The American Silver Dollar Never Had Much Currency as a Circulating Coin
The American silver dollar was first authorized by the Mint Act of April 2, 1792, where the denomination was intended to be the standard unit of the American monetary system.
Similar in size and composition to Spanish and Mexican dollars, the denomination should have been the ideal unit of commerce. However, the reality was somewhat different, and though used in foreign trade, silver dollars generally did not actively circulate in the United States.
The reasons were basic: the coins were too large, too heavy, and, in time, paper money proved to be the public’s preferred means of exchange. In the late 1870s, Congress sought to reintroduce the silver dollar by ordering the United States Mint to strike millions of coins each year. Within three years, Treasury Department vaults were filled with unwanted coins.
During World War I, America came to the aid of Great Britain by converting more than 270 million silver dollars into bullion, which it sold for $1 per fine ounce. To replenish the Treasury’s silver dollar stockpile, that same quantity of silver was purchased from American mines and struck into new dollars starting in 1921. The Peace dollar was the last silver dollars minted, and regular production of the dollar coin ended after 1935.
From the nation’s immense silver dollar stockpile, $1,000 bags of the coin were paid out to banks, which then paid the dollars out to customers or held onto them as monetary reserves.
When a sealed bank vault was opened in 1962 at the Philadelphia Mint, hundreds of thousands of Morgan and Peace dollars were found, including some scarce issues. Word of this discovery circulated widely, and both banks and the Treasury Department freely paid out the coins until they were mostly gone in early 1964.
The government considered minting new coins to replenish its stockpile, but this idea was met with stiff resistance. The Coinage Act of July 23, 1965, specified that no new silver dollars could be coined for five years, at which time the need for the denomination would be reevaluated.
The Eisenhower Dollar Marked the Return of the Silver Dollar
The Coinage Act of 1965 was enacted to remove silver from United States coinage. It authorized the Mint to strike dimes and quarters in a new copper-nickel clad composition and reduced the silver content of half dollar coins to 40%. As the production of new dimes, quarters, and half dollars was underway, the Treasury implemented a plan to remove massive quantities of silver coins from its holdings. By the end of the 1960s, most of America’s pre-1964 silver coins had been withdrawn from circulation.
In Nevada’s casinos, the removal of silver coins caused an acute problem. Gamblers used silver dollars to play slot machines and preferred getting their payouts in the same medium.
Two events in 1969–the death in March of former President Dwight D. Eisenhower and the historic Apollo 11 moon landing in July–prompted a House bill that proposed a dollar coin commemorating both events. And following more than a year of debate, the new dollars were approved in December 1970.
Circulating Eisenhower, or “Ike”, dollars were to be minted in the same copper-nickel composition of the circulating dime, quarter, and half dollar. Silver-copper clad dollars for collectors, the same composition as that used for the 40% silver Kennedy half dollar produced from 1965 through 1970, were also approved.
The Story Behind the Eisenhower Dollar’s Design
The obverse of the Eisenhower dollar features a portrait of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, while the reverse presents a slightly modified version of the scene depicted on the Apollo 11 crew patch designed by astronaut and mission pilot Michael Collins, which shows an eagle landing on the moon.
A left-facing portrait of Eisenhower is centered on the obverse; U.S. Mint Chief Engraver Frank Gasparro’s initials FG are on the truncation of the neck. The word LIBERTY arcs above the head, concentric with the flat rim, and the date is similarly placed at the bottom. The national motto IN GOD WE TRUST, in two lines, is at the bottom left. Ike dollars were minted at Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco; D and S mintmarks are below the neck, above the date.
Bicentennial dollar coins have the dual date 1776-1976 at the bottom, the dates separated by a centered dot.
The reverse depicts an eagle with outstretched wings landing on the cratered moon, shown in part on the bottom third of the coin. The eagle clutches an olive branch in its claws. The legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA curves inside the rim at the top, over the blackness of space, while the denomination ONE DOLLAR is at the bottom along the rim, superimposed over the moon. Circling around the eagle against the space backdrop are 13 small five-point stars. Above the eagle, below the stars, is the motto E PLURIBUS UNUM in two lines with centered spacing dots; a small representation of earth is in space above and to the left of the eagle, below the stars. The designer’s initials FG are between the eagle’s tail and the tip of the olive branch.
The Bicentennial version replaces the center image on the reverse with the Liberty Bell in front of the whole disc of the cratered moon. E PLURIBUS UNUM, each word on a separate line, is located at the lower right of the bell/moon composite. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA and ONE DOLLAR along the rim are separated by centered five-point stars. The initials DRW, for Bicentennial reverse designer Dennis R. Williams, are below the bottom edge of the bell to the right of the clapper.
Though seemingly benign, the original depiction of the eagle on the coin was apparently interpreted by the U.S. State Department as bearing a somewhat hostile expression; this was, of course, not the first time in U.S. coinage history that a design had received unexpected criticism. To correct this issue–as well as a number of small technical matters–Chief Engraver Gasparro made several minor changes to the design in 1971 and 1972. The first Eisenhower dollar coins were not issued until November 1, 1971.
A Carve-Out for a Failing College Caused Controversy
More controversial was an amendment to the authorizing legislation that directed a portion of the profits (a surcharge) from the collector coins to the private Eisenhower College in Seneca Falls, New York. In spite of receiving approximately $9 million USD from this provision, the College closed its doors in 1983, after being in operation since only 1968.
This would not be the last time that special interests would lobby Congress to provide for the funding of pet projects through the United States Mint’s numismatic coin program. The entirety of the Mint’s Modern Commemorative coin series, starting in 1982 and continuing to this day, is centered on generating revenue for various causes through the sale of non-circulating collector coins.
The Eisenhower Dollar Can Be Collected Multiple Ways
A complete uncirculated Eisenhower dollar collection can be built inexpensively with the purchase of annual mint sets, loose Mint State singles, Proof coins, and Uncirculated Finish coins and Proof issues in silver-clad.
Or, one can spend years trying to buy the best of the best and each of the rare varieties. With this approach, one would have to devote hundreds of thousands of dollars towards the pursuit… if the right coins even become available.
Having said that, building a top 10 registry set is still somewhat affordable and there are a number of high-quality coins left to find in the wild.
For those simply interested in silver-clad, the Blue Pack and Brown Pack issues of 1971 to 1974 are a good entry point. For the Bicentennial issue, collectors can cheaply acquire this coin (along with the Bicentennial quarter and half dollar) in the Mint’s three-coin silver Uncirculated and Proof set.
Thousands of business strike Eisenhower dollar coins have been certified, most at grades finer than MS63, and consisting of four main types: regular copper-nickel clad, Bicentennial copper-nickel clad, regular silver-copper clad, and Bicentennial silver-copper clad.
Additional varieties have been identified within these main types. Prices are modest for most issues up to Gem, and for some dates to MS66. More expensive coins at higher grades are 1971-1974 Type 1; 1972 Type 2; and 1976 Type 1.
In addition, most MS67 and finer copper-nickel clad dollars–and MS69 silver-copper clad dollars–are very expensive.
Thousands of Proof Eisenhower dollars have been certified, most as PR69, and most as Cameo (CAM) or Deep Cameo (UCAM or DCAM). Prices are modest for all issues through PR69, but jump to very expensive as PR70.
Eisenhower Dollar Varieties Are Still Being Discovered
Although the Eisenhower dollar was a short-lived series, it provided the collectors with a number of varieties, some common and some quite rare. Among the most collectible of the varieties are 1972 copper-nickel clad Type 1, 2, and 3 (low relief and high relief and other die changes); 1776-1976 (Bicentennial) copper-nickel clad, Type 1 and 2; 1971-D Type 1 and 2; 1974-D, 1976-D, and 1977-D silver-copper clad (produced in error, these coins should have been copper-nickel clad).
Rarer are the prototype versions of the 1971-S Uncirculated coin (likely to be designated as Judd patterns at some future point), the 1971-S Nixon Presentation dollar, and the 1976 No S Bicentennial Proof, of which there is only one known.
In 2013, Eisenhower dollar collector Andy Oskam purchased an unusual Proof 1971-S Eisenhower dollar from an eBay seller and discovered that the coin was an unpublished variety that married a Proof obverse die with a low relief reverse die. CoinWeek editor Charles Morgan worked with PCGS to recognize the coin as the “Nixon Presentation Dollar”. Additional examples of this rare variety have since surfaced. The example imaged above sold for a record $30,550 at a February 2023 Legend Rare Coin Auctions sale.
In-Depth Eisenhower Dollar Date Analysis by CoinWeek IQ
- 1971 – An important first-year issue known for its strike quality problems
- 1971-D – The first Eisenhower dollar struck, made popular by an interesting variety
- 1971-S – The silver-clad “Blue Pack” circulation strike was sold to collectors at a premium; quality was lacking
- 1971-S – The silver-clad “Brown Pack” Proof strike was sold to collectors at a premium. Rare varieties exist.
- 1972 – Three reverse designs, led by the scarce “1972 Type 2”
- 1972-S – The United States Mint corrects the quality issues of the year before
- 1973 – Produced for Mint Sets–did some trickle out in bags?
- 1974-D – A large-mintage clad issue with some nice coins.
- 1977 – Apollo 11 reverse returns
- 1978 – The last Philadelphia Strikes
- 1978-D – The final Eisenhower dollar produced at the Denver Mint
Additional Eisenhower Dollar Market Information for the Advanced Collector
Coin dealer James Sego joins Charles Morgan to discuss the high-end Eisenhower dollar market.
|Years Of Issue:
|High – 113,318,000 (1976, Type 2); Low – 1,883,140 (1973-S Silver-Clad)
|High – 4,265,234 (1971-S); Low – 1,013,646 (1973-S Silver-Copper Clad)
|Copper-nickel: outer layers 75% copper, 25% nickel; inner core is pure copper. Silver-copper: outer layers 80% silver, 20% copper; inner core 20.9% silver, 79.1% copper
|Copper-nickel clad, 22.68 g; silver-copper clad, 24.59 g
|Frank Gasparro | Michael Collins; Frank Gasparro | Dennis R. Williams (Bicentennial)
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Bowers, Q. David. The Experts Guide to Collecting & Investing in Rare Coins. Whitman Publishing.
–. A Guide Book of United States Type Coins. Whitman Publishing.
–. A Guide Book of Modern United States Dollar Coins. Whitman Publishing.
Breen, Walter. Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of U.S. Coins. Doubleday.
Ezerman, Rob. Collectible Ike Varieties: Facts, Photos, and Theories. Ike Group.
Guth, Ron and Jeff Garrett. United States Coinage: A Study by Type. Whitman Publishing.
Yeoman, R.S and Kenneth Bressett (editor). The Official Red Book: A Guide Book of United States Coins. Whitman Publishing.
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