removed and the design adjusted.
On December 28, 1921, the first Peace dollars were struck. Over a million coins were struck in the remaining 4 days of the year, and the first coins released to the public on January 3, 1922. The first strikes had problems, however. The pressure required to bring out the full high relief design of the coin broke a number of dies. As a result, de Francisci had to modify it. Numismatists believe that about 6 to 10 high relief Peace dollars survive from the period during which de Francisci was tinkering with the design. The remainder of the 32,400 were melted down.
The Mint produced Peace dollars until 1928 at which time the last of the Pittman Act silver had been used. The Treasury resumed production in 1934. Between 1934 and 1935, 7 million more were struck. The dies for the Peace dollar were destroyed in 1937.
In January of 2021, President Trump signed legislation to issue both commemorative Morgan and Peace dollars to mark the centennial of this transition from one silver dollar to another. The Peace dollars became available in August of 2021 and shipped in October. The U.S. Mint announced in November that the Morgan and Peace dollars would be an annual product beginning in 2022. These coins are already priced by dealers at three or more times their retail issue.
If you are interested in collecting Peace dollars, they are an accessible challenge. With the high relief 1921 variety and the lower relief 1922 to 1935 issues, there are 24 coins in a complete set. Call us at Grand Rapids Coins if you are interested in collecting this historical coin. We will be glad to help you find them.