By Jack Vaughn for PCGS ……
The 1921 High-Relief Peace Dollar is a key date in its series and is regarded as an essential coin for many type set collectors. This date is known for its low mintage and enhanced appearance. Yet it remains relatively underappreciated. As a result of political and economic challenges, the United States Mint paused production of Morgan Dollars in 1904, resuming again in 1921.
However, the Mint did not immediately proceed with the Peace Dollar. Instead, they struck the most Morgan Dollars ever produced within a year. In fact, the Mint struck over twice the mintage of the 1889 Morgan Dollar – the previous record-holder for the highest mintage in the series. As you can imagine, 1921 was a very busy year at the U.S. Mint. To make production matters even more intense for Mint officials, all Peace Dollars dated 1921 were to be struck in the last four days of the year.
The Making of a Classic Coin
The 1921 High-Relief Peace Dollar is a key date in the series due to its low mintage of 1,006,473 pieces. Yet, the rate at which they produced these coins was extreme. If the Mint were to strike coins at this rate for a year, they would produce a staggering 91,840,661 pieces–over twice the overall output of the 1921 Morgan Dollar from the same facility.
The Mint also struck the 1921 Peace with high-relief dies. In numismatics (and art more generally), “relief” refers to the protrusion of the device/design above its surrounding fields. In other words, the “three-dimensionality” of the coin’s design. Because of the high relief of the dies, they required higher striking pressure to translate the design fully onto the planchet. These higher pressures caused dies to fail quicker than anticipated, with each high-relief die striking roughly 25,000 coins before failure. In contrast, each Morgan Dollar die struck roughly 10 times that. The Mint could not afford to continue breaking dies at this rate. So as a countermeasure, striking pressure was lowered. This change left the highest points of the coin (the ridge of vertical hair located overtop Liberty’s ear and where the eagle’s wing meets its leg) unstruck.
Given the mintage of the coin and the average lifespan of a die, if you were to stumble across a well-struck 1921 Peace Dollar, it is extremely likely it was struck on December 28, 1921, which was the first day Peace Dollars were produced. This is fascinating because it is one of the few United States coins that can be reasonably narrowed down to its date of production based on diagnostics (excluding die markers, such as die cracks and polish). Instead, this is narrowed down using the presence of detail. Lower-grade examples of this coin are exempt from this statement as the presence of critical strike detail is largely obliterated due to circulation.
1921 Peace Dollar Design Notes
In late 1921, the Mint asked eight American artists to submit designs and compete for America’s next silver dollar — essentially a coin commemorating peace following the end of the “Great War” (World War I). The winning design belonged to artist Anthony de Francisci, who modeled the obverse figure after his wife, Teresa.
Many people question the spelling of the word “TRVST” on the obverse because of the appearance of what looks to be a letter “V” in place of “U”. This was a decision made to mimic Latin, a common stylistic choice of the time. In Latin, the letter “V” is equivalent to the English “U”. However, many people believe the “V” stands for “victory”. Other people view it synonymously with the hand symbol for peace, which uses one’s index and pointer fingers.
On the reverse, a bald eagle sits perched on a mountaintop as it watches the sun rise over a new world. The eagle holds an olive branch in its grasp, which is a symbol of peace. Proof examples of this coin exist, dated 1921 and 1922. The 1921 examples are struck with a satin finish, while the 1922 specimens bear a matte finish. Both are exceptionally scarce.
In 1922, Francisci worked with George T. Morgan, the designer of the Morgan Dollar and then-Chief Engraver of The United States Mint. Their goal was to lower the relief of Peace Dollar dies, significantly prolonging their use. The relief remained the same through 1935, its final year of production.
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A bit of trivia about the use of V instead of U in the word TRVST: The Latin alphabet had only 24 letters; J and U weren’t added until the 16th century. Depending on their context the characters I and V could be vowels, consonants, or numerals.
The Latin alphabet enjoyed a short revival in the early 20th century among artists who worked in a retro-classical style. Hermon MacNeil’s design for the Standing Liberty quarter, released in 1916, featured the mottoes IN GOD WE TRVST as on the Peace dollar, as well as E PLVRIBVS VNVM on the reverse side.