Chapter 20: Eisenhower Dollars, Guide to Collecting and Investing Table of Contents


Guide to Collecting and Investing



The following commentary from Frank Gasparro, former chief engraver of the United States Mint, was written expressly for this book.

The happiest and most rewarding experience in my Mint career was the day I was commissioned to design the Eisenhower dollar. It was like training daily, for an athletic event. I was ready. Only I had to wait twenty-five years. This is my story.

I remember that happy day in 1945, when I made every effort to take off from my Mint work to go to New York City from Philadelphia. I was to see the "D" Day-World War II victory parade down Broadway to honor our hero, General Eisenhower. I admired him greatly. I stood with the rest of the bystanders to celebrate Eisenhower's welcome home. Everyone shouted and waved.

Amidst all the rousing enthusiasm, I stepped back from the crowd and made a quick pencil profile sketch of our hero. I was pleased with my efforts. Then I took the train home to Philadelphia, and back to work the next day.

In my off hours, I modeled in wax and then cast in plaster a life size portrait of Eisenhower from memory and sketches, in the round. Meanwhile, I also started to chisel and engrave in soft steel, three inches in diameter a profile portrait of him. It took a long time; as you know steel is hard to move. Meanwhile, time moved on.

Late in 1970 (after twenty-five years), the director of the Mint, Mary Brooks, phoned me in Philadelphia from Washington (I was then chief engraver). She informed me that the Eisenhower dollar bill passed in Congress.

In my capacity, I was requested to design and produce working dies, for the Eisenhower dollar, fast. I knew in my bones, I could make it. Time was tight and there was no time for a national competition. So, I had to work hard and long hours. This was the Thanksgiving weekend, I started. The new dollar had to be struck January 2nd, 1971 (6 weeks in planning).

I was ready, I had my Eisenhower early profile, in hand. The dollar reverse had to portray the Apollo XI eagle insignia, as requested by the congressional bill. In this area, I was fortunate, having pursued for many years research of the American eagle. Luckily my sketches were approved, with no changes. The rest is history.

(Signed) Frank Gasparro November 21, 1991.

Q. DAVID BOWERS COMMENTARY 1971-1978 Eisenhower Dollars

After a hiatus of several decades, "silver dollars" again became a reality for collectors in 1971. However, this time around many of the "silver dollars" weren't made in silver at all. Following a drastic rise in the price of silver bullion, virtually all of the world's nations in the mid-1960s abandoned silver as a general metal for circulating coinage. The United States was no exception. Thus, dollars since that date have been made of a mixture of metals.

The new design featured on the obverse a portrait of Dwight D. Eisenhower, former president of the United States. The portrait is a stern and unsmiling one and was criticized by many as being untypical of a man noted for his geniality. The reverse depicts an eagle landing on the moon, with the earth in the sky in the background.

It was decided to strike Eisenhower dollars in copper-nickel composition metal made of an outer layer of 75% copper and 25% nickel, bonded to an inner core of pure copper. In addition, a special "silver" issue was made for collectors and sold at a premium above face value.

These latter coins consisted of an outer layer of 80% silver and 20% copper bonded to an inner core of 21% silver and 79% copper, per conventional wisdom. However, Thomas K. DeLorey has pointed outthat the United States Mint Report for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1971, p. 21, says .215/.785; later reports say "209/791." Was there a subtle change made in the composition? If so, it was never publicized to the numismatic community.

The silver pieces are characterized today by having a more brilliant and lustrous finish. The copper nickel dollars, common with other clad coinage of the era, have a rather muted appearance.

During the 1971-1973 years the dies were modified several times to make changes in the relief and other minor details. The later pieces have sharper features than do those issued during the earlier years.

The 1776-1976 Bicentennial coinage furnished a variation in the Eisenhower design. While these have been widely collected because of their commemorative nature, in my opinion the piece will not win any aesthetic awards. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as we all know, so perhaps the Eisenhower dollar is your favorite design.

Uncirculated Eisenhower dollars vary in sharpness from issue to issue. Many pieces are 'rather dull in appearance and, bluntly, are unattractive. For the most part, the best specimens are represented by Proofs or by hand-selected high-grade Mint State coins.

Chapter 20: Eisenhower Dollars, Guide to Collecting and Investing Table of Contents