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Peace Dollars: Art vs. Commerce

Peace Dollars: Art Vs. Commerce

By Victor Bozarth for PCGS ……
I’ve always liked Peace Dollars, which I call the underdog of silver dollars. And I’ve always rooted for the underdog… In this two-parter, I’m going to discuss the Peace Dollar and how it came to exist. I’ll also detail the 24-coin series in terms of both its historical price appreciation and the potential market advantages some dates or grades offer versus others.

The Peace Dollar was the result of a competition to create a coin design embodying peace as a concept in the days following the end of World War I. And yet, the coin as we know it almost didn’t happen.

The design by Anthony de Francisci features the goddess of Liberty in profile on the obverse with a large bald eagle clutching an olive branch perched upon a rock inscribed with the legend “PEACE” on the reverse.

The strong yet simple design, clearly emblematic of forward motion, was a big departure from the Morgan Dollar hailing from an earlier era. The world had survived the Great War, as it was then known. As a result, the United States as a country had at no time in history been more prominent on the world stage.

Although produced to complete the redesign of coinage that had begun in 1907 with President Theodore Roosevelt, the Peace Dollar was nearly a footnote. Approval for its production by Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon didn’t even occur until December 1921.

At that point in time, nearly 80 million Morgan Dollars had already been produced in 1921 in Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco. With the passage of the Pittman Act in 1918, the United States was required to strike millions of silver dollars, and this led to the revival of the Morgan Dollar in 1921 following its discontinuation in 1904. Did we need more silver dollars? Probably not. The machinations surrounding the production of massive amounts of silver dollars, too, were a result of economic factors that resulted from the Great War. But that’s a long story for another article.

Despite no approval by Congress for a new dollar design, proponents were able to get key officials to aid in the issuance of the Peace Dollar. Those advocating for the new Peace Dollar realized Congressional approval wasn’t necessary because the Morgan Dollar had been struck for more than 25 years; under an 1890 act, the design was eligible for replacement at the discretion of Secretary Mellon.

Mellon liked the idea of a dollar honoring peace early on, “So long as the redesign involved no expense,” reports numismatic historian Roger Burdette. Although no exact source for the idea of a Peace Dollar can be identified, an article in the November 1918 issue of The Numismatist by Frank Duffield is often cited. Duffield called for a “victory coin” to be “issued in such quantities it will never become rare.” There was popular sentiment to commemorate peace amid the aftermath and recovery from the world war, a costly conflict when measured in the context of its human toll and financial expenditure.

Farran Zerbe wrote a paper calling for the issuance of a coin to celebrate peace called Commemorate the Peace with a Coin for Circulation. The paper was read to attendees at the 1920 American Numismatic Association (ANA) Convention in Chicago. Zerbe didn’t necessarily favor a dollar coin as the medium for the peace coin commemorative, but he noted that there was existing legislation mandating silver dollar production, that a new design for the dollar was possible, and that bullion for the coins was available. The idea gained traction, and those who favored the idea were peace coin advocates.

When the production of Morgan Dollars began again on May 9, 1921, Congressman Albert H. Vestal introduced the Peace Dollar authorization bill simultaneously as a joint resolution. Congress adjourned before any action could be taken. Vestal was undeterred and told ANA representatives he hoped Congress would act once they reconvened in December of the same year.

Behind the scenes, so to speak, other peace coin advocates, including U.S. Commission of Fine Arts (CFA) Chair Charles Moore and fellow commission member and Buffalo Nickel designer James Earle Fraser learned of the proposed coin meeting from December 1920. During their meeting in May of 1921, they agreed a competition would be held for an appropriate design for the proposed Peace Dollar, sponsored by the CFA.

The Commission’s recommendations to the United States Mint on July 26 proposed a competition among invited sculptors to be used for the design possibilities. The invited participants would all receive $100, with the winning design receiving $1,500. Although President Warren G. Harding issued an executive order requiring the coin designs, the failure of the authorization bill held everything up.

Several months passed before the peace coin advocates realized Mellon had authority to change the dollar design. Not until November 19, 1921, (with just 42 calendar days left in 1921) did Fraser notify competition participants by letter of the competition. Rules and requirements for the design as well as the due date were forwarded on the 23rd.

Despite the short time period and the obvious talent of the competitors, a relatively inexperienced sculptor’s design was unanimously approved by the Commission. Anthony De Francisci, aged 34, was the winner. Although he had worked on models of the 1920 Maine Commemorative Half Dollar previously, he wasn’t happy with it and had commented that he didn’t “consider it very favorably.” All the sculptors were limited on time, and so de Francisci, having little time to find or hire a formal model, based the effigy of Miss Liberty on his wife Teresa.

Much ado was made on December 19 when the new designs were presented to Harding. Mint Director Raymond Baker and Francisci were pictured widely in newspapers inspecting the plaster model of the new silver dollar. Mellon gave formal approval of the design the next day. Because of the time to produce working dies, a first strike wouldn’t occur until nearly the last day of the year.

More disagreement over the coin’s design, with the placement of a broken sword on the reverse, delayed the coin a couple more weeks. Last-minute modifications were made by Chief Engraver George T. Morgan. As the Christmas season began with Baker in San Francisco, Treasury Undersecretary Seymour Parker Gilbert approved the decision to have the design changes made. Amazingly little was known about Morgan’s last-minute design changes for 85 years.

The mintage of 1921 Peace Dollars is 1,006,473 coins. The first 1921 Peace Dollar was struck on December 28, 1921. The Peace Dollar was first released into circulation on January 3, 1922.

In the second part of this two-part article series, I will discuss pricing history of the Peace Dollar, as well as current values and how the changes in value for individual dates and grades have evolved since PCGS began operations in 1986. I will also discuss how the issuance of the 2021 Peace Dollar not only generated great excitement in the numismatic community, but also served to super-charge interest in this short-lived but challenging series.

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About the Author

Vic BozarthVic Bozarth is a member of the Professional Numismatics Guild (PNG), FUN, the ANA, the CSNS, and many other regional and state coin clubs and organizations. Vic has extensive experience buying and selling coins into the mid-six-figure range. Vic and his wife Sherri attend all major U.S. coin shows as well as most of the larger regional shows.

For more information from PCGS, click on the image below.

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Vic Bozarth
Vic Bozarth
Vic Bozarth is a member of the Professional Numismatics Guild (PNG), the ANA, the CSNS, FUN, and many other regional and state coin clubs and organizations. Vic has extensive experience buying and selling coins into the mid-six-figure range. Both Vic and his wife Sherri attend all major U.S. coin shows as well as most of the larger regional shows.

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  1. Can you finally put to bed the old question….why the V in trust. Was it an artist design preface nod to the fad of the day (Art Deco) or V for victory?


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