Know your U.S. coins: Peace dollar

Commemorating the peace after World War I is the reason the Peace dollar was created, although the first coin was not struck until December 1921, three years after the official peace accords were signed. By 1935 the dollar denomination was abandoned, which brought an end to the Peace dollar.

More than 2 million American "dough boys" participated in the conflict once the United States entered the war in 1917, three years after its start and one year before its end. Shortly after the war was over, many groups began calling for a coin to mark its victorious end. Collectors writing in the The Numismatist (the monthly journal of the American Numismatic Association) in 1918 and 1919 added their voices to the call for a special coin, pointing out that a Victory postage stamp had been issued and that a Victory coin was in order.

COIN VALUES: See how much Peace dollar coins are worth today

Noted collector Farran Zerbe wrote a paper, "Commemorate Peace with a Coin for Circulation," that was read at the ANA convention in Chicago in 1920. Zerbe's paper, in part, stated: "A commemorative coin for general circulation would be a novelty. We have never had one. Our special coins have all been stimulating for numismatics, even though all have been sold at a premium and withheld from circulation. A special coin for all of the people at its face value would be a boon for our subject, particularly so if it commemorates a great event and was a pleasing medallic art product."

Zerbe continued: "If we are to have such a coin, someone must lead the way. Public agitation and government attention are essential. It is unnecessary for me to emphasize qualifications or to particularize any of the many good reasons why the American Numismatic Association should lead the way."

Zerbe, Judson Brenner, Dr. J.M. Henderson, Howland Wood, and William A. Ashbrook were appointed to the ANA's Peace-Victory Commemorative Committee and represented the collector organization when it sought congressional authorization for a coin.

Legislation calling for a silver dollar with a design to commemorate "the termination of the war between the Imperial German Government and the government and people of the United States" was introduced May 9, 1921. The legislation was seen has having strong support and was placed on the unanimous consent calendar. However, when one member objected and it failed to gain approval on Aug. 1, 1921.

The idea of a Peace dollar had the strong backing of the Commission of Fine Arts and senior Treasury officials in the Harding administration, so the coin became a reality through the secretary of the Treasury's authority to change designs based on an 1890 law. By November 1921 the Commission of Fine Arts had selected a design from offerings rendered by eight private artists who had been invited to submit designs. Well-known sculptor Anthony de Francisci's designs were chosen and he was awarded the competition prize of $100. (He had designed the Maine Centennial half dollar the year before.)

The Peace dollar obverse design features a portrait of Liberty, facing left, wearing a needle-like radiant headdress. De Francisci's wife, Teresa, served as model for the sculptor's vision of Liberty. The original reverse showed an eagle atop a ledge looking into the rising sun – symbolic of a new day – holding a broken sword in its talons, indicating the war's end. The Commission of Fine Arts rejected the eagle reverse because it thought the broken sword could be considered a sign of defeat rather than victory. The design was changed to show the eagle clutching an olive branch.

There are no Peace dollars bearing the dates 1929, 1930, 1931, 1932 nor 1933 primarily due to the severe economic conditions of the Great Depression. Approximately 270 million Peace dollars were struck, which is less than half the number of Morgan dollars that were made. However, the Peace dollar remains a highly sought after coin among collectors.

The Peace dollar design was dusted off in 1965 and briefly used to produce silver dollars. However none of the 1964-dated Peace dollars struck at the Denver Mint were released into circulation. Official Mint records released to the public indicate that all specimens were destroyed. However, rumors persist that a few specimens may have survived.

Peace dollars are collected by type, date, Mint mark and VAM variety. The key date is 1928.

Keep reading from our "Know Your U.S. Coins" series:

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