The 1978 Eisenhower Dollars may be common coins in the eyes of many coin collectors, but they really represent much more than may immediately meet the eye. They not only symbolize an important moment in American numismatics, but some 1978 Ike Dollars are deceivingly rare, with a few certain choice specimens commanding impressive four-figure prices.
The Last Old-Fashioned Dollar Coins
Traditional circulating dollar coins – the large, bulky United States types that measure wider than 38 millimeters in diameter and tip the scales at well over 20 grams a pop – didn’t go out with the last official Peace Dollar in 1935. These American classics took their final curtain call in 1978, with the end of the Eisenhower Dollar series. And, in many respects, Ike Dollars, which were in production from 1971 through 1978, bridge the gap between the classic silver dollars that were struck through the early 20th century and the modern dollar coins that are still made today.
When the Eisenhower Dollar came on the scene in 1971, circulating specimens were produced from the base-metal copper-nickel clad format that became en vouge with lower-denomination coinage since 1965. Yet, the United States Mint made limited numbers of Eisenhower Dollars in a 40% silver clad composition echoing the precious-metal origins of the earlier dollar coins. The last of these 40% silver Ike Dollars are dated 1776-1976, having been struck during the nation’s gala Bicentennial celebrations.
However, the release of the last large-size circulating dollar coins in 1978 truly put a bookend on the conventional dollar coins of heavier weight and girth. In October 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed the Susan B. Anthony Dollar into law; numismatists at that time were well aware that year’s crop of Eisenhower Dollars, still rolling off the press in their waning days of late 1978, were to be the last coins of their kind.
Scarce 1978 Dollars
The Philadelphia Mint produced 25,702,000 Eisenhower Dollars in 1978 while the Denver Mint struck 33,012,890. Add in the 3,127,781 proofs made at the San Francisco Mint, and the total of 1978 Ike Dollars coined amounts to 61,842,671 pieces. And while that is a large number seemingly suggestive that the 1978 Eisenhower Dollar is thus a common coin, this series has a particular quirk when it comes to conditional rarities. Given the large size and heft of these coins, not to mention the fact that circulating clad pieces were processed and distributed without any special care, most uncirculated business-strikes characteristically contain multiple bag marks and other surface flaws.
Surely, it’s easy to go out and find a Choice Uncirculated specimen in MS62 or MS63, but business-strike Eisenhower Dollars become a little more difficult in MS64, tough in MS65, and decidedly scarce in grades of MS66 or better. This is a point of significance to PCGS Set Registry members, who can incorporate Eisenhower Dollars into numerous types of Registry Sets, yet often find it difficult to locate Ike Dollars above a certain grade threshold.
Consider the Philadelphia-struck 1978 Eisenhower Dollar. As of this writing, PCGS has graded around 500 specimens in MS66, and the current retail value for those hovers around $110. Jump up one full point to the finest grade of MS67, and PCGS has graded just seven, each with an estimated value of $6,000. Denver specimens are even more daunting at this level for the collector. While they are similarly scarce in MS66, where they fetch $175; in the top grade of MS67 just four specimens are known, and they realize $9,250. Those who want a nice example of a 1978 Eisenhower Dollar on a budget may wish to turn to proof specimens. A beautiful 1978-S in PR69DCAM trades for about $30.