Interview with Peace Dollar Historian Roger
By Maribeth Keane and Brad Quinn
In this interview, author Roger Burdette
discusses the rich history of Peace dollars and
explains how these overlooked and affordable
coins have much to tell us about the years
following World War I. Burdette, who wrote “A
Guide Book of Peace Dollars,” also offers
insights into the work of such coin designers as
Anthony de Francisci and introduces some of the
intricacies of the minting process.
When I was about 7, I began to notice the
different kinds of dimes, nickels, and cents I
got back as change. At the same time, I had a
cousin whose father gave him several large cigar
boxes of Indian cents and other coins. His
father worked in a New York City post office in
the 1930s and had set aside every Indian cent or
interesting coin that came across the counter.
The boxes also contained a few circulated
commemorative halves and a couple of gold
coins—things I’d never imagined existed.
A well struck Peace dollar shows good relief and
lots of detail. This example is a 1927-D.
I helped my cousin sort them by date and looked
at his copy of a “Blue Book” to see which ones
were valuable. The bug bit me because I could
see the different varieties and that some were
worth more than others.
A few years later, I did odd jobs and took my
money to the bank to buy rolls of half dollars
or silver dollars to look for coins I wanted to
keep. Eventually the bank president allowed me
to go in once a month and search through any
silver dollars they had in the vault. I’d sit at
a big mahogany table and a teller would bring in
a bag of dollars, then leave.
The walls were covered with portraits of past
presidents and bank directors, so I was always
“watched” as I went through the coins. Sometimes
I didn’t have enough money to buy all the
dollars I wanted, so I had to decide what to
keep. Usually, these decisions were based on
either filling a hole in my dollar album or
keeping the coin that was in the best condition.
I first got interested in Buffalo nickels
because of the impressive design and the fact
that many of them didn’t have dates. By that
time, I’d bought my own little “Red Book” and
was marking off the ones I had or could find in
circulation. Back then, you could still find
coins dating back to 1913 that had a readable
date or were dateless. I put together almost a
complete set. They weren’t spectacular, but they
were fun to collect and only cost a nickel.
It was an interesting time because I could pick
up most things from circulation. I don’t think I
ever bought a coin until I was in college. I
would occasionally buy small collections from
other students who wanted money to buy a pizza
on Friday night, or something.
These days, my interests are in research and
writing rather than collecting particular coins.
I don’t really have any commercial ties to the
hobby so that frees me to be objective and let
the original sources tell the story.
The Peace dollar, which I collect, was a
neglected series for a long time. The large
number of issued coins sitting in various
Treasury vaults didn’t appeal to collectors.
They were too common. It’s still easy to put
together a complete collection. A lot of people,
including dollar variety specialists, focus on
Morgan dollars instead of Peace dollars. Morgans
have sharper designs compared to the flat or
mushy look Peace dollars often have.
Collectors Weekly: Mushy because the design has
been worn down?
Burdette: No. The way the design of a Peace
dollar was reduced to the working dies was
different for Morgan dollars. There was almost
no hand engraving on the Peace dollar.
Everything has much shallower edges and is less
sharp than it would be on a coin that’s been
manually touched up on the hubs or the master
dies. In contrast, the Morgan dollar’s main
devices, like the eagle and the portrait of
Liberty, were engraved and hand cut. Then that
was reduced and made into the steel master die.
The Morgan dollar engraver did a lot of manual
retouching of the hub so that feathers, edges,
and other things would be sharper. Stars and
other details were punched in or engraved by
hand on the master die to create a
sharper-looking edge to various devices on the
coin. In contrast, the Peace dollar was an
entirely mechanical reduction from either the
bronze cast from 1921 or the artist model’s and
galvano from 1922 or later. The result was a
softer looking coin, which was what the artists
had been looking for. But coin collectors tend
to like crisp designs.
In 1926, the Peace dollar was re-engraved to
strengthen the prominence of the word “God.”
I got out of coin collecting in the late ’80s. I
got turned off by the high prices, which were a
result of the coin boom at that time. I just put
things aside for a number of years. It wasn’t
until about the mid-1990s that I got back into
it, but I didn’t like what I saw.
Collectors were throwing money at stuff left and
right. It didn’t appeal to me at all. Peace
dollars, however, still held my interest. Early
on I’d always been able to get them at face
value or very close. Even in the mid-1990s, few
were really collecting them.
I put together several complete sets and resold
them. I thought the coins were interesting
because they represented something of this
country’s history that really wasn’t discussed
much: the period after World War I. Most of our
school history books don’t offer much on the era
after the Spanish American War or Teddy
Roosevelt, so children don’t learn much about
the postwar and Great Depression period.
At that time I hadn’t seen many articles on
Peace dollars so I thought I’d write something
that “The Numismatist,” “Numismatic News,” or
“Coin World” might possibly publish. I started
researching Peace dollars, but it was confusing
because a lot of the information was
contradictory or just seemed wrong.
The more I dug around, the bigger my article
became. There were already books by Leroy Van
Allen, George Mallis, and Wayne Miller on both
Morgan and Peace dollars. I didn’t feel I had
anything new to add to what they’d already said.
But my interest in finding out more about Peace
dollars led me to other coins produced between
1907 and 1922. At one point I talked with a
well-known dealer, Julian Leidman, in Silver
Spring, Maryland. He suggested I write something
about the series of coinage designs inspired by
Teddy Roosevelt. I started looking at what I had
and realized it was necessary to go back to
original sources, locate them, and then find the
original letters and U.S. Mint documents myself
to really verify the information.
I read “Walter Breen’s Complete Encyclopedia of
U.S. and Colonial Coins” and other books on
Peace dollars and coins of that era. I found
that nearly all of them referenced back to the
National Archives. That’s cool, but the National
Archives contains billions of documents, and the
books didn’t tell you where their sources could
be found. It’s not like a library with a bunch
of shelves where you wander around and pick out
what you want. You have to know what you’re
asking for so the staff can get you the correct
boxes or folders, and then it is a hit-or-miss
Taking what clues I could find in published
materials, I went back and dug through the
archives, slowly figuring out where things were
and what was available. I found documents from
1907 that people said had been destroyed, but
they’d just been looking in the wrong places.
I uncovered a great deal of information about
Peace dollars and their predecessors. The whole
thing grew into a 10-year project to examine the
origin and development of the designs from what
I call the “Renaissance of the American Coinage”
period. This was basically 1905 to about 1922.
President Theodore Roosevelt and sculptor
Augustus Saint-Gaudens first put together their
little plan to redesign the coinage in 1905.
Collectors Weekly: How long did it take you to
write “A Guide Book of Peace Dollars?”
Burdette: The background information came out of
the more detailed research I did for the three
books I wrote relating to that 1905-1921 period.
It took six or seven years to develop that
historical information to the point where I felt
it was accurate. That was published as part of a
book called “Renaissance of American Coinage,
1916-1921.” I edited some of that material to be
the first part of the Peace dollar book.
Collectors Weekly: Was your book the first
solely devoted to Peace dollars?
Burdette: Yes. It is the first and only book,
for now, that’s devoted to Peace dollars. It
doesn’t have comprehensive variety lists because
there are hundreds of varieties, and most of
them are trivial. New things are always being
discovered. Previously, Peace dollar information
was always found either in little articles or
lumped in with the Morgan dollar in larger
books. The Peace dollar is a relatively short
series. Not many collectors have looked at it in
detail. There has been a lot more information on
I wanted to help beginning and intermediate
collectors understand how the coin was created,
what the coins should look like, and some major
varieties they might find. It’s not intended to
be comprehensive. Anybody else who wants to
write about Peace dollars will likely focus on
Collectors Weekly: When was the Peace dollar
Burdette: The first ones were made on December
28, 1921. Through the end of 1921, they struck
just a little over a million coins at the
Philadelphia Mint. Dies were never made for any
other mint because they barely had time to do
the ones in Philadelphia. The President and
others in the Harding Administration wanted the
coins out quickly as both a symbol of peace and
of the Conference on the Limitation of Armaments
that was in progress in Washington.
Curiously, the actual go-ahead for the coin
didn’t come from the mint director until after
the conference had started in November 1921. The
competition was only 10 days long. So the
artists who were invited to participate had a
very short time to come up with designs. The
administration wanted the coins produced before
the end of 1921 because President Harding signed
the final peace declaration with Germany in
November of that year.
Collectors Weekly: Who ended up winning the
Burdette: Anthony de Francisci, a New York
sculptor, won. He had been an assistant to
Adolph Weinman, who designed the dime and the
half dollar in 1916. He was a student of a
student of Saint-Gaudens. De Francisci’s best
work was done during the early ’20s. After that
he did more-commercial medals for the United
Parcel Service, the Ford Motor Company, and
The creative spark just wasn’t really there. He
mostly made a living by teaching art in New
York. You won’t find him listed in many art
reference books. There are very few American
sculptors who are highly rated internationally.
He was good, just not of international caliber;
but the Peace dollar was one of his better
works, especially when you see the large casts
that were made from the original model.
Collectors Weekly: Did the design change from
the one he entered in the competition?
Burdette: The Commission of Fine Arts, which was
running the competition for the mint director,
invited eight artists. Each artist was to submit
one obverse and two reverse designs. They
weren’t limited by subject, except they had to
comply with law and had to have a portrait of
Liberty on the front and an eagle on the back.
We know the designs of only three of the artists
who entered: De Francisci, Hermon MacNeil, and
The coin's approved reverse (left) featured a
broken sword, which outraged some veterans. The
coin's original model is on the right.
Recently, some of Beach’s designs were sold at
auction by Stack’s auctions, but other than
those three sculptors, we don’t know what the
other people entered. De Francisci’s original
Peace dollar designs are similar to the final
ones, but not quite as finely finished and not
as good. There are a lot of detail changes. For
example, on the reverse the eagle’s head is held
lower on his original design. On the obverse,
Liberty’s face is a little different. And he
used a Roman numeral date instead of the Western
After de Francisci was awarded the commission,
the Commission of Fine Arts asked James Fraser,
who was a member of the commission, to work with
him to do the coin’s final design. Over the next
week, de Francisci turned out something pretty
close to the final design. There were a few
differences: The eagle’s head had been brought
more upright and the portrait changed so it was
closer to the Saint-Gaudens’ portrait that
Fraser and the Commission of Fine Arts
considered the ideal portrait for the coin.
After the first design was approved, but before
the final one got to the director of the mint,
de Francisci added the word “PEACE” to the lower
reverse and included a sword with a broken tip
clutched in the eagle’s talons. Nobody knows why
“PEACE” was added or whether it was his idea or
Fraser’s. Commission of Fine Arts members
could’ve suggested it when they looked at the
entries. There’s no discussion in official
documents about why “PEACE” was there. I think
because the name of the coin originated long
before the coin ever existed, there’s a good
chance everybody just assumed it was going to be
At this point, the Commission of Fine Arts,
James Fraser, and the director of the mint had
approved the design. Fraser and de Francisci
took it over to the Secretary of the Treasury,
who approved it, and then they went over to the
White House. President Harding took a quick
glance, decided he liked it, shook hands with
the artist and his wife, and approved it. The
Treasury issued a little press release about the
new coin in which they mentioned the broken
sword on the reverse.
“The New York Herald” newspaper looked at the
press release and decided they didn’t like the
broken sword. Everyone else who’d looked at it
viewed the sword with the broken tip as a symbol
of the end of conflict. “The New York Herald”
folks looked at it from the view of veterans and
people who had been overseas fighting. In
military parlance, the broken sword represented
defeat. When someone surrenders, their sword is
broken and returned to them as a sign that they
can no longer fight.
The “Herald” printed a short editorial and
within hours telegrams and letters started
coming in to the mint director’s office, the
Commission of Fine Arts, members of Congress,
the White House, and the Treasury. There are
hundreds of them in the archives, and nearly all
were negative. With the mint director out of
town, one of the assistant secretaries of the
Treasury Department decided to immediately
change the coin. De Francisci was called to the
Philadelphia Mint. On December 23rd, he and
George Morgan sat down with the only steel hub
that had been made of the reverse design.
The 1934-D is one of the most readily visible
and inexpensive double-die coins. This detail is
of Liberty's crown.
This hub took hours to make because it’s the one
from which all the subsequent reverses would be
made. De Francisci sat with Morgan as the Mint’s
engraver (which, in this case, was Morgan)
slowly cut away the sword and converted in into
an extra olive branch with leaves and little
olives. He changed the top of the mountain and
part of the eagle’s talons so what had once been
sword was now part of the eagle, mountain, and
Today, looking very closely with magnification,
some of the engraving marks from Morgan’s work
can be seen. They spent the entire day on it.
All of the changes were under De Francisci’s
supervision, although he was not competent to do
the die work. That was how the reverse was
changed. The stories you see in Breen are simply
inventions; they weren’t true.
From that point, there was not a lot of time
left to make working dies. That’s one reason
they didn’t start production until several days
later and had such a short production time.
Again, the artist was there when the first
pieces were struck at 8:30 a.m. He even paid for
50 of them, hoping he could take them home with
him, but he wasn’t allowed to. They were mailed
to him a couple of days later.
Collectors Weekly: Do any coins exist with the
sword on it?
Burdette: The original bronze casts of the
obverse and reverse were delivered to the U.S.
Mint. They were used to make the steel hubs.
There was only the one hub of the reverse, and
it was never used to make dies or to strike any
test pieces. All the work was done on that and
then on a subsequent master die. There are
photographs in the book of the design, but no
pieces were ever struck.
Collectors Weekly: Was the Peace dollar
considered a commemorative coin?
Burdette: It was intended to commemorate both
the end of World War I and the Conference on the
Limitation of Armaments, which the Harding
Administration felt was a major diplomatic
victory in limiting the navies of the principal
countries of the world to certain tonnages of
ships. They thought that by limiting these
armaments it would automatically prevent future
wars. Actually, it had little immediate effect,
except that everybody reconfigured their
allocations of steel and built new ships.
Provisions of the agreement eventually prevented
the United States from enlarging its Philippine
bases, and this left them easy targets for Japan
in December 1941.
This post-World War I illustration gives us a
sense of the sentiment of those times.
The original idea for the coin, at least as far
as numismatic publications go, probably came
from Frank Duffield. He was editor of “The
Numismatist” in 1918. He proposed a victory coin
that should be available at face value. Then
other collectors occasionally wrote in. In 1920
the promoter Frank Zerbe wrote a letter to the
ANA convention, supporting the idea of a peace
victory commemorative of some kind. He was
apparently thinking of a half dollar, but he
also mentioned the possibility of using it on a
larger coin like the dollars that were going to
be made to replace those converted into bullion
under the Pittman Act.
The idea was that the coins should never be
rare. World War I brought the full vision of
technological death to civilians. It horrified
and angered a lot of people. So at the end of
the war, the American peace movement was very
strong and stayed that way up until the end of
the early 1940s. Had it not been for the
foresight of Franklin Roosevelt’s
administration, we might have found ourselves in
World War II but in a much poorer military
situation than we were.
The coin was intended to mark that the war was
over and, especially with the reverse design, to
give you the impression that this was the
beginning of a new era of peace. The reverse of
the Peace dollar shows a rather calm eagle with
its wings folded, looking toward the dawn. It’s
not sunrise; it’s just the rays of the dawn
coming over the mountains.
Collectors Weekly: Was Lady Liberty modeled on a
Burdette: The artistic ideal of Liberty had
changed from 19th-century coins. Imagine you
have a pile of Morgan dollars. You pick one up
and notice the bridge of Liberty’s nose goes
right up to her forehead almost in a straight
line. She looks like she ran into a wall. That’s
the Greco-Roman ideal of a profile, and it was
accepted by the neoclassical artists of the 19th
century, particularly the French after whom most
American coin art was emulated. If you look at
Barber’s 1892 coinage designs, the silver coin’s
portrait looks almost identical to designs on
French coinage of the 1860s.
De Francisci used some features of his wife,
Teresa, to present a more realistic, natural
Liberty. It’s not a portrait of any one
individual; it’s a composite. But if you look at
the nose, the forehead, the cheeks, and other
features, it’s more lifelike than the portrait
on the Morgan dollar.
Collectors Weekly: Are there other marks on
Burdette: Underneath the portrait is de
Francisci’s monogram. The word “LIBERTY” is
around the top peripheral area. Across the front
of the obverse is the motto “IN GOD WE TRUST.”
Since1921 the mint has often been asked why it
spelled “trust” with a V. Of course, it’s a
classical Roman character for U and not a V at
On the reverse, there are distant hills to the
right of the mountain where the eagle is
standing, and the dawn’s rays are coming up
behind the hills. The hills are small and hard
to see. They change a little depending on the
year and who touched the dies and other things.
There’s also a mint mark at lower left, just
behind the eagle’s tail, which will either be D
for Denver, or S for San Francisco, or none for
Philadelphia. The mint marks are usually the
only parts that are punched into the dies.
Collectors Weekly: Why did the 1921 coins have
such a high relief?
Burdette: That was de Francisci’s design. He was
trying to make the coin as medal-like as
possible. He also operated under the
misconception that the folks in Philadelphia
were able to mechanically reduce the reliefs of
his models without altering the design.
The designer of the Peace dollar was Anthony de
Francisci, seen here in a photo from 1954.
When they made the reductions at the
Philadelphia Mint, Morgan did the best he could
with it. The first coins in 1921 didn’t show all
of the design the way they should have, but they
were a lot better than the ones issued a couple
of days later. The high relief was an artistic
touch. When you see a piece that’s fully struck
or close to it, which is very unusual, the
design really has much greater character.
The relief was changed in February 1922. They’d
attempted in January 1922 to retain the high
relief, but were unsuccessful. They tried a
medium relief version with touched-up hair that
didn’t work either. The dies didn’t last long
because the high relief required so much
pressure to bring out the design. Dies would
literally shatter and fall apart in the press.
The mints couldn’t sustain any kind of large
coinage with that kind of thing happening.
In February 1922, de Francisci remodeled his
design and lowered the relief. If you look at
1921 and ’22 coins, you can see subtle
differences on both sides because they were
actually made for completely different sets of
models. Contrary to Walter Breen’s story, nobody
beat down the galvanos, or models, to lower the
relief. They didn’t need galvanos in 1921
because hubs were reduced from copper or bronze
casts. They’re much thicker and tougher. I don’t
know where Breen got that story, but it’s his
Collectors Weekly: How is the Peace dollar
related to the Morgan dollar?
Burdette: They’re related because of the Pittman
Act of 1918. During World War I, India was a
main supplier of raw materials to Britain and
the U.S. The British government in India had
consistently declared that its currency was
stable and supported by silver, but in late
1917, it was determined that unless additional
silver was transferred into India, the Indian
currency would soon not be redeemable in silver.
The Indian government would effectively default
on their obligations.
The British government asked the U.S. for help
because it was the only country that had a
substantial supply of silver. The U.S.
government had more than 500 million ounces of
silver in stock. It was mostly in the form of
silver dollars sitting in vaults because the
coins didn’t circulate. These were coins that
had been produced mostly since 1878 and were
nearly all the Morgan design. An agreement was
finally reached, facilitated by Senator Key
Pittman from Nevada for whom the legislation was
named. Mint Director Ray Baker of Nevada
actually wrote the legislation soon after he
Baker suggested melting silver dollars because
nobody had enough silver bullion to meet India’s
needs. That became part of the law. In April
1918, the U.S. government started shipping
silver dollars to India.
A rare glimpse of the design process is seen in
this original pencil sketch for the reverse of
the Peace dollar alongside its model.
The situation was so severe that the first
shipments were made using boxcars with metal
liners to keep the coins from falling out.
Before the coins were dumped into the boxcars,
they were run through a device that flattened
and folded them. They weren’t even melted; there
wasn’t enough time. They simply squashed the
things, folded them up into little squares of
silver, dumped them in boxcars by weight, and
shipped them off to India where they were
smelted. Later on the dollars were melted into
bars here in the U.S., but the first shipments
were folded-up Morgan dollars.
The Pittman Act required that all the silver
dollars melted—about 270 million—had to be
replaced using American silver. After the war,
the government began replacing them. They
purchased domestic silver at a dollar an ounce
up to the 270 million. The first silver dollars
struck from that newly purchased silver were
imitations of the old Morgan design because no
new design was available, and the mint was in a
The mint had destroyed the original hubs and
master dies in 1910 for the Morgan dollar,
thinking they wouldn’t be needed anymore.
Apparently they took a struck coin and used that
to make a working hub and die, and then
retouched that to make the 1921 Morgan dollar
dies. They were used from February 1921 until
the end of the year to strike Pittman silver
dollars with the Morgan design. After the Peace
dollar design was finalized and approved, the
rest of the coins from the Pittman silver were
struck using de Francisci’s Peace design.
They had to strike the dollars because at that
time the law required paper silver certificates
to be backed by silver bullion. Each silver
dollar melted required removal of one dollar in
silver certificates from circulation. To put
silver certificates back in circulation, they
had to produce silver dollars. The government
didn’t lose any money on this deal because
Britain paid the cost of the silver, plus the
cost of refining, melting, and striking them.
Collectors Weekly: How long was the Peace dollar
Burdette: Most of them circulated about a year
and a half, maybe two. Silver dollars were never
very popular in the U.S., even back in the
1790s. They were big, clunky, and tended to
abrade their way through people’s pockets and
purses because of the edges on the later ones.
The Peace dollar was issued for circulation from
1921 to ’28. At that point, all the Pittman
silver was exhausted. They had replaced the
approximately 270 million that had been melted.
In 1934 and ’35, a few million more were issued
from new hubs with a slightly improved version
of the design. The purpose was to let the silver
mining interests in the western states know that
coins were being made from the silver that was
being bought by the government. At that time,
the government was buying silver from U.S. mines
for about 60 cents an ounce, more than the
40-cents-per-ounce world price. U.S. silver
producers were getting a considerable subsidy.
The detail on many 1921 dollars is weak; this
example with mushed-out hair is typical.
Out west people favored silver because it
employed a lot of people in the mines and
brought money to the silver-producing states.
The silver generally was a byproduct of mining
for copper, lead, and tin. It was the primary
ore in only a few places. Somebody mining for
lead derived additional profit from the silver
byproduct they got from the ore. The western
silver mining states had considerable clout in
the U.S. Senate. Although their populations were
very small at the time, each state still had two
senators in the U.S. Senate like every other
In the 1920s and ’30s, the western senators
accounted for almost a third of U.S. senators.
They had a lot of political influence. It was a
matter of jobs that were important to both the
people in those states and the Roosevelt
Administration, which wanted to encourage
employment growth. The influence also helped
create a higher price for U.S. silver. It put
more money in circulation and allowed mines to
keep operating. Many mines that had been closed
were able to reopen profitably as a side effect
of the rise in gold prices from $20.67 to $35.
That was the case for the next 20 years.
The government went in as a buyer of silver and
paid more than the world price for the metal,
but they did that only for U.S. Silver, which
essentially meant they were subsidizing the U.S.
silver market. Obviously it benefited the local
economies in many of the western states.
Collectors Weekly: Can you talk a bit more about
variations in Peace dollars?
Burdette: There are hundreds of slight
variations in the dies. When dies are made, the
idea is that every obverse or reverse die should
be identical, but because pieces of metal are
handled by people and used to produce coins,
sometimes things go wrong. Sometimes there’s a
scratch on one, or the die cracks. Those are
things that variety collectors love to find. At
www.vamworld.com you can see hundreds of
different Peace dollar or Morgan dollar
varieties. It’s not that the design itself is
really different. It’s that the surface
characteristics of the die changed.
Sometimes when the dies are produced you’ll get
double impressions that aren’t quite in the
register. They were commonly called doubled
dies. Most of those are very minor, but some can
be seen without magnification. One of the
cheapest and easiest to find doubled die coins
in the whole U.S. series is the 1934-D Peace
dollar. The obverse is clearly doubled. There
are multiple sets of rays on the obverse visible
at the back of Liberty’s tiara. You can actually
see it in a small photograph. It’s as clear as
the 1955 cent doubled die, but it only costs $20
to $40, depending on condition.
Collectors Weekly: How many coins would it take
to make up a complete collection of U.S. Peace
Burdette: I don’t have the number in my head,
but it’s a fairly small set. None of them are
great rarities. The scarcest pieces are the
1928-P, a Philadelphia coin, in nice
uncirculated condition, and a 1921 uncirculated.
That one has a lot of detail in it. Most 1921
coins are poorly struck, and they have a lot of
flat detail in the hair. It’s unusual to find
one with good detail. Really high-condition,
nearly flawless pieces get expensive, but an
average collector can put together a nice set of
coins at pretty modest prices, cheaper than you
could do for the same set of Walking Liberty
Collectors Weekly: Do collectors prefer
uncirculated Peace dollars?
Burdette: Yes, and that’s primarily because
they’re readily available. Many haven’t been
cleaned and scrubbed by people who think they’re
improving them. They’re relatively inexpensive,
so you don’t have to spend a lot to put together
an enjoyable collection or find unusual
varieties. Because the Peace dollar has largely
been ignored, there’s a lot of stuff still out
there to be discovered. The coins are made more
interesting by die clashes and alterations made
to some of the dies and other various marks, but
there are no big showstoppers. There’s no
equivalent of an 1894-S dime or 1895 dollar.
Collectors Weekly: What happened to the Peace
dollar in 1964 and ’65?
Burdette: The folks from the silver states
wanted to have more silver dollars produced.
They claimed the silver dollar was a real
circulating piece of coinage in their states and
that because people were buying bags of silver
dollars from the Treasury vaults at that time,
they needed more to support their local
economies. The original plan was to mint 45
million more silver dollars and use the Peace
design. Things got stalled for quite a while,
but President Kennedy finally gave approval the
day before he died. Not much was done after that
for almost another year.
Better details can be seen in this 1921 proof.
By the spring of 1965, some of the western
senators had gotten so fed up that they
threatened to withhold approval of other
legislation until the coins were made. At that
point, President Johnson gave the okay to strike
some coins, and around 300,000 pieces were
struck in Denver in May of that year. We don’t
know how many because they were only accounted
for by weight. The Peace dollar book has
extensive information on the ’64-D Peace
In researching the book, I located the assistant
coiner’s flowchart that showed how many ounces
of silver were used at different points in the
process up to the point where the coins were
melted. This also coincided with the coinage
shortage, from 1962 to ’65, and the Coinage Act
of 1965 that changed coins from being 90 percent
silver to the clad copper-nickel sandwich we
have now. The price of silver had increased to
the point where the silver in a coin would have
been worth more than the face value on the coin.
The U.S. government wanted to get out of the
business of subsidizing silver.
All of those things converged to the point where
the government froze the dates on coins to 1964.
They were struck throughout part of 1965. Then
they switched over to the clad composition for
the last part of ’65 and thereafter. The only
coin that had any silver left was the Kennedy
half, which had about 40 percent.
Collectors Weekly: Since none of the 1964 Peace
dollars circulated, is it certain that they ever
Burdette: I don’t know. There are a lot of
stories, but I’ve never seen one or even a
photograph of one.
The Denver mint didn’t track them by piece. They
didn’t count them. They tracked everything by
weight. Depending on where you put the decimal
point, you could have a lot of individual coins
unaccounted for. The Peace dollar book goes into
detail about what really might have happened. It
also debunks some myths. The bottom line is we
don’t know if any exist or not.
The Treasury Department issued a press release
in 1974, I think, claiming that if any of these
coins were found, they would be considered
illegal and confiscated, but that’s just the
opinion of a couple of attorneys inside the
Treasury Department. It’s never been tested in
any way, and none of the coins have ever
surfaced anywhere. If one does, then maybe it’ll
get tested, or maybe it won’t.
Collectors Weekly: Are there a lot of Peace
Burdette: Not as many as those who collect, say,
Morgan dollars. The series is short and readily
available, so there’s not quite as much “thrill
of the hunt” in completing a set. I think the
number is increasing only because there’s now a
book about Peace dollars and because of the
Internet. Peace dollars also appeal to people
who like details, collecting varieties, and
looking for them. With so many Peace dollars out
there that nobody has ever examined, who knows
what somebody will discover?
They’re still relatively inexpensive, and I
think people are slowly appreciating the design
more than they did before. The collecting of
dollar coins didn’t really catch on until the
late ’50s. Peace dollars are even behind that.
The Morgan dollars were older and sharper
looking. For a long time they were also
available at pretty much face value.
Collectors Weekly: Is it more difficult to put
together a collection of Morgan dollars than
Burdette: Yes. First, there are several
hard-to-find, very scarce coins in the Morgan
series. Secondly, it’s a much longer series,
1878 to 1904, plus 1921. There are a lot more
coins to look for. There are millions of Morgan
dollars still out there, but the mintages were
low for some of them. Some are expensive because
they’re popular, like an 1893-S dollar. Even in
good or very good condition, those will set you
back several thousand dollars. Only the most
expensive Peace dollars would come anywhere near
Collectors Weekly: Are counterfeits a problem?
Burdette: There aren’t too many counterfeits
right now in Peace dollars because they haven’t
been worth a whole lot. The most counterfeited
ones were the 1928 Philadelphia issue. I’m also
seeing more 1921s counterfeited. They fit the
same pattern as other counterfeits. Either
they’re made from fake dies, in which case there
are a lot of differences between the fakes and
the real coins, or they’re made from transfer
dies or casts. All of those have some sort of
telltale indicator that they’re fakes. Altered
dates and added or removed mintmarks are
occasionally encountered, too.
Flea markets are filled with Morgan dollar fakes
and silver dollar fakes and half dollar fakes. I
haven’t seen too many counterfeit Peace dollars,
but they’ll come, unfortunately.
Collectors Weekly: What advice do you have for
someone who is new to coin collecting?
Francisci's original model for the Peace
dollar's obverse had a more natural profile than
coins that had come before.
Burdette: Read a little bit about the different
kinds of coins, varieties, and designs. Decide
what piques your interest—what kind of design,
what kind of background history. Coins weren’t
made for collectors. They were made to support
an economy. There are economic reasons and
social reasons why we have certain
denominations, why they’re made of certain
metals, and why some of the designs still exist.
The Peace dollar had more social-political
importance than economic importance for this
country in the early 1920s. Once people learn a
little about it, then they can go out and make
better decisions about what’s available and what
kind of collection they want to have.
One big waste of money for many new collectors
is when they send their coins to authentication
services and pay $15 to $25 to have them graded
and put in pieces of plastic. All they really
get out of it is a piece of plastic instead of
putting together a nice collection that they can
hold in their hands and examine in detail.
That’s particularly true with Peace dollars,
unless you’re buying the very highest condition
coins. They don’t sell for a whole lot over
bullion value. In many cases, the total purchase
price is less than what it would cost to have
the coin authenticated. That’s just my opinion.
I think grading services have a fine place in
the hobby and in the business. Authentication,
after all, is the first line of defense against