A Coin Analyst Exclusive: An Insider’s Perspective on the Morgan & Peace 1921 Commemorative Silver Dollar Coin Act

By Louis Golino for CoinWeek …..
 

On July 16, 2019, United States Representatives Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO5) and Andy Barr (R-KY6) introduced H.R. 3757, the 2021 Commemorative Silver Dollar Coin Act, which calls for the issuance of 2021-dated Morgan and Peace dollars to mark the centennial of the transition from Morgan to Peace dollars in 1921.

Some portion of the proposed maximum authorized mintage of 500,000 coins would include Morgan dollars struck with the “CC” mintmark at the former Carson City Mint (which is now a museum). In addition, a high-relief 2021 Peace dollar would be issued as well as other products.

Numismatists expect the program to be very popular with collectors, especially since Morgan and Peace dollars have a such a solid collector base and given collector support in recent years for issuing new silver dollars in 2021 (such as in coin forums and U.S. Mint surveys). As more collectors learn about key aspects of the proposed 2021 program, support for it should continue to rise.

A key passage of the legislation notes the rationale for the program:

“The conversion from the Morgan dollar to the Peace dollar design in 1921 reflected a pivotal moment in American history. The Morgan dollar represents the country’s westward expansion and industrial development in the late 19th century. The Peace dollar symbolizes the country’s coming of age as an international power while recognizing the sacrifices made by her citizens in World War I and celebrating the victory and peace that ensued.”

The bill also states:

“These iconic silver dollars with vastly different representations of Lady Liberty and the American Eagle, reflect a changing of the guard in 1921 in the United States and therefore on the 100th anniversary must be minted again to commemorate this significant evolution of American freedom.”

Surcharges of $10 per coin would be distributed as follows: 40% to the American Numismatic Association (ANA) for educational activities; 40% to the National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri; and 20% for the Nevada State Museum (which was previously the Carson City Mint).

This proposed coin program is the brainchild of Thomas Uram, the current chair of the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee (CCAC) who has served on the CCAC since 2012, and Michael Moran, noted author and numismatic researcher who has served on the CCAC since 2011. I recently had the opportunity to speak with both numismatists about the program.

Program Origins

Several years ago, Mr. Moran brought up in CCAC meetings the possibility of doing a 2021 Peace Dollar to mark the centennial of the 1921 Peace Dollar, a collector favorite because it was the first issue of the series and was struck in high relief. Mr. Uram responded that it was a great idea, but why not also do a 2021 Morgan dollar to mark the centennial of that coin?

Both men began working in earnest on the legislation, including lining up support from the Mint (which was very receptive to the program) in January 2019 and have spent much of the past six months continuing their efforts.

Michael Moran - Tom Uram
Michael Moran (Left), Tom Uram (Right)

Mr. Uram said he and Mr. Moran are working on it as individuals, rather than representing the CCAC. They each worked closely with various members of Congress to get the bill off the ground and will continue to help build support for it going forward within the numismatic community and within Congress.

Mr. Uram also noted that many past commemorative coin programs have failed to reach their potential because the members of Congress and staff members who write the enabling legislation are typically not collectors and may not know what collectors want. Mr. Uram mentioned the example of this year’s Apollo 11 50th anniversary coin program, which could have been even better if the bill that created it allowed for each coin to have a different design.

In this case, he and Mr. Moran decided that as the legislation was drafted that it be done with input from each of them. They are both lifetime collectors who have a good sense of what collectors want.

Both also stressed the importance of the coins being dated “2021”, not a dual date as is sometimes used on coin issues that celebrate anniversaries. As Mr. Uram said, “The next slot in your silver dollar album after 1921 should be 2021.”

Asked whether the Mint might be able to use the original dies from 1921 of both coins, Mr. Uram said that what is more likely is that perhaps the original plaster models of the designs could be used and that he is working with the Mint on this. Converting the plaster designs into the 3D graphic system that Mint artists use today will be key. Current Chief Engraver Joseph Menna is well-known for working that way.

Legislative Issues

Another issue is the timetable for getting the program approved in time for the coins to be issued in 2021. Unlike some of the other commemorative coin programs currently being considered, this one is especially time sensitive. While in theory it would be possible for two-thirds of the House of Representatives and the Senate to co-sponsor the bill (as required by law) by the end of 2020, the goal is to achieve that by the end of 2019.

Only two commemorative programs may be issued per year, and the silver dollar legislation is in competition with several other pending bills, including those for coins to honor Christa McAuliffe, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and the Purple Heart award.

This is why it would be highly preferable for the bill to receive the necessary co-sponsors this year. Mr. Moran stressed that support in the House is key, as the Senate is likely to support it if the House already does. He added that Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA1), Minority Whip, has agreed to be a co-sponsor in addition to Rep. Barr.

Since 40% of the proceeds from sales of the coin would go to the ANA, Mr. Uram said he is in the process of having the Mint’s legal counsel make a determination as to whether he could work with the ANA such as to see what the organization can do to promote the program, including perhaps in its magazine, The Numismatist.

Designs and Dies

As for the designs of both coins in the program, the legislation says the “designs of the coins minted under the Act shall be representative of either the Morgan dollar or the Peace dollar.”

“The Mint needs flexibility to adapt these designs to modern requirements,” as Mr. Moran pointed out, adding: “It was the desire of the bill’s originators that the design be reflective of the design from 1878, not the one from 1921.”

As Morgan dollar collectors know, the 1921 coins have a much more-shallow relief (along with weakness in the hair detail on Liberty and in the lettering) than the coins issued from 1878 to 1904. And as Mr. Moran noted, in 1910 U.S. Mint Chief Engraver and the designer of the coin, George T. Morgan, was asked by Mint Director Abram Piatt Andrew to destroy the early dies and hubs that were not current, not anticipating the need to strike more Morgan dollars. He later had to make new ones that were used for the 1921 coins when Congress authorized the production of another run of Morgan dollars.

Mr. Moran said that “Visually there must be no difference [in terms of the relief and designs of the 2021 coins] from the 1878 Morgan and 1921 Peace dollars, or there will be hell to pay with collectors.” At the same time, it is important to have a little technical flexibility in the way the designs are executed provided they closely resemble the original coins being commemorated. As for the original plasters, Mr. Moran said he is not certain but sees no reason they would not have been preserved since the Mint usually saves items of historic significance.

In 2015, researchers including Q. David Bowers and others found models, hubs and master dies at the Philadelphia Mint for 1964-dated Morgan and 1964-D Peace dollars. The Morgan materials are believed to be based on the 1878 to 1904 Morgan design, rather than the 1921 version, but that has not been determined conclusively.

Product Options

Collectors of modern U.S. commemoratives, especially of those that include more than one coin per program, tend to like seeing them issued in sets. The 2021 silver dollar program presents some exciting possibilities for two, three and even four-coin silver dollar sets plus a possible Coin and Currency Set (in which a Morgan dollar would be paired with an intaglio print from the Bureau of Printing and Engraving of a Series 1886 $5 silver certificate that depicts the obverse of an 1886 Morgan dollar and several reverses).

This raised the issue of different mint marks on the Morgan dollar. While this is still being worked out, Mr. Uram said that he would like to see Morgan dollars with three different mintmarks for San Francisco (S), Philadelphia (P), and Carson City (CC) and paring those coins would certainly make for some nice sets.

The Peace dollar is expected to be struck at the Philadelphia Mint, as was the 1921 coin.

There are also ongoing consultations with congressional supporters of the bill and the Mint about the finishes on the coins, which are expected to include both Uncirculated and Proof strikes for each coin.

In addition, Mr. Uram said that any larger set would be a deluxe product that would ideally come in a mahogany case and that all products should include a booklet, not just a certificate of authenticity, that would tell the important story of the coins being commemorated.

Silver Medals

Some other possible products include silver medals that would recreate two famous pattern designs of George T. Morgan – the 1879 “Schoolgirl”, a favorite of pattern collectors, and the 1882 “Shield Earring” pattern.

In addition, a medal recreating the original “Broken Sword” version of the Peace dollar, which had been prepared by the coin’s designer Anthony de Francisci and received approval all the way up to President Warren Harding, is a possibility.

But there was much outcry from veterans and other Americans who saw the sword not as a symbol of peace, as it was perceived by the designer, the Mint, etc., but as a symbol of weakness. This sentiment reflected sensitivity about American national symbols in the period following the Great War. Since master hubs with the sword had already been made, de Francisci and George Morgan had to cut the sword out of the hub by hand before production could begin.

The Mint, which Mr. Moran said was receptive to this as well, can issue any silver medals it wants without congressional approval, and these medals would likely be popular with collectors, giving them a chance to own a version of patterns whose originals cost into the many tens of thousands of dollars.

The fact that the Peace dollar will be struck in high relief is also a key aspect. The Mint has not issued a high-relief silver coin since the 1921 Peace Dollar. Mr. Uram said that he and Mr. Moran have stressed to Mint officials how important this is for the success of the program, and Mr. Moran added that he has no reason at this point to believe the relief will be a problem.

Program Benefits

Mr. Uram concluded that this program, if enacted, would mark the first time a commemorative coin program would also generate proceeds that would help collectors via the ANA – the world’s largest numismatic association and only congressionally-chartered coin club in the United States. That is likely to be a major selling point for the coins with collectors in addition to the very wide appeal of Morgan and Peace dollars.

Mr. Moran, who is an authority on classic American coinage, noted that the 2021 coins would “give collectors a chance to own these coins in Proof at a reasonable cost.” In addition to the fact that Proof Morgans are very expensive, no Proofs of the Peace dollar were ever issued, only satin proofs that are hard to distinguish from the regular coins.

He also suggested that the ANA or an outside organization consider putting together a petition in favor of the coins during the upcoming ANA World’s Fair of Money to be held August 13-17 in Rosemont, Illinois, which could then be sent to every member of the House of Representatives. With so many collectors expected to be in attendance, that could help galvanize support for the program.

Mr. Moran concluded that the 2021 Morgan and Peace dollar program could be the “best thing to happen to numismatics since the 2009 Ultra High Relief Double Eagle and that the 2021 coins would have a wider base of appeal because they will be much more affordable. Finally, they will also tie-in well with the expected 2021 American Liberty gold coin and silver medals.

The following widget from Govtrack.us will update as the bill progresses:

 

Important message from the author: If you think the 2021 Morgan and Peace Dollar coins would be a great program, please contact your congressional representative and ask them to support H.R. 3757. The coins will never see the light of day unless many of us do this.

If do not know who your congressional representative is, or how to reach them, this information is available on www.house.gov. It is generally best to call and ask to speak to a member of the representative’s staff, rather than sending an e-mail since every member receives so many of those, or send a letter, but those are delayed due to security screening.

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Lou GolinoLouis Golino is an award-winning numismatic journalist and writer, specializing primarily in modern U.S. and world coins. His work has appeared in CoinWeek since 2011. He also currently writes regular features for Coin World, The Numismatist, and CoinUpdate.com, and has been published in Numismatic News, COINage, and FUNTopics, among other coin publications. He has also been widely published on international political, military, and economic issues.

In 2015, his CoinWeek.com columnThe Coin Analystreceived an award from the Numismatic Literary Guild (NLG) for Best Website Column. In 2017, he received an NLG award for Best Article in a Non-Numismatic Publication with his piece, “Liberty Centennial Designs”.

In October 2018, he received a literary award from the Pennsylvania Association of Numismatists (PAN) for his 2017 article, “Lady Liberty: America’s Enduring Numismatic Motif” that appeared in The Clarion.
 

1 COMMENT

  1. I had heard of the 2021 Morgan news, but the 2012 Peace really got me excited. It would afford many collectors the opportunity to finally have a high-relief specimen in their collection. And don’t forget the proof, reverse proof, and enhance proof options as well.

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