The Stamp and Coin Place Blog: connecting the past and present of stamp and coin collecting, and looking to the future.

The Creation of the Peace Dollar

From 1921 to 1928 and again in 1934 and 1935 the United States Peace dollar was minted. Designed by Anthony de Francisci, the dollar coin was the result of a competition to find designs symbolic of peace. Most coin collectors will recognize the coin with the obverse representing the head and neck of the Goddess of Liberty, and the reverse depicting a bald eagle at rest clutching an olive branch, with the legend “Peace”. It was the last United States dollar coin to be struck for circulation in silver.

Charles Moore, the chairman of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, and James Earle Fraser, Buffalo nickel designer, met with Mint Director Baker on May 26, 1921, and they agreed that it would be appropriate to hold a design competition for the proposed silver dollar. This was formalized on July 26 with the Commission’s written recommendation to the Mint that a competition, open only to invited sculptors, be used to select designs. The winner of the competition was to receive $1,500 prize money, while all other participants would be given $100.

The artists were instructed to design a coin with the head of Liberty on the obverse, to be made “as beautiful and full of character as possible“and with a reverse which would depict an eagle. The piece was also required to bear the denomination, “E pluribus unum”, the motto “In God We Trust” and the word “Liberty. Otherwise all other design details were left to the discretion of the artist. On December 13, the commission assembled to review the submitted designs. After considerable discussion among Fraser, Moore, and Herbert Adams, a design by Anthony de Francisci was unanimously selected.

De Francisci was one of the least experienced and at the age of 33 was the youngest of the competitors. While most of the others had designed regular or commemorative coins for the Mint, de Francisci’s work had been with the conversion of drawings for the 1920 Maine commemorative half dollar to the finished designs. De Francisci had had little discretion in that project, and later said of the work, “I do not consider it very favorably.

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Teresa de Francisci

The obverse design of Liberty’s features were based upon de Francisci’s wife, Teresa de Francisci. Due to the short length of the competition, he lacked the time to hire a model with the features he envisioned. Teresa de Francisci was born Teresa Cafarelli in Naples, Italy; in interviews, she related that when she was five years old and the steamer on which she and her family were immigrating passed the Statue of Liberty, she was fascinated by the statue, called her family over, and struck a pose in imitation. She later wrote to her brother Rocco,

You remember how I was always posing as Liberty, and how brokenhearted I was when some other little girl was selected to play the role in the patriotic exercises in school? I thought of those days often while sitting as a model for Tony’s design, and now seeing myself as Miss Liberty on the new coin, it seems like the realization of my fondest childhood dream.

The crown that the Liberty head bears is similar to certain Roman coins, but is “more explicitly intended to recall that on the Statue of Liberty“. Anthony de Francisci recalled that he opened the window of the studio and let the wind blow on his wife’s hair as he worked which inspired the flowy design of Liberty’s hair. However, he did not feel that the design depicted his wife exclusively; de Francisci noted that “the nose, the fullness of the mouth are much like my wife’s, although the whole face has been elongated“. De Francisci also submitted two reverse designs; one showed a warlike eagle, aggressively breaking a sword; the other an eagle at rest, holding an olive branch.

On December 15th, Baker, de Francisci, and Moore met in Washington; at that time, Baker, who hoped to start Peace dollar production in 1921, outlined the tight schedule and requested a few design changes. He wished to see the inclusion of the broken sword from the sculptor’s alternate reverse design, to be placed under the eagle, on the mountaintop on which it stands, in addition to the olive branch. Baker approved the designs, subject to these changes; the revised designs were presented to President Harding on December 19. Harding insisted on the removal of a small feature of Liberty’s face, which seemed to him to appear as a dimple, something he did not consider suggestive of peace.

On December 19, 1921, the Treasury announced the new design. Photographs of Baker

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Sculptor Anthony de Francisci  and Mint Director Raymond T. Baker

and de Francisci examining the final plaster model appeared in newspapers, along with written descriptions of the designs. 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. The first strike of the new coins was scheduled for December 29.

The new design was widely reported in newspapers, and was the source of intense public attention. A Mint press release described the reverse as “a large figure of an eagle perched on a broken sword, and clutching an olive branch bearing the word, ‘peace”. On December 21, the New York Herald ran a harsh editorial against the new design,

If the artist had sheathed the blade or blunted it there could be no objection. Sheathing is symbolic of peace, of course; the blunted sword implies mercy. But a broken sword carries with it only unpleasant associations.

A sword is broken when its owner has disgraced himself. It is broken when a battle is lost and breaking is the alternative to surrendering. A sword is broken when the man who wears it can no longer render allegiance to his sovereign. But America has not broken its sword. It has not been cashiered or beaten; it has not lost allegiance to itself. The blade is bright and keen and wholly dependable. It is regrettable that the artist should have made such an error in symbolism. The sword is emblematic of Justice as well as of Strength. Let not the world be deceived by this new dollar. The American effort to limit armament and to prevent war or at least reduce its horror does not mean that our sword is broken.

Given the traumas of the Great War, many Americans were highly sensitive about their national symbols, and unwilling to allow artists any leeway in interpretation. The Mint, the Treasury, and the Fine Arts Commission began to receive large numbers of letters from the public objecting to the design. De Francisci attempted to defend his design, stating: “with the sword there is the olive branch of peace and the combination of the two renders it impossible to conceive of the sword as a symbolization of defeat“.

Acting Mint Director Mary Margaret O’Reilly urgently sought approval to remove the sword from the reverse, as had been recommended by Moore and Fraser at a meeting the previous afternoon. A press release was issued late on December 24, stating that the broken sword would not appear on the issued coin. In its December 25 edition, the Herald newspaper took full credit for the removal of the broken sword from the coin’s design.

Painstaking work by Chief Engraver Morgan was done to remove of the sword from the coinage hub, which had already been produced by reduction from the plaster models. Morgan did the work on December 23 in the presence of de Francisci, summoned to the Philadelphia Mint to ensure the work met with his approval. It was insufficient to simply remove the sword, as the rest of the design had to be adjusted. Morgan had to extend the olive branch, previously half-hidden by the sword, but also had to remove a small length of stem that showed to the left of the eagle’s talons. Morgan also strengthened the rays, and sharpened the appearance of the eagle’s leg. The chief engraver did his work with such excellence that the work on the dollar was not known for over 85 years.

On January 3, 1922, the Peace dollar was released into circulation. Similar to other silver and copper-nickel dollar coins struck from 1840 to 1978, the Peace dollar had a diameter of 1.5 inches. Long lines formed at the Sub-Treasury Building in New York the following day when that city’s Federal Reserve Bank received a shipment; the 75,000 coins initially sent by the Mint were “practically exhausted” by the end of the day. Rumors that the coins did not stack well were contradicted by bank cashiers, who demonstrated for The New York Times that the coins stacked about as well as the Morgan dollars. De Francisci had paid Morgan for 50 of the new dollars; on January 3, Morgan sent him the pieces. According to his wife, de Francisci had bet several people that he would lose the design competition; he used the pieces to pay off the bets and did not keep any.

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According to one Philadelphia newspaper:

Liberty is getting younger. Take it from the new ‘Peace Dollar,’ put in circulation yesterday, the young woman who has been adorning silver currency for many years, never looked better than in the ‘cart wheel’ that the Philadelphia Mint has just started to turn out. The young lady, moreover, has lost her Greek profile. Helenic beauty seems to have been superseded by the newer ‘flapper’ type.

Congress passed legislation providing for the striking of 45,000,000 silver dollars on August 3, 1964. Silver coins, including the Peace dollar, had become scarce due to hoarding as the price of silver rose past the point at which a silver dollar was worth more as bullion than as currency. The new coins were intended to be used at Nevada casinos and elsewhere in the West where “hard money” was popular. Many in the numismatic press complained that the new silver dollars would only satisfy a small special interest, and would do nothing to alleviate the general coin shortage.

Senate Majority Leader, Mike Mansfield, who represented a state that heavily used silver dollars put much pressure into the decision for the coins to be struck.. Preparations for the striking proceeded at a reluctant Mint Bureau. Mint officials considered using the Morgan Dollar design; this idea was dropped and Gasparro replicated the Peace dollar dies. The reverse dies all bore Denver mintmarks; as the coins were slated for circulation in the West, it was deemed logical to strike them nearby.

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An unofficially produced 1964-D Peace dollar

On May 12, 1965, the Denver Mint began trial strikes of the 1964-D Peace dollar—the Mint had obtained congressional authorization to continue striking 1964-dated coins into 1965. The new pieces were publicly announced on May 15, 1965, and coin dealers immediately offered $7.50 each for them, ensuring that they would not circulate. The public announcement prompted a storm of objections. Both the public and many congressmen saw the issue as a poor use of Mint resources during a severe coin shortage. On May 24, one day before a hastily called congressional hearing, Adams announced that the pieces were deemed trial strikes, never intended for circulation. The Mint later stated that 316,076 dollars had been struck. All 316,076 were reported melted amid heavy security. To ensure that there would be no repetition, Congress inserted a provision in the Coinage Act of 1965 forbidding the coinage of silver dollars for five years.

No 1964-D Peace dollars are known to exist in either public or private hands. Two specimens were discovered in a Treasury vault in 1970 and were destroyed, but rumors and speculation about others in illegal private possession continue to appear from time to time.

For collectors, the Peace dollar is popular not only because of its limited mintage but also due to its historical significance and simple beauty. Because this coin was emblematic of peace following World War I, collectors view it as a true piece of American history.

 

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