Description and Analysis

Modern Commemoratives

Description & Analysis

Though he had been honored with a circulating dollar coin from 1971 through 1978, Dwight David Eisenhower remained a popular figure in the minds of Americans, especially during the presidential administration of fellow Republican Ronald Reagan. Thus it was that Ike was slated to reappear on a commemorative silver dollar in 1990 that marked the centennial of his birth. This bill was signed into law by Reagan on October 3, 1988.

This coin honors the dual careers that Eisenhower enjoyed in his lifetime. The obverse by U. S. Mint Sculptor-Engraver John Mercanti features conjoined, opposite facing portraits of Ike that symbolize him as a man of achievement in both war and peace. In correct heraldic fashion the portrait of the civilian President of the United States (1953-61) is superimposed over that of the military Allied Supreme Commander (1942-45). Above the bust is the legend “EISENHOWER CENTENNIAL,” while below are the dual dates 1890•1990. The portraits are flanked by statutory inscriptions, and the mintmark is centered beneath “LIBERTY.” Mercanti’s initials are placed inconspicuously at the truncation of the civilian bust.

The reverse by sculptor Marcel Jovine features a perspective view of Eisenhower’s retirement home in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, though its location is not noted on the coin. A view of his birthplace home would have been more meaningful, but was evidently not as conducive to tourism. The balance of the coin is comprised of purely statutory inscriptions. Jovine’s initials are worked into the shrubbery at far right, though the actual production model for this coin’s reverse was sculpted by Chester Y. Martin of the U. S. Mint.

As with most U. S. commemorative coin programs during the late 1980s and early ‘90s, there were charges of favoritism in the design selection process. The Mint’s own staffers, in particular, complained that they were compelled to identify their submissions, while outside artists could label them by numbers alone. With most of the winners being outsiders, there was a gradual drop-off in participation by Mint engravers, though it was still they who had to translate the selected designs into useable models. Among the Mint staff, only John Mercanti seemed to enjoy desirable status at the time, and Mint Director Donna Pope came under some criticism for her transparent favoritism toward him. Though it in no way diminished the excellent quality of his work, it did create hard feelings among the Mint’s other artists, most notably Chief Sculptor-Engraver Elizabeth Jones, who left shortly after the Eisenhower Centennial program.

Proofs of this coin were produced at the Philadelphia Mint (‘P’ mintmark), and they were promoted as being from the same state as the house depicted on the coin. The uncirculated pieces were struck at West Point (‘W’ mintmark). While it was quite unusual to make non-gold commemoratives at West Point, this mint was chosen due to its being on the grounds of the U. S. Military Academy, where Ike’s military career had commenced.

The ordering period opened January 15, 1990, with pre-sale prices of $23 for the uncirculated dollar and $25 for the proof edition. The Eisenhower Centennial Dollar was also included in that year’s Prestige Proof Set at $42 during the pre-order period. From March 1 onward, these prices rose to $26, $29 and $46, respectively.

The authorizing law for this coin provided for the coining of up to four million pieces, though it was becoming apparent by 1988 that such mintages were optimistic for any coin sold at a premium above face value. Nevertheless, this coin was successful from a sales standpoint, with over a million proofs being sold and just under a quarter million uncirculated examples being ordered.

The vast sales to veterans anticipated by the bill’s sponsors never materialized, and this reinforced a pattern common to most commemorative coin programs. The buyers of such coins, regardless of the subject matter, are almost solely coin collectors. Even today this truism is not understood by Congress or by the sponsors of commemorative coin programs, but it is routinely worked into the sales pitch for getting a particular bill passed.