Gerald Tebben, a Coin World columnist for more than 30 years, also contributes to Coin World’s Coin Values and edits the Central States Numismatic Society’s journal, The Centinel. He collects coins that tell stories.
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U.S. coinage shaped by war: World War I
The Peace dollar's creator originally envisioned a broken sword in the eagle's grasp, signifying an end to war. The shattered hardware was interpreted by others as a symbol of defeat, however, so an olive branch took its place at the eagle's feet.
After World War I, America’s coinage celebrated peace. We continue a five-part look at the way war has shaped U.S. coinage.
Part three: World War I
While World War I wreaked havoc on European currencies, the coinage of the United States went through the war unchanged.
In the war’s aftermath, several countries – notably Germany – abandoned metal coinage for paper money and produced it with abandon.
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The United States, though, doubled down on the silver dollar and changed its design to celebrate the peace that followed the war.
Coin dealer Farran Zerbe is generally considered to be the coin’s father. Speaking at the 1920 American Numismatic Association convention, Zerbe called for the nation to commemorate the peace with a coin for circulation.
Late the next year Anthony de Francisci won a competition to design the peace coin, but his winning entry was not without controversy. President Warren G. Harding had a problem with Liberty’s face on the obverse and veterans groups didn’t like the broken sword on the back.
De Francisci’s wife, Teresa, was the model for Liberty. In a letter to her parents, she said the president objected to a dimple on her chin. “The president, however,” she wrote, “maintained that he preferred a dimpleless Liberty, because the dimpled variety did not exactly express peace.”
She also described her husband’s vision for the coin’s reverse, “On the reverse side is an eagle, with folded wings, perched upon the top of a mountain, with the rising sun in the distance. Above the eagle’s head are the olive branches of peace, while a broken sword, symbolic of the end of the war, is clutched in its talons. Just beneath the eagle is the word ‘Peace’, while crowning the top of the coin are the words ‘United States of America.’ ”
The president approved the design, but veterans groups protested the broken sword was a symbol of defeat. The New York Herald editorialized, “It is regrettable that the artist should have made such an error in symbolism.”
Just three days before production started Dec. 26, 1921, Mint Chief Engraver George T. Morgan reworked the hub used to produce the coin’s dies by essentially morphing the broken sword into an olive branch.
The last Peace dollars, curiously, were dated 1964 and produced in 1965, during the early days of the Vietnam War. The entire later-day mintage of 316,000 coins was melted.