The "war to end all wars" fell a little short of that noble aspiration. What history now calls World War I, a war that ravaged Europe from 1914 to 1918, did stir worldwide yearning, however, the yearning was for peace. One direct result of that hope was the development of the League of Nations. A second, less ambitious but equally sincere result was the Peace Silver Dollar. America ultimately rejected the League, but warmly embraced the idea of a new coin. First struck in 1921 the Peace Silver Dollar instantly became one of the most popular silver coins in American history. Many consider this silver coin to be the last "true" American silver dollar minted for circulation.
The Origin of the Peace Dollar
In the early 20th Century, most Americans preferred to use paper money instead of lugging around heavy silver dollars, however, following the war, there was widespread sentiment for the issuance of a coin that would celebrate and commemorate the restoration of peace. You see, The Peace Silver Dollar was originally intended to be a commemorative coin to mark the end of World War I. But instead, it went into circulation as the successor to the Morgan Silver Dollar.
It began in 1918 when Congress passed the Pittman Act designed to replenish the government’s reserves of silver bullion by officially melting millions of the Morgan Dollars that were stored in the Treasury vaults, more than 270 million Morgans to be exact. That meltdown reflected almost half the mintage of Morgans from 1878 to 1904. The Pittman Act also required the government to create a new silver dollar to be struck with silver purchased from the powerful mine owners in the West. The idea of a silver dollar commemorating world peace was put forward at the 1920 American Numismatic Association convention in Chicago. The ANA supported the idea and developed a committee to present the request to Congress. On May 9, 1921, the Peace Dollar bill was introduced in Congress. On the very same day, though, it seemed the idea of creating a new silver dollar would be delayed because the U.S. Mint started striking Morgan Silver Dollars again, in compliance with provisions of the Pittman Act.
The Treasury Department actually liked the idea of a new silver dollar so they announced a design competition for the development of a new coin. What the ANA didn’t realize was that the Morgan Silver Dollar had been in use for over 25 years so Congressional approval was not required for a design change. The idea of a competition for the coin’s design was very popular at the time because it allowed the nation’s most experienced artists and sculptors to compete against one another. With so many talented artists and such fierce competition, it is not surprising that some of America’s most beautiful coins such as the Mercury Dime, Standing Liberty Quarter and the Walking Liberty Half Dollars were created in the first decades of the 20th Century
The Peace Dollar Competition
In 1921, eight of the nation’s leading sculptors were invited to submit designs for the new silver dollar. A 33-year-old Italian immigrant by the name of Anthony De Francisci won the competition and the $1,500 first-place prize. His design was selected over experienced coin designs such as Victor D. Brenner (designer of the Lincoln Cent), Herman A. MacNeil (designer of the Standing Liberty Quarter) and Adolph A. Weinman (designer of the Mercury Dime and Walking Liberty Half Dollar). The design requirements had called for a Lady Liberty redesign for the obverse and an open-ended design that incorporated an eagle on the reverse.
De Francisci’s design
The Lady Liberty design de Francisci created portrayed his beautiful wife, Teresa Cafarelli as Lady Liberty wearing a crown of rays modeled after that on the Statue of Liberty. Both De Francisci and his wife were Italian immigrants and were fascinated by the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. His initial design for the reverse side included an image of a broken sword. Still traumatized from the war, many Americans complained that the broken sword could be interpreted as a symbol of defeat so assistant engraver George T. Morgan altered De Francisci’s design at the last minute.
The First Peace Dollars Meet The Public
The release of the Peace dollar wasn’t without controversy, it seems that prior to the coin’s release, photographs of Mint Director Raymond T. Baker and de Francisci examining the final plaster model appeared in newspapers across the country, along with written descriptions of the designs. This newspaper story possibly influenced the change of the broken sword design controversy. Never the less, the Treasury at that time, took the position that it was illegal for photographs of a United States coin to be printed in a newspaper.
Still, the first Peace Dollars, just over 1 million coins, were struck at the Philadelphia Mint on December 26, 1921, and continued through the end of the year. The very first coin was presented to President Warren G. Harding on January 3, 1922, after which the rest of the 1921-dated coins were released into circulation. The 1921 coins are unique among Peace Dollars because they show exceptionally high relief. In fact, the relief was so high that it caused problems on the coining presses and bankers complained that they would not stack properly. George T. Morgan was called upon once more and modified the design so that the 1922 coins were of a lower relief, making the 1921 coins the only Peace Dollars with a high relief design.
Following the initial release, the Peace Silver Dollar was minted every year until 1928 when the silver originally purchased from the Western mine owners as part of the Pittman act ran out. In late 1933, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued a proclamation requiring the U.S. Mint to once again strike silver dollars from newly purchased silver. Small numbers of Peace Dollars were issued in 1934 and 1935 to use up this silver. Minted at the Philadelphia and San Francisco Mints, these were America's last circulating silver dollars. The Peace dollar's early demise was ominously symbolic. Struck only for 10 years, millions of Peace Dollars met the same fate as the Morgan Dollar where the Wartime Act of 1942 caused the melting of Peace Dollars for the war effort. Four years later, in 1939, World War II erupted in Europe. No one knows for sure how many historic Peace Silver Dollars still remain today, but it is certain that they are some of the most popular and widely collected American coins in the world.
The Mysterious 1964 Peace Dollar
The Act of August 3, 1964, called for the U.S. Mint to issue 45 million silver dollars at a time when the silver content in dimes, quarters, and half dollars was either being eliminated or lowered. Before the Treasury Department changed its mind and decided not to mint the coins, the Denver Mint had already struck 316,076 Peace Dollars dated 1964. They were not released into circulation, so the coins were melted — but at least seven 1964 Peace Silver Dollars are thought to have escaped destruction. These coins (if they exist) are the most elusive and talked-about silver coins of the 20th Century.
The Peace Dollar is highly collectible today and its history is rich. From helping to end WWI, the controversies, and production flaws to its immigrant designer, this coin can easily be called a true American victory.