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The Art of Collecting Peace Dollars


By Ron DrzewuckiModern Coin Wholesale …..
When dealers and collectors compare different types and series, we usually have to make allowances for the eccentricities of each issue while at the same time be willing to pay more if they overcome them. For example, Morgan dollars from the New Orleans Mint tend to be weakly struck, so a collector might be content with the strike of an O-Mint Morgan but pass on a Morgan from San Francisco that exhibited a similar strike. On the other hand, an exceptionally nice New Orleans Morgan might be worth more (all other things being equal) precisely because the issue as a whole comes weak.

This is Peace dollar collecting in a nutshell.

Until relatively modern advancements in minting technology allowed for the fuller realization of artists’ designs, the United States Mint had the endearing habit of striking new coins with high relief designs only to learn–over and over and over again–that the Mint’s production line wasn’t up to the task. I actually feel bad for historically-maligned curmudgeons like Charles Barber who tried to tell everybody what would happen. Did they listen? No, of course not. And, after the appropriate corrections were made, it always comes down to us in numismatic lore as “interference” in the designer’s work and a slight on the design’s artistic integrity. All art is about limits, even numismatic art, and technical considerations–whether we like it or not–have as much to do with art as genre conventions do.

Did John Coltrane’s music sound the same after he broke his favorite reed? Is Dale Jr. a better race car driver than Richard Petty simply because he drives a faster make and model? It doesn’t seem fair to even compare, does it? Like I said, allowances have to be made…

1921 saw the debut of the ANA-advocated Peace dollar. Until 1921, there hadn’t been a silver dollar in production since 1904, and the year started out with an impromptu Morgan dollar issue. Silver bullion stocks had been depleted, and it wasn’t until the end of World War I that the wartime need for precious metals disappeared and a silver dollar could once again circulate in the United States.

But the Peace dollar didn’t circulate until 1922. The 1921 issue was minted like it was designed, in high relief.

It didn’t work.

Hard to believe, I know.

Chief Engraver of the United States Mint George T. Morgan.

But would you believe it was George Morgan’s turn to be Mean Mr. Mustard? That’s right! George (of Morgan dollar, bullied-by-the-Barbers fame) was now Chief Engraver, and it was his job to make sure the Mint did its job.

Funny how being in a position of responsibility changes things.

At any rate, the 1921 high-relief pressing resulted in some very weak strikes, and most of the mintage was melted. A lower relief version began production in 1922, though some Matte and Satin Finish Proofs were manufactured in high relief that year.

The Peace dollar was struck in a usually quite shallow relief until 1935, when the silver dollar as a circulating denomination was retired yet again.

This has a few implications for the Peace dollar collector. Obviously, strike is a problem for the majority of the series. On the obverse, details in Liberty’s hair tend to be soft, and the reverse can be weak on many specimens. It also makes it difficult to hide hits and scratches on the obverse and–ironically–the more elegant design of the Peace dollar means that hits take a larger toll on its eye appeal than they would, say, on a Morgan dollar.

Ultimately, however, somebody has to make the hard decisions. We have to try to be objective and slap some kind of label (pun intended) on a coin that allows comparison between all manner of numismatic objects. To paraphrase Dr. John, if we don’t do it, somebody else will.

So let’s talk grades.

Like Morgans, Peace dollars allow for all levels of collecting, from the lowliest of budget type sets to the winningest registry set. But for now, let’s focus on the democratic side of things and look at grades the beginning collector can reasonably acquire. Peace dollars in MS-63 are plentiful enough in common dates. MS-65 for most dates are much harder to come by. Nice MS-65s, ones that really catch the eye and excite the collector, are even scarcer.

If you’re looking for key dates, then the 1928 Philadelphia strike and the 1934 San Francisco strike are two of the rarer issues. Naturally, even MS-63 and -65 are hard to find for these years and mints. The 1924-S tends not to come nice so if you’re after a 63 or 65, you’ll have to exercise great patience and budgetary discipline.

Oh, and by the way, finding a fully struck, Gem 1921 Peace dollar requires even more. I recommend you seek the help of a professional numismatist with experience in the series if you want to embark on such a hunt.

Now, let me introduce myself…


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