USA Coin Album: Golden Anniversary of the Eisenhower Dollar — Part 2

Posted on 8/9/2022

The packaging of these coins is especially interesting to the collecting community.

Orders for the Uncirculated and Proof editions of the 1971-S silver-clad dollars were accepted beginning July 1 of that year, though the order forms were distributed as early as June 18. In an unprecedented step, the US Mint placed ordering brochures in banks and post offices across the nation.

The Uncirculated 1971-S Dollar was available at $3, while the Proof edition cost a whopping $10, twice the price of that year’s five-coin Proof set. I clearly recall my mother bringing home one of these brochures from our local Bank of America branch, and I cajoled my parents into ordering me one coin of each finish. (As was our family’s custom, they gave my non-collecting brother the cash equivalent).

Order blanks for the collector editions of the new Eisenhower dollar
began appearing in numismatic publications in the late spring of 1971.
Click image to enlarge

The ordering period for the Uncirculated 1971-S Dollar finally ended October 8, and nearly seven million were sold. Each piece was packaged in a clear, flexible plastic sleeve that also held a blue, plastic disk of dollar size imprinted with silver metallic ink. At the center of this disk is a heraldic eagle, and around the periphery is the legend ★EISENHOWER★ UNCIRCULATED SILVER DOLLAR. The sleeve was inserted within a paper envelope of deep blue, and the term “blue Ike” quickly became coin hobby shorthand for this Uncirculated edition. Ultimately, over six million of these coins were sold.

1971-S Eisenhower Dollar NGC MS 64
Click images to enlarge

Sales of the 1971-S Proof Dollar had reached more than four million pieces when the US Mint determined that it had reached its production limit. Deliveries began October 14, 1971, a date that would have been the late President Eisenhower’s 81st birthday.

Each coin was secured by a black, plastic panel that was itself enclosed within a clear, plastic shell having a raised and frosted border (the name Eisenhower appeared above the coin, while United States Proof Dollar was below). These parts were placed within a red, plastic bed covered in flocking. This bed fit within a brown, cardboard box having a simulated wood grain finish. The collected components were then slid into a slipcover made of the same faux wood. To the front of this was affixed an embossed, gold seal representing the US Mint.

Despite all of the steps taken to make a grand presentation, the whole ensemble looked rather cheap for a product that cost $10. (Bear in mind that a Mint State Morgan or Peace Dollar cost about half as much at the time.) Due to the box color, the hobby soon took to calling these Proofs “brown box” Ikes.

The Uncirculated 1971-S silver-clad dollar was packaged in a flexible plastic sleeve, while the proof edition featured a rigid plastic holder set within a cardboard box, as shown.
Click images to enlarge

When I received my Proof and Uncirculated 1971-S Dollars, I was entirely satisfied with them, though many collectors at the time pointed out that the Uncirculated edition typically displayed many contact marks. It was later revealed that the 1971-S Ikes were bagged in bulk and shipped to New York for packaging, which likely accounts for their disappointing quality. (The Proof dollars were manually removed from the press and thus did not suffer such abuse).

The circulating, copper-nickel-clad edition of the Eisenhower Dollar was not available in sufficient numbers for delivery to banks until the fall. These were to be issued publicly on November 1, and I eagerly anticipated that date. At the time I was in junior high school, and the three or four coin collecting friends from my grade school years had all dropped out of the hobby. In their place was just one new coin buddy, Ron, to go down to the bank with me that day and fill our pockets with the new dollars. (The San Francisco area was serviced by the Denver Mint, so our coins were all 1971-D pieces.)

I bought just two examples, but Ron, who always seemed to have a little more money, bought five or six. It quickly became evident, however, that we could have acquired a thousand Ike dollars without finding a single piece we liked. Each coin was poorly struck from worn dies and displayed countless contact marks. When compared to the collector editions, the circulating dollars were absolutely ugly. (In all likelihood, we’d have been even more disappointed with the Philadelphia Mint coins, which typically were of even lower quality).

Though the 1971-D copper-nickel-clad dollar shown here is an exceptional gem,
most circulating Ike dollars were poorly made. This is particularly evident
in comparison to the 1971-S silver-clad Proof edition.
Click images to enlarge

Next month, I’ll continue the Ike dollar saga with a look at the series’ progression after 1971.

David W. Lange's column, “USA Coin Album,” appears monthly in The Numismatist, the official publication of the American Numismatic Association.

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