Q. David Bowers
by Q. David Bowers
Collecting Peace Dollars
The Appeal of 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 early 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 you hold in your hand 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 forforming 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 major varieties, 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 dollar 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, and are generally available in higher grades. From this 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 my 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 a 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, provided for the melting of approximately $50 million in silver dollars, including a number of Peace issues. Probably many of the 1934-S 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.
In Mint State grades, particularly at the higher levels, certain Denver and San Francisco issues of the middle 1920s are much rarer than are the "traditionally rare" 1928 and 1934-S, as noted below. The concept of mintage vs. rarity, and the concept that a Peace dollar can be common in one grade and rare in another, is perhaps best explained by illustrations, as is done later in the text under "Peace Dollar Rarity Estimates." First, a discussion of Treasury releases will undoubtedly be of interest to many readers: