USA Coin Album: Peace Dollars, Attractive and Affordable — Part Two

Posted on 7/14/2020

The die changes of the Peace Dollar series add so much interest.

Last month, I detailed the history leading up to the creation of the Peace Dollar, a short series that is easily collected across a broad range of grades. This time out, I'll examine the evolution of the series over 14 years and the peculiar characteristics of the dies that add so much interest.

The first emission of Peace Dollars was dated 1921 and struck entirely during the closing week of that year. Working dies were not ready for the presses until December 28! The goal of producing enough pieces to avoid a rarity meant there was no time to test the dies for practicality, and problems developed immediately. To bring up the high relief of the 1921 dies in a single stroke required a striking pressure that would have been highly damaging to both dies and press. A compromise was made that resulted in coins lacking full details. Depending on how the collars were milled, the 1921 Peace Dollars displayed either strong centers with weak peripheries or full peripheral letters and numerals with shallow features on the highest points of relief: the hair covering Liberty's ear and the wing feathers just above the eagle's legs.

The 1921 dollars were not released until the first week of 1922, and they received mixed reviews from both the numismatic and general press. Most collectors welcomed both the Peace theme and the radical departure from George T. Morgan's staid Liberty Head type struck earlier in 1921. Critics less attuned to numismatic matters saw the youthful Liberty figure as a "flapper," a term just then coming into vogue to describe the liberated woman of the 1920s.

The 1921 Peace Dollar was in high relief that often did not strike up well.
Click images to enlarge.

It was obvious to the US Mint almost immediately that it had to make modifications to the new dollar type for mass production to be practical. New hubs and dies of much lower relief were ready early in 1922 for the coins of that and subsequent years. The mechanical reductions made by Chief Engraver Morgan to the original hubs were fairly effective with respect to the Liberty portrait and eagle figure, but the legends and mottos suffered mightily. This lettering was so shallow on the dollars of 1922-23 as to be unreadable after only modest circulation.

New, low-relief hubs were created for 1922. This improved the striking quality, but
IN GOD WE TRUST and ONE DOLLAR were both quite shallow and wore away quickly in circulation.
Click images to enlarge.

For the obverse master die of 1924, Morgan strengthened the motto IN GOD WE TRUST, with the result that it is bolder and remained more durable on worn coins. This retrofit doesn't seem to have been applied to the 1925 obverse master, which reverted to the relief of 1922-23 coins. A new reverse hub was created for the 1924 and subsequent issues, and this featured a strengthened denomination ONE DOLLAR. Since this hub bore no date, it could be continued into later years.

The obverse master die for 1926 was modified by new Chief Engraver John Sinnock, but he elected to strengthen the single word GOD. While it would be nice to apply some spiritual meaning to this, examination of Peace Dollars from previous years reveals that this word was the one which most quickly wore down on the working dies. Being opposite the eagle's head on the reverse, this portion of the die eroded more quickly and needed specific attention. It appears that no touch-up was made to the dies dated 1927-28, and these typically have a weak obverse motto. Replacement of the coins melted under the 1918 Pittman Act was completed in 1928, and silver dollar coinage was once again suspended.

In 1926, the new Chief Engraver John R. Sinnock sharpened the word GOD so that it would better resist die erosion.
Click images to enlarge.

In 1934, Congress sought to prop up the value of silver with a new issue of dollars coined from newly-mined, domestic bullion purchased at subsidized prices. Chief Engraver Sinnock took this opportunity to create entirely new hubs for the Peace Dollar. The dies for dollars dated 1934-35 therefore have uniformly sharp lettering. Though the depth of impression could still vary from coin to coin, the legends and mottos were generally more durable when worn.

The new hubs used for 1934-35 dollars had all lettering sharpened for greater durability.
Click images to enlarge.

The coining of silver dollars that mostly went into storage rather than circulating was viewed as undesirable, yet the need to prop up silver's price remained. A change was made in the redemption clause of silver certificates which eliminated the requirement for additional dollar coins after 1935.

Historically, silver certificates were redeemable in "silver dollars," but after 1935 the redemption read "dollars in silver." This permitted their redemption in the form of silver ingots and granules, rather than coins. In actual practice silver dollars were freely exchanged for silver certificates until March of 1964, when the Treasury reacted to a speculative trade in silver dollars by permanently suspending their issue.

Next month, I'll take a look at the individual coin entries of 1922-35 and examine the subtleties of each date/mint combination.

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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