Youth, artistry, and history set the tone for first Peace dollar design

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By , Coin World
Published : 09/22/15
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This the latest installment in a series  by Steve Roach about the Peace dollar from the October 2015 issue of Coin World Monthly.

Anthony de Francisci was, along with most sculptors in the United States, consumed with producing wartime memorials, sculptures and medals commemorating World War I in the years immediately after the Great War ended.

His designs for the Maine Centennial half dollar in 1920 were based on original drawings by Harry Cochrane, and when comparing the two artist’s work, one sees De Francisci’s hand specifically in the elegant elongated letters used on both sides and greater articulation in the figures on the obverse and the reverse wreath. Even de Francisci was underwhelmed with the finished product when asked about it later.

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For the Peace dollar design, de Francisci drew upon work for items he had recently completed, including the Verdun city medal and the Peace of Versailles medal design. Trial sketches for the reverse show the artist experimenting with a flying eagle not dissimilar to that used on Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ double eagle and an eagle breaking a sword that looks to Weinman’s Walking Liberty half dollar, with nods to the eagle seen on Bela Lyon Pratt’s sunken Indian Head gold $5 half eagle and $2.50 quarter eagle.

Read the first post in this series on the history of the Peace dollar:

De Francisci’s final plasters reviewed by the Commission of Fine Arts on Dec. 13, 1921, show the familiar obverse with a date in Roman numerals, along with two reverses: one similar to the adopted one, and the other with a different eagle and a prominent broken sword motif.

The commission reviewed plaster models from the eight invited sculptors, along with a set from Morgan who was ordered by the Mint director to submit designs, and a mysterious Mr. Folio of New York City, although Morgan’s and Folio’s designs were not considered part of the competition.

These designs and the evaluation process, along with the specific criteria used are a mystery of 20th century numismatics. Ultimately, de Francisci, only 34 years old at the time, won the competition, and his design, with a portrait inspired by his 22-year-old wife Teresa, emerged the victor. De Francisci’s former teacher James Fraser assisted de Francisci in preparing the completed models and, to help with this, Fraser loaned de Fransicsi a bust of Victory by Saint-Gaudens to provide an example of what Fraser called, “a beautiful type.”

President Harding examined the final designs on Dec. 20, and images of Mint Director Baker and de Francisci examining the model of the new dollars were sent to newspapers across the country. Surprisingly, a description on the back of a contemporary photo from the National Photo Company that came from the reference department of a newspaper dated Dec. 20, 1921, states: “On one side of the new dollar will be the bust and head of Liberty and on the other will be a mountain on whose peak stands an eagle with folded wings, perched on a broken sword and looking toward the dawn of a new day. This is symbolic of the work of the disarmament conference.”

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