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Collecting Peace Dollars

To my eye, the Peace dollar is a very attractive coin, especially if in MS-63, MS-64, or even better grade. Worn pieces tend to look somewhat scruffy, and this is probably one of the reasons they were not popular with collectors for a long time.

Balancing this is the fact that in comparison to dollars of earlier types, a full set of 24 varieties of MS-63 or MS-64 Mint State Peace dollars can be assembled for relatively modest cost. In the market of the late 1990s, even a full set of MS-65 coins can be put together for a fraction of what it would have cost during the market peak of 1989. Of such situations, opportunities are made.

Although the 1934-S is expensive in Mint State, there are no "impossible" rarities with which to contend in the series, unless you consider the 1922 High Relief. Indeed, most coins are downright cheap in comparison to other United States silver series of the early twentieth century in Uncirculated preservation.

For me, Peace dollars evoke a nostalgic era in United States history. Although the 1920s and early 1930s were before my time, I have read much of the history of that era--the presidencies of Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, and the first administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt. The 1921 Peace dollar was in existence during the boom of the 1920s with its fancy cars a la The Great Gatsby, the stock market crash at the end of the decade, and the tough economic times of the early 1930s. Peace dollars at the end of the regular series in 1934 and 1935 were the largest coins of the realm; gold coins were not struck after 1933.

Add to all of this the numismatic fact of life that it is a snap to build a set in a desirable numismatic grade such as MS-63, and you have all of the ingredients of a specialized collection that will be very enjoyable to own.

Building a Peace Dollar Collection

My recommendations for forming a collection of Peace dollars are different from those I gave in the Morgan dollar series, inasmuch as the standard set of Peace dollars comprises but 24 dates, none of which will be a major stumbling block although, as noted, the 1934-S is costly.

You may recall that in the Morgan dollars I suggested that you begin with the 25 commonest dates, or perhaps the 45 commonest dates, learn the ropes by buying these issues first, then proceed carefully to scarcer and higher priced issues. In the Peace doll series, I recommend that if you have already collected Morgan dollars, you can jump into Peace dollars full swing and set about buying whatever dates and mintmarks you wish.

If you have not collected any silver dollars and have not gained experience by buying Morgan dollars first, then go hesitantly in the Peace series, perhaps buying at first the Philadelphia Mint issues of 1922 through 1925. These four Philadelphia coins of the early and mid-1920s are inexpensive, easy to obtain, an are generally available in higher grades. Fromthis point, branch out to pick up half a dozen or a dozen other coins at the lower end of the expense spectrum. From that point go on to the rarer ones.

I realize that my advice differs from that given by others. John W. Highfill, who certainly has handled many more silver dollars than I have, specifically recommends that the collector of Peace dollars start out with the toughest dates first, namely the 1934-S and its companions.

In coins, as in other walks of life, if you talk to several people you are apt to get several different ideas. This does not mean that in idea is better or worse than someone else's. You can come to your own conclusions. There is no "right" or "standard" way to form collection of Peace dollars or anything else.

Rarity vs. Mintage

It would be nice if one could study the mintage figures of Peace dollars to determine what is rare and what isn't. For example, 1921, 1934, 1934-S in the series all have mintages around the million mark. All things being equal, they should all be about the same price. However, this isn't the case. The Act of December 18, 1942, provide for the melting of approximately $50 million in silver dollars including a number of Peace issues. Probably many of the 1934 dollars were included in the meltdown.

In 1958 a well-known San Francisco coin dealer told me that he personally inspected many bags of 1934-S Uncirculated dollars stored in Treasury Department vaults in that city. It was for this reason, he said, that he hesitated to stock up on more than just a few 1934-S dollars at any given time. Since that time, the government stock of silver dollars has been exhausted, and no quantity of this issue appeared in the distribution. What is the explanation? I did not question the dealer's integrity, for he was a person of fine repute. It is possible that silver dollars of other dates were stored in bags marked "1934-S." Or it is possible, and I imagine the chances are slight, that additional 1934-S dollars will come to light some day. The situation has puzzled me for many years, and I have no further explanation for it.

Among Peace dollars of the earlier years, the traditional rarity is the 1928 Philadelphia issue. Just 360,649 were made. At the very outset it was considered scarce, especially when the Treasury Department stated that these coins were minted just for cornerstone laying purposes. Today, while the 1928 Peace dollar remains one of the most expensive in worn grades, several others have passed it by in terms of high level Uncirculated valuation.

The Treasury Releases

Large numbers of Peace silver dollars were released by the Treasury Department on an almost continuous basis from the 1930s through the 1940s and 1950s. These distributions were made from storage at the San Francisco Mint (primarily if not entirely S-Mint Peace dollars), the Cash Room of the Treasury Building in Washington, D.C. (primarily Philadelphia dollars, with some Denver issues), and by various Federal Reserve banks.

In addition to the hoards discussed, I must mention the Treasury policy of issuing mimeographed lists to collectors during the early 1930s. These offered United States coins for sale in various series, including silver dollars, for face value plus postage and, if desired to be sent insured, a registration fee. Shipments were made from the Treasury Department in Washington, D.C. A stock of Peace dollars was kept on hand, and varied in its content from year to year. Apart from a few scattered mentions in The Numismatist this fine service was not publicized to collectors, and relatively few people took advantage of it. I believe that the numbers of Peace dollars acquired in this manner by individual numismatists were small. However, dealers jumped at the opportunity, and several silver dollar specialists called upon the Cash Room to augment their inventories.

As recently as the 1950s, the majority of Peace dollar varieties had little value in bulk. Dealers who offered bags for sale at value or slightly above had no market for them. The release of Peace dollars in the 1950s and 1960s is closely intertwined with Morgan dollars. In particular, it is interesting that as late as March 1964 seekers of rare silver dollars at the Treasury Building in Washington were disappointed and upset if they received Peace dollars instead of Morgans.

The Author Remembers

I recall that in banks in the area of Pennsylvania where I lived in the early 1950s, Uncirculated Peace dollars were common. Virtually all were all of Philadelphia Mint issues, and included quantities of 1922, 1923, 1924, 1925 (these came out in a hoard release around this time), 1934, and 1935.

To place the situation in the proper light, I note that prices in the 1951-2 edition of the Guide Book of U.S. Coins priced most varieteis in the $2.50 to $5 range in Uncirculated grade. A coin listing for $2.50 represented about $1.50 worth of "handling" and $1 worth of coin, or a bag of 1,000 such coins was worth just face value. The most expensive Uncirculated Morgan dollar was the 1893-S at $200, followed by 1903-0 at $175. A gem Proof 1895 dollar was worth all of$85. In the Peace dollar series, prices for Uncirculated coins ran from $2 up to $6.50, with the solitary exception of 1934-S which cost all of $15. A complete set in Uncirculated grade listed at less $1001.

I liked 1921 Peace dollars, and remember well that most in Treasury bags were EF to AU, often with very deep gray, almost a black, toning. Some had a rather ugly deep gray-golden color. Uncirculated coins, when they showed up, were apt to be barely so. I never saw a bright, new 1921 Peace dollar.

If an Uncirculated coin had a nice appearance, I saved it. I also liked 1928 Peace dollars, for they have a low mintage figure, and there used to be a notation in the Handbook of U.S. Coins to effect that 1928 dollars were made only for cornerstone purposes. I started picking out all nice 1928 dollars, but soon they became common that I cashed them in. I had to preserve my capital, you know. The typical 1928 would be in Uncirculated grade, with a beveled rim (characteristic of the issue), and would be mostly brilliant. These were nice looking coins. 1 also kept a weather eye out for 1934-S Peace dollars. These showed up with frequency, but among the bags I sorted, the 1934-S coins were all worn, some of them down to the VF level. In 1955 1 often wondered how a coin minted just 20 years earlier could have become so worn. I still don't have the answer to this, as such coins never actively circulated in the Eastern United States. Presumably, they were used intensively in the West.

Uncirculated Peace dollars of other dates were usually bright, indicating that they had been mixed into bags relatively recently (or else they would have acquired the "standard" dull gray surfaces). Sometimes they would have nasty, little white "water spots" on them; spots that could not be removed. Others had a rusty yellow-orange tint, probably from being stored in damp bags or damp vaults.

However, most were sparkling and bright. I recall that 1934 and 1935 Peace dollars were very plentiful, usually very bright, and with minimum bagmarks--coins that would be called MS-64 or MS-65 today. However, back then the market value of a common date Uncirculated Morgan or Peace dollar was apt to be from about $1.25 to $2 singly, with nearly all of this value going toward the handling involved. There was no significant premium for a bag full of Uncirculated dollars of any of the dates I encountered in quantity.

Common Sense

Heaven knows, more investment advice has been written elsewhere about Morgan and Peace dollars than just about any other series under the numismatic sun. There is no dearth of facts, figures, predictions, analyses, charts, etc.

If you approach Peace dollars from an investment viewpoint, I urge you to use common sense. If someone tells you that MS-63 1923 Peace dollars will someday become very rare and extremely valuable-and such things have appeared in print-you will be able to judge that the words are hokum.

To loosely paraphrase Charles Dickens, if 5,000 MS-63 Peace dollars exist of a given variety, and there are 20,000 collectors seeking them, the result is happiness for those who own the coins. If 5,000 exist, and just 1,000 collectors are seeking them, the result is misery for those who own the coins and try to sell them at a profit. This, of course, is the old law of supply and demand.

It would be simple if this were the entire equation, but it isn't. Price enters in. A Peace dollar can be very rare in a certain grade and in great demand, but is the price too high? Has the market already taken into consideration the demand, and perhaps overpriced it? Or, if the market is in a slump--as it is from time to time--is such a coin a bargain if the price is half what it was three years earlier?

By reading the price, rarity, and editorial information about each variety of Peace dollar, you should be able to come up with some excellent ideas on your own. I doubt if any expert or specialist in the country will have more useful data than you do.

Q. David Bowers has been in the rare coin business since 1953 when he was a teenager. The author has served as president of the American Numismatic Association (1983-1985) and president of the Professional Numismatists Guild (1977-1979), is a recipient of the highest honor bestowed by the ANA (the Farran Zerbe Award), was the first ANA member to be named Numismatist of the Year (1995), has been inducted into the Numismatic Hall of Fame (at the ANA Headquarter in Colorado Springs), is a recipient of the highest honor bestowed by the Professional Numismatists Guild (The Founders' Award), and has received more "Book of the Year Award" and "Best Columnist" honors given by the Numismatic Literary Guild than any other writer. He has has written over 40 books, hundreds of auction and other catalogues, and several thousand articles.
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