What is a Peace dollar? While perhaps not as widely collected as its iconic predecessor, the Morgan dollar, the Peace dollar enjoys an enthusiastic fanbase of its own and has an irrefutable claim to fame as the last circulating silver dollar the United States ever minted.
An Artistic Legacy
The Peace dollar arose as a proposition by one-time American Numismatic Association (ANA) president and historian Farran Zerbe, who at the 1920 ANA Convention in Chicago pitched a circulating coin to “commemorate the peace” realized with the Treaty of Versailles that officially ended World War I.
Enthusiasm for this proposal reached the floors of Congress. However, it was soon determined no Congressional action would be necessary for bringing such a “Peace” design to life on the silver dollar, which had carried the “Liberty Head” motif by George T. Morgan for far longer than its 25-year mandatory tenure.
The federal Commission of Fine Arts opened a design competition for the nation’s leading sculptors to submit designs for the new silver dollar. Among the handful of esteemed entrants invited was Italian-born sculptor Anthony de Francisci, who won the competition with his Peace dollar design.
The Peace dollar design by de Francisci carries the aesthetic hallmarks of the prevailing Art Deco sensibilities of its era. It is anchored on the obverse by a young head of Miss Liberty as largely inspired by his wife, Teresa, who posed for the coin and as a child was enamored with the Statue of Liberty.
The central reverse motif depicts an eagle atop a sun-splashed rock, an homage evocative of hope and peace.
Minting a Classic
The Peace dollar went into production during the last days of 1921, with 1,006,473 examples being struck at the Philadelphia Mint in high relief during that short period. The first of these coins were released to the public in the opening days of 1922.
That year some 84 million more were produced at the Philadelphia, Denver and the San Francisco Mints. They were produced in a shallower relief that was easier on minting equipment and continued for the remainder of the series.
Peace dollar mintages remained strong through the mid-1920s but shrank during the latter years of the decade. The Great Depression in 1929 greatly influenced the production tallies of the nation’s coinage, however, the main reason Peace dollars came to a temporary halt after 1928 was that the production requirements of the Pittman Act had been met.
“Treasury coin distribution reports confirm that silver dollars did not circulate extensively except in certain parts of the country,” said Roger Burdette, author of A Guide Book of Peace Dollars. “Multiple proposals were made to force the coins into circulation, and all failed. The only economic contribution was as a subsidy to American silver producers from 1921 through 1928. This was replaced by direct producer price support in the Silver Act of 1934.”
Subsequently, Peace dollars resumed for a short run spanning 1934 and 1935 before going on hiatus again for another three decades.
On August 3, 1964, Congress approved the production of 45 million silver dollars to help allay a massive coin shortage. The Peace dollar design was chosen to grace these new issues.
The coins caused a numismatic stir when they were announced in May 1965. However, a small run of 316,076 pieces produced at the Denver Mint was dubbed “trial strikes” by government officials, and the entire production run reportedly melted under heavy security.
Several rumored appearances of the 1964-D (Denver Mint) Peace dollar have teased the numismatic community over the years.
“We will never be sure that all the coins are accounted for in Denver, Philadelphia, and mint headquarters reports,” said Burdette. “Do any of these exist? The situation is confused by tall tales, guesses, theory-as-fact pronouncements, and outright lies. All that can be said is no person has presented proof that they possess a genuine 1964-D silver dollar.”
What is a Peace Dollar? - Timeless Collectibles
In 2021, the centennial of the last Morgan dollar and first Peace dollar signaled the re-issuance of new Morgan and Peace dollars bearing the “2021” date as approved by Congress. They are also being produced in 2022. Many collectors eagerly awaited the release of the 2021 Morgan and Peace dollars. The release also posed collectors with a classification quandary. Do they collect these newer issues alongside the original series run or as a related but separate pursuit?
This isn’t a new dilemma for collectors. Regular-issue production of the Draped Bust dollar ended in 1804 before a handful of special proofs dated “1804” were minted in the mid-1830s and have now gone on to command millions of dollars each. The Morgan dollar drew to a close in 1904 only to see a one-year reprisal in 1921 to fulfill the mandates of the Pittman Act.
Few Morgan dollar enthusiasts deny 1921 Morgans a place in their albums. Meanwhile, the Susan. B.
Anthony dollar bowed out in 1981 before returning for a final curtain call in 1999 when supplies dwindled in bank vaults. The latter issues are routinely included in “SBA” sets.
Meanwhile, the 2021 (and 2022) Peace dollars are indeed legal-tender dollar coins that could reasonably be considered an extension of the original production run from 1921 through 1935. Yet, Burdette doesn’t think many collectors will embrace the new Peace dollars as the youngest members of the historic series.
“I’ve seen considerable online discussion about the 2021 Peace dollars and possibly 2022 and future issues,” Burdette remarks. “When considering the 2021 pieces, we are faced with commemoratives rather than regular-issue coins, and few collectors associate commemorative halves with the regular series of half dollars. Individuals will decide how they want to approach the Peace dollar series, although I see very few putting their $85 round silver pieces into album pages.”
In what was one of his last interviews before his death, legendary numismatic expert and U.S. Mint critic Harvey G. Stack told COINage that he believed Peace dollars struck in 2021 or thereafter should not be considered as part of the original series.
“The reissue of the Peace dollar may be historically and emotionally exciting, but since the design ‘died’ in 1935 and was now being revived in 2021, it is selling far in excess of its face value.”
On that point, Stack, one of the most famous coin dealers of all time, argued, “it would be foolish for them to be reconsidered ‘money of the realm.’ They are surely not intended as money or coinage for general circulation and should be looked at, at best, as a silver medal – not a ‘coin.’”
What is a Peace Dollar? - Collecting
The Peace dollar is a relatively short series, offering a tidy handful of key dates and scarcities, including the first-year 1921 date in high relief, 1928 Philadelphia issue, with its series-low mintage of 360,649 pieces and 1934-D doubled die obverse.
Throw in the 1934-S as a semi-key (only 1,011,000 were struck), and collectors have some decent challenges to pursue alongside the rest of the issues, which are quite common.
“These coins are not really all that rare; some of them, in fact, are relatively common,” said Scott A. Travers in One-Minute Coin Expert. He also said these common coins need economic justification, such as the anticipation of inflation, for a value increase.
Recent observations prove Travers correct. Peace dollar prices are responding appreciably between the squeeze play of the worst inflation in decades and the unprecedented demand for collectibles spurred on by the coronavirus pandemic. While a complete date-and-mintmark set of regular issues can be assembled for less than $1,750 in moderately worn circulated grades, prices soar for conditional rarities, not to mention the handful of proofs minted in 1921 and 1922.
Two of the highest prices ever realized for Peace dollars came with two superior specimens of the otherwise-common 1923-D and 1926, both examples of which were graded MS-67 by third-party grader Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) and further twinned by their stunning $120,000 hammer prices (including buyer’s fees) in 2021.
Trading much less frequently are the Peace dollar proofs and special strikes, cumulatively numbering only in the dozens.
Proof coins are sold by the Mint to collectors at a premium during the year of issue. Proofs are struck or manufactured on specially polished dies and specially selected planchets (metal discs) to assure a chromiumlike brilliance. Matte Proofs are not chromium in appearance, but are rather flat and granular and struck from pickled dies.
A 1921 matte proof graded PR-66 by third-party grader Numismatic Guaranty Corporation went for $99,875 in 2014, the same year an excessively rare 1922 high-relief matte proof graded PR-67 by PCGS commanded $458,250.
Unusual pieces with sandblasted surfaces and antiqued finishes have also notched six-figure sums.
This story about what is a peace dollar previously appeared in COINage magazine. Click here to subscribe. Story by Josh McMorrow-Hernandez.
Peace Dollars in Photos
All PCGS photograde images are courtesy of Professional Coin Grading Service.
One of the most well-known third-party coin grading companies is the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS), which recently augmented its PCGS CoinFacts Mobile App with its comprehensive PCGS Photograde feature.
Provided to COINage readers is a photographic reference for grading Peace dollars based on the PCGS Photograde guidelines.
Mint State - 60
Mint State - 63
Mint State - 65