Q. David Bowers
Silver prices rose sharply in the mid-1960s, and by the end of the decade there was scarcely a silver dollar to be seen in play at any of the gambling casinos in Reno or Las Vegas. Lack of these ''cartwheels'' dampened enthusiasm, and in the place of coins came a number of substitutes, mainly dollar-sized tokens made by the Franklin Mint (a private organization) and others. To remedy this, on December 31,1970, President Richard M. Nixon signed into law the Bank Holding Company Act, which included among its provisions a new dollar coin.
The composition was specified to be "clad'' metal, a copper core with nickel alloy front and back, to coincide with the dimes and quarters struck after 1964, as well as Kennedy half dollars after 1970. Selected for the obverse was the head of Dwight David Eisenhower, which was modeled by Chief Engraver Frank Gasparro, who was an admirer of President Eisenhower, and who considered it a pleasure to be assigned the task. The reverse of the dollar portrayed the Apollo XI space mission eagle insignia, a reflection of American accomplishments.
On November 1, 1971, business strike Eisenhower dollars were released by banks. Collectors scrambled for them, as did the general public. However, the enthusiasm was short-lived, due no doubt to the coin containing no silver. Further, Eisenhower dollars of this year and the next (1972) were not included in current Proof sets, although many felt they should have been.
In 1971 and 1972, copper-nickel clad Eisenhower dollars were struck in business strike form at Philadelphia and Denver. At the San Francisco Mint, silver clad pieces were issued both in ''Uncirculated'' or frosty finish, and in Proof format, both varieties for sale to collectors. The dollars were not included in Proof sets but, instead, were sold separately.
In 1973 the Philadelphia and Denver mints struck about two million pieces each, of which 1,760,258 of each were sold in sets to collectors. None was made for circulation. At this time there was a glut of Eisenhower dollars. The public was not using them in daily transactions, except in isolated instances in the West, and about the only popularity achieved was at the Nevada casinos (which was one of the purposes of issuing them to begin with; thus, this could be called a success).
In the same year, 1973, Proofs in copper-nickel clad as well as silver clad metal were produced for collectors, and in addition Uncirculated 1977-S silver clad pieces were made. Apparently, there was little planning ahead, and by this time the metal content and production of the dollar series, as far as collectors were concerned, was somewhat erratic. It was hard to figure out what was coming down the line, and what metals would be used. This did not contribute to the popularity of the pieces.
1974 saw a substantial business strike mintage at the Philadelphia and Denver mints, and again a coinage of Proof copper-nickel clad and silver clad coins at San Francisco, plus business strike silver clad pieces at San Francisco as well.
There were no Eisenhower dollars minted with the date 1975 as during that year the Mint was busy ''pre-striking'' coins for the Bicentennial 1776-1976.
As it turned out, the Bicentennial coins bearing this date were made with two reverse varieties. The first, Variety I, has the design in low relief and with bold or strong lettering on the reverse. Variety II displays a sharper design, and the reverse has delicate lettering by comparison. Including these two varieties, eight different styles of Bicentennial dollars were minted, enough to boggle the mind. These included Philadelphia Mint copper-nickel clad coins of Variety I and Variety II, Denver Mint copper-nickel clad coins of the same two varieties, San Francisco Mint copper-nickel clad coins of the same two varieties, struck in Proof, San Francisco Mint silver clad pieces of Variety I struck in Uncirculated format, and San Francisco Mint silver clad examples of Variety I struck in Proof.
The situation eased and became infinitely simpler during the last two years of Eisenhower dollar coinage, 1977 and 1978, when all strikings were in copper-nickel clad metal, with business strikes produced at Philadelphia and Denver, and Proofs at San Francisco. In 1978 the design was ended.
The Eisenhower dollars did not achieve widespread popularity with numismatists at the time, although many of them were sold to the public at large. For the 1776-1976 Bicentennial Proofs, the Mint had unsold supplies on hand for many years afterwards. Throughout the history of American coinage, current issues have evoked relatively little attention on the part of specialists. Perhaps the coins are too recent. It has always fallen to a later generation to appreciate such pieces.
In the 1980s and 1990s, interest began to pick up, and after 1986, when PCGS led the way for a reinterpretation of grading standards, the division of coin grades into minute differences such as MS-6l, MS-62, MS-63, MS-64, etc., became popular. It was realized that there were certain business strike issues such as 1971, 197l-D, 1972, and 1972-D that were scarce or, in context, rare, at higher Mint State levels. Most pieces showed evidence of handling and were graded from MS-60 to MS63.
Since that time, interest had continued to increase in the Eisenhower series. I am sure that in some years, certain varieties will break out as being especially valuable. Right now, pricing of the series is rather homogeneous, with the 2000 issue of A Guide Book of United States Coins listing just one variety above $10: the 1973-S silver clad Proof, of which 1,013,646 were struck, which is posted at $20 for Proof-65. By contrast, the 1971-D in MS-63 (the highest grade listed) is $2.00 and the 1972-D in MS-63 is $2.50.
Today, the assembling of a complete set is financially possible and quite practical for just about everyone. Those desiring a bit of spice may seek the interesting mint errors 1974-D and 1977-D struck by mistake using silver-clad planchets. However, as they are not regular issues there is no need to feel guilty if they are left out.
1973-S Eisenhower Dollar Obverse