By Bullion Shark LLC ……
While the 1933 St. Gaudens’ $20 gold coin is widely viewed as the most infamous American coin of all time with only one example that is legal to own privately, there is another coin whose existence has never even been confirmed following the melting of what is believed to be all examples ever struck.
That coin is the 1964-D Peace dollar, a coin that was controversial before it was even minted. This was because it was produced during a major coin shortage and was therefore opposed by officials at the United States Mint and in Congress.
In the early 1960s, Morgan and Peace silver dollars did not circulate much, especially in the East, but banks there kept some on hand in case customers wanted to redeem silver certificates. And out West, especially in Nevada where gambling was legal, there was some demand for the coins, especially from casinos. For years the stockpiles that the Treasury Department had accumulated of the old dollars was enough to meet existing demand.
Rising Demand for Dollars
But as demand rose in the 1960s–especially after news surfaced that in October 1962 the Treasury had found bags of previously rare dates like 1901-O Morgans–those supplies began to dwindle. The Treasury recognized that it might need to make more silver dollars by the end of the decade. By March 1964, only 2.9 million coins remained in government vaults – including Carson City dollars known to be worth a premium that were held back for the famous GSA sales.
Around the same time, the effort to reduce the silver content of our coinage had begun. Senators representing states like Nevada that produced silver introduced bills to reduce the silver content of dimes, quarters and half dollars to protect the silver interest in their states.
A deal was struck whereby the senators would support the Treasury’s plans for what to do with dimes, quarters, and halves, and in return, the Treasury would support the minting of new silver dollars. This led Treasury Secretary C. Douglas Dillon to ask for the authority in 1964 for an appropriation to produce 50 million silver dollars, and President John F. Kennedy requested the funds to strike those coins in Fiscal Year 1964 and another 100 million the next fiscal year!
Keep in mind that, at the time, the nation’s economy was in the midst of a postwar boom, and vending machines that required dimes, quarters, and halves became widespread (especially as gas stations), which means the Treasury should have been focused on meeting the growing need for that coinage.
In addition, coin collecting was booming like never before in the U.S. after the discovery of the 1955 Doubled Die Lincoln cent and large and small date 1960-P and D cents, which led to the start of the famous roll craze and even led Mint Director Eva Adams to blame the shortage of coins on alleged hoarding by collectors.
Also, the spot price of silver was going up, which further exacerbated the coin shortage since by the time it reached $1.29 per ounce that was equal to $1 face value of 90% silver coinage.
Because of this situation, the Senate scaled back its request and agreed to allocate $600,000 to fund the production of 45 million new silver dollars (not counting the cost of silver from government stockpiles). President Lyndon Johnson signed that request into law in August 1964. In September, the Mint announced it would produce 45 million new dollars struck at the Denver Mint that would only be distributed to Western states.
It was proposed that the coins would use the Peace dollar design to help reduce the speculative fervor that would come from a new design plus Peace dollars had never been very popular with the public.
Since all the dies and hubs for the 1935 Peace dollar had been destroyed in 1937, new models and collars were prepared by the Mint’s engraving staff.
We now know, following discovery about five years ago of hubs and dies for 1964 Morgan and Peace dollars, that the Mint was originally considering issuing Morgan dollars but changed to plans for Peace dollars.
But the coins were delayed due to the high demand for other denominations, and by this time Mint Director Eva Adams opposed issuing the coins – as did many in the House of Representatives due to the coin shortage. Plus, speculative fervor emerged before any coins were even struck, with dealers offering to pay as much as $7.50 per coin and collectors growing excited about the new coins, which further increased opposition to the new coins, including among some citizens.
In addition, the Treasury was preparing to introduce the $1 Federal Reserve note, which could not be redeemed for silver. This would greatly reduce the need for silver dollars.
Production and Melting
From May 13 to 24, 1965, a total of 316,076 1964-D Peace dollars were produced, though Adams maintained that all those coins were experimental or trial pieces. If that were the case, it was rather unusual to have produced that many trial examples of a new coin.
On May 25, the order to strike the coins was rescinded amid growing criticism in Congress, as they learned about speculation over the coins in the numismatic community.
The Mint reported that all of these coins were melted and the dies destroyed, but the coins were never individually verified and counted. They were only checked by weight – which means that, in theory, someone could have tossed another Peace dollar of a different date into a bag.
Ever since this time, rumors have periodically surfaced of existing examples, and various theories have been asserted as to why some examples of the coin could have survived. For example, there were rumors that some examples were held in the estate of President Johnson but those were dismissed by Adams, who stated repeatedly that all steps were taken to ensure that no examples went missing or were stolen.
But with almost 320,000 coins (or a little more, according to researcher Roger Burdette), people continue to wonder if some coins are out there.
Then there is the unconfirmed story that says Denver Mint employees were allowed to purchase two of the new coins as they were minted, which had been done in the past, and that perhaps not all of them were returned when those employees were asked to do that. But several Denver employees have stated in the numismatic press over the years that this never happened.
Illegal to Own
Since no 1964 dollars were ever officially monetized and released into circulation, any potential example is government property. Therefore, the federal government retains the right to seize any specimen that might surface, with no statute of limitation on when they can do that.
In 2013, PCGS offered a $10,000 reward simply to view a real example of the 1964-D Peace dollar, but so far there have been no takers.
Besides, if an example ever surfaced, it would be difficult to authenticate, since the 1964 coins were made using new dies and hubs that differ in appearance from the older Peace dollars – both the 1921 Peace dollars and those issued from 1922-1935.
In the meantime, lovers of the Peace dollar have the 2021 Peace silver dollars to enjoy and those that will be struck in Proof later this year.