The Peace Dollar
by Michael E. Marotta
Anthony de Francisci (pronounced "franchee-shee") was born on July 13, 1887 in Italy. He came to the United States in 1903 and was naturalized in 1913. He studied at Cooper Union and James Earle Fraser was his teacher at the Art Students' League. Later, he worked as an assistant to several sculptors, including Hermon A. MacNeil and A. A. Weinman. In 1915, Columbia University hired him as an instructor. He opened his own studio in 1917.
De Francisci created the Maine Centennial half dollar in 1920 and the obverse of the Peace Dollar in 1921. His other numismatic works were medals, mostly for the US military. Among them were the Reserve Officers Training Corps, the Naval Defense Button, and the Badge of Service.
The Badge of Service was a gold-plated brass emblem, the result of General Orders No. 13, June 2, 1925. Any veteran with an honorable discharge could wear the Badge of Service. In 1943, the design was modified slightly and the general orders allowed it to be worn by any veteran of World War II. To millions of men and women, it was known as "The Ruptured Duck", the same name given to Capt. Ted Lawson's B-25 bomber. The cause of this coincidence is not known. This same design also served as the lapel decoration for the World War II Victory Medal.
De Francisci created the Congressional medal awarded to Gen. John J. Pershing, commander of the American forces in World War I. The American Institute of Mining Engineers commissioned the sculptor for the medal they awarded to Herbert Hoover, who began his professional life as an engineer. In 1944, De Francisci assisted Max Kalish in creating a series of sculptures of the Roosevelt Cabinet.
The National Museum of American Art in Virginia has a dozen of his works on display. Several more can be found at Brookgreen Gardens in South Carolina. De Francisci's most public sculpture is the Independence Flagstaff at Union Square in New York City. De Francisci's design shows allegorical figures of Good and Evil during the struggle for independence.
GRADING THE PEACE DOLLAR
Only the 1921-P was produced as the sculptor intended, with full, deep relief. The first issues were struck twice to bring up the details. This was considered unacceptable. From 1922 on, the mints reduced the pressure of the single strike. George Morgan made several modifications to the design, flattening it. According to the Breen Encyclopedia, he even went to far as to hammer the electrotype flat with a board. With the relief lowered and the lettering thinned, the broad, shallow field of the obverse shows every bagmark and nick.
These coins saw so little use that there is not much demand for them below About Uncirculated. When you are paying for an Uncirculated specimen, knowing the details of AU helps you to avoid buying a slider. The high points on Liberty are:
- the cheek
- the hair above the eye
- the hair at the forehead, above the center of the eye
- the hair above the ear.
- most forward curl of hair behind the cheek
Also, look for wear in the area above the ear bounded by a line from the T to the WE and from the R to the 2. For the reverse, the feathers at the top and outside edge of the Eagle's right wing, above the P and E will wear first. Look, also, at the top of the Eagle's head and the neck.
When the relief was lowered, no allowance was made for those elements that were already shallow by design. Therefore, from 1922 through 1928, the rays can be weak, with details blending into the fields, especially in circulated specimens.
For the collector who seeks only the best mint state examples, the Peace Dollar offers a serious challenge. Only the 1922-P, 1923-P, and 1925-P have high populations in MS-65. The 1921-P, 1924-S, 1934-D, and 1934-S are difficult to find in this grade. Locating a gem uncirculated 1923-S, 1925-S, 1927-D, or 1928-S, is nearly impossible. Be forewarned that even mint state coins can have indistinct rims and fade-away lettering. Liberty's hair may have broad flat areas where contours are supposed to be. "Orange peel" surfaces are also too easy to find, since the Mint ran the series with dies that were worn past their prime.
Perhaps no more than 30 proof coins exist for 1921 and 1922. None are known for the other years of issue. In the 1970s, Walter Breen attributed both matte and satin proofs for 1921 and 1922. However, US Mint records for 1922 make no mention of the satin proofs, so their attribution rests solely on Breen's analysis.
Anyone with a 14x loupe and an eye for detail can discover many varieties. Van Allen and Mallis are the authorities in that field, of course. The existence of the Large-S and Small-S 1928 is not well attested. Breen identifies it; Van Allen and Mallis do not.
One variety that is easier to spot is the 1934-D. The experts disagree on the relative rarity, but all concur that there are Large D and Small D mintmarks. In 1935, a new reverse die at San Francisco placed an extra ray below the word ONE.
As overall coin prices have declined through the 1990s, the retail value of Peace Dollars has also come down, as much as 20% per year from 1992 to 1997. With only 1 million issued in high relief, the 1921 Peace sells for about $100 to $150 in Mint State grades. As always, there are a few superb examples of low-mintage issues that command a much higher price from those willing to pay for perfection.
THE 1964 DOLLAR
In 1964, Congress authorized the striking of 45 million new Peace Dollars. However, only 310,076 were made, and all were reportedly destroyed.
The Coinage Act of 1965 authorized the creation of our modern curpo-nickel clad currency. That same act authorized the continued production of big silvers. Yet, the intentions of the President and the Treasury were ambiguous. In a message to Congress, President Lyndon Johnson wrote:
"No change in this famous old coin, or plans for additional production, are proposed at this time. It is possible that implementation of the new coinage legislation that I am proposing, greatly reducing the requirement for silver in our subsidiary coinage, will actually make feasible the minting of additional silver dollars in the future."
The Secretary of the Treasury, Henry B. Fowler concurred. In his statement before the House Committee on Banking and Currency on June 4, 1965, he said:
"Authority to make a silver dollar of the same weight and fineness -- 412.5 grains, 90 percent silver -- made at various times since the act of 1837, would be continued. However, we would not plan to mint any new coins of this denomination at the present time."
No mention was made of the Denver Mint's 316,076 Peace Dollars of 1964. According to The Red Book, none was ever preserved or released. In 1973, the U.S. Mint issued a strong statement that if anyone held such a coin, they would be guilty of theft of government property. Writing in his Encyclopedia, Walter Breen said:
"Fern Miller, of the Denver Mint, told the local coin dealer Dan Brown that as usual various employees had purchased two new dollars apiece, but that when the recall came in, nobody kept any record either of the numbers sold to employees or the numbers turned in."
The quantity melted was determined by weight. Anyone could have substituted other cartwheels for their 1964-D samples. Therefore, it is not surprising that Barry Krause and other writers continue to theorize that 1964-D Peace Dollars do exist. However, the law prohibits their possession. This is especially disappointing since Anthony de Francisci died in 1964, making the issue of a Peace Dollar in that year a fitting tribute.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Michael E. Marotta is one of the recipients of the George Heath Award of the American Numismatic Association and the author of several "Money Talks" radio programs.
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