Q. David Bowers
Historian David M. Bullowa reported that 10,023 mixed pieces, consisting of about 5,000 of each date, were returned to the Mint for melting, whereas historians Swiatek and Breen specifically say that 10,023 of the 1916 issue went to the melting pot, and none of the 1917 date was melted. The Mint did not keep track of the specific dates melted, so the precise numbers will never be known although, as stated, I agree with B. Max Mehl and believe that most coins melted were dated 1917.
The coins were poorly publicized, and, as noted, distribution was unsatisfactory. In addition to the aforementioned coins acquired by Mehl, other dealers bought quantities, but sales to the public were notably small. The design was criticized at the time of issue and is still criticized in modern times, and the sales effort was a failure, all of which combine to make the 1916-1917 McKinley gold dollars one of the less memorable issues in the commemorative spectrum. On the plus side of the ledger is the fact that the McKinley Birthplace Memorial was actually constructed in Niles, Ohio, and today it is an attraction to visitors.
Collecting McKinley Gold Dollars Most McKinley gold dollars were sold to dealers (B. Max Mehl in particular) and collectors. With the exception of an initial surge of interest in 1916 coins, the public bought relatively few. As a result, most coins known today are in varying degrees of Mint State but often with friction showing on the cheek and high parts of the obverse, probably the result of careless handling at the Mint and by the Commission.
The reverses are typically in higher grades and are often prooflike. It is sometimes the case that the obverse of a coin appears slightly circulated, as AU-55 or AU-58, but the reverse grades MS-60 or even MS-63. Examples of the McKinley gold dollars are readily available on the market, although pristine coins grading MS-65 are elusive. Pieces dated 1917 are much scarcer than those dated 1916, although, when they are seen, they are typically in slightly finer grades than 1916-dated coins.
GRADING SUMMARY: The obverse typically shows friction or contact on the higher areas of McKinley's portrait, whereas the reverse is relatively problem free and may grade two, three, or more points higher. Although some specimens are lustrous and frosty, most have prooflike fields.
Commemorating: William McKinley (to defray the cost of completion of the McKinley Birthplace Memorial in Niles, Ohio)
Obverse motif: Portrait of McKinley
Reverse motif: McKinley Birthplace Memorial
Authorization date: February 23, 1916
Date on coins: 1916
Date when coins were actually minted: 1916
Mint used: Philadelphia
Maximum quantity authorized: 100,000 (total for both years)
Total quantity minted (including assay coins): 20,026
Assay coins (included in above): 26
Quantity melted: 10,049 (including 26 assay coins) according to conventional information; more likely, about 5,000 were melted (B. Max Mehl's and author's estimate)
Net number distributed: 9,977 according to conventional information; more likely, about 15,000 were distributed (B. Max Mehl's and author's estimate)
Issued by: National McKinley Birthplace Memorial Association, Youngstown, Ohio
Standard original packaging: Paper coin envelope imprinted with "The National McKinley Birthplace Memorial Association, Youngstown, Ohio," and with a notation that it contains (space for number) Souvenir McKinley Gold Dollars; Christmas card enclosing one gold dollar
Official sale price: $3
Designer of obverse: Charles E. Barber Designer of reverse: George T. Morgan
Interesting fact: Charles E. Barber prepared the portrait of McKinley for that variety of the 1903-dated Louisiana Purchase Exposition gold dollar.
(average market prices)
1920 MS-63 to 64 $2.50
1925 MS-63 to 64 $3
1930 MS-63 to 64 $4
1935 MS-63 to 64 $4.50
1936 (summer) MS-63 to 64 $6
1940 MS-63 to 64 $5
1945 MS-63 to 64 $10
1950 MS-63 to 64 $11
1955 MS-63 to 64 $18
1960 MS-60 to 63 $40
1965 MS-60 to 63 $125
1970 MS-60 to 63 $75
1975 MS-60 to 63 $275
1980 MS-60 to 63 $2,100
1985 MS-60 to 63 $1,200
1986 MS-60 $750, MS-63 $1,100, MS-64 $2,000, MS-65 $4,300
1990 (spring) MS-60 $625, MS-63 $1,900, MS-64 $3,200, MS-65 $6,500
1990 (December) MS-60 $600, MS-63 $1,250, MS-64 $2,150, MS-65 $4,350
Note: The 1916 McKinley gold dollar is considerably more plentiful than the 1917. The historic price structure does not reflect this to its fullest extent, as the rarity of the pieces has not been studied earlier.