A hitherto unknown coinage: Nowhere in the annals of numismatics have I found a reference to the coinage of tens of thousands of business strike 1922 High Relief Peace dollars. Thus, courtesy of R.W. Julian, the information that these were indeed made is new to the collecting fraternity: (Letters to the author, September 8 and 28, 1992.)
The 1922 High Relief Peace dollars were coined in January of that year. The die breakage was too great, and coinage stopped. There were four obverse and nine reverse dies used for the High Relief coinage executed between January 5 and January 23, 1922.
I copied the data in June 1974 at the General Services Administration archives in Philadelphia. Mint records were stored there before being transferred to the National Archives or destroyed as of no value. However, in 1978 Mint Director Stella Hackel destroyed everything there except the foreign coinage files.
I did not copy the number of coins struck from each reverse die, but the number from each obverse is as follows: Die no. 1: 4,192 coins; die no. 2: 3,231; die no. 3: 20,797; die no. 4: 7,181. Total 1922 High Relief business strike coinage: 35,401.
This works out to only 8,850 coins per obverse die and 3,933 per reverse. This compares to 24,548 coins per obverse die used in 1921 Peace dollar coinage (I did not copy the number of 1921 reverse dies). It is then small wonder that Morgan felt compelled to lower the relief. With tens of millions of coins to be struck, the number of dies would have been very high. (Dollar dies used in the 1878-1921 period, on occasion struck more than 400,000 pieces, nearly 50 times better.)
The business strikes were all supposed to have been melted, but perhaps the extant VF-30 piece is a stray that escaped melting. The Proofs would have been struck about this time or perhaps up to a week or two later.
The foregoing information reveals that business strike 1922 High Relief Peace dollars were made, and by the tens of thousands, but were never circulated. Such a wholesale melting of an issue intended for circulation was not unprecedented; in 1907, the Mint melted 19,958 Saint-Gaudens $10 gold pieces with rounded rim and periods before and after the legends on the reverse.
The Annual Report of the Director of the Mint, 1922, noted this:
The dies for the Peace dollar were made from models approved by the same commission, and over one million pieces were struck in 1921. Before the dies for the 1922 issue were finally ready considerable experimenting to reduce the relief was necessary because of the extreme difficulty in coinage.
The business strike mintage of 35,401 1922 High Relief Peace dollars is nowhere mentioned in the Annual Report. This was not an unusual situation for the time, as other melted coins (such as mint errors) were not reported either.
It could be that the 1922 High Relief dollars with Proof finish were created during the "considerable experimenting," but this does not seem likely, as the relief and designs are nearly identical to that of 1921. It may be that they werecoined by or for George T. Morgan as delicacies for private sale to collectors. Certainly, there is no record of their having been placed on general sale.
Business strikes: 35,401 1922 High Relief circulation strikes were minted, all or nearly all of which were subsequently melted. A solitary 1922 High Relief Peace dollar exists today with non-Proof finish, a VF coin. Perhaps it is from the original business strike mintage, or it may be a Proof that was spent.
Proof-only issue: Only. a few 1922 Proof High Relief Peace dollars were minted. These arc traditionally called "Matte Proofs." In actuality, examples were made with at least two different finishes. The first is a dull, microscopically porous gray somewhat similar to Sandblast Proofs of the era. The second finish is a special silver-glaze surface quite unlike the Sandblast or Matte Proofs of the time.
Commentary: In the registry given below are listed more different 1922 High ReHef Peace dollars than probably exist; some entries probably duplicate others.
Ambassador and Mrs. R. Henry Norweb acquired their specimen from Texas dealer B. Max Mehlon April 28, 1937. This is the earliest recorded transaction involving an example of this issue. Curiously, the Norwebs did not note in their inventory that it was a High Relief coin, probably because none had ever been mentioned in numismatic literature. They did believe it to be a special striking, however, as it was acquired in addition to their regular 1922 Uncirculated coin. While Mehl probably recognized it as a High Relief coin, apparently he never said anything about it in print.
An even earlier transaction, the details of which are not known, must have involved the acquisition of a specimen by Farran Zerbe for his Money of the World Collection, which displayed a Proof example of the 1922 High Relief by the time it was sold to the Chase National Bank (of New York City) in 1929. How it was labeled in the Zerbe exhibit in the 1920s is not known to me; later, in the 1960s, this coin was studied by Don Taxay.
Widespread public knowledge of the existence of the 1922 High Relief did not emerge until April 1959,when Donald L. Rhodes, a California dealer, described onein his auction catalogue. It fetched $3,100, a remarkably high price for a "strange" variety of which virtually nothing was known. Lester Merkin owned a specimen in the 1950s and was fond of showing it to his friends, most of whom were puzzled by its appearance.
In July 1961, the variety came of age, when Walter H. Breen described it in detail in an article, "The 1922 Type of 1921 Peace Dollar," in The Numismatic Scrapbook Magazine.
That business strikes were made, and in quantity, was a fact not known to me until September of 1992, when R.W. Julian provided me with the notes quoted earlier.
Availability: Probably somewhere between six and 10 different Proof specimens are known today. In addition, a circulated piece (VF) is known. Proof examples have come on the market every year or so in the past two decades, as the registry printed below indicates.