Europe was mired in the middle of World War I. Germany was spreading rumors that Britain couldn’t back their currency. These rumors triggered turmoil in India, a British colony at the time. Whether it was true or not was not important. People panicked. Only bold action from the United States could protect one of its closest allies. It took the millions of silver Peace Dollars authorized by the Pittman Act of 1918.
Wartime spending quickly drained gold reserves throughout Europe, and hoarding swallowed the rest. Our allies were cash starved, so they turned to Uncle Sam, but U.S. gold reserves were also stretched thin. But the U.S. had plenty of silver… in particular, silver dollars. The Pittman Act allowed for millions of Morgan silver dollars to be melted down and recast as bullion. Within the Pittman Act, there was also a provision to overpay miners to accelerate the process. The silver miners made out like bandits, but the Federal government was able to raise the necessary amount of silver fast. The bullion was then sold to England below market value, stemming the panic. And thus was born the Peace Dollar.
As the war ended, coin collectors and the general public alike were eager to celebrate the occasion with a new coin. Several prominent numismatic writers proposed the idea of a Peace Coin. The first recorded proposal to have a silver dollar be the said Peace Coin was from Farran Zerbe, president of the American Numismatic Association, in November 1920.
“I do not want to be misunderstood as favoring the silver dollar for the Peace Coin, but if coinage of silver dollars is to be resumed in the immediate future, a new design is probable and desirable, bullion for the purpose is being provided, law for the coinage exists and limitation of the quantity is fixed—all factors that help pave the way for Peace Coin advocates. And then—we gave our silver dollars to help win the war, we restore them in commemoration of victory and peace.”
The idea eventually took off. A design competition was held for the Peace Dollar. Anthony de Francisci, an Italian immigrant and the youngest contestant at thirty-four, won. De Francisci was definitely the competition’s underdog. There were a number of coin designers participating who were far more experienced.
The design requirements had called for a Lady Liberty redesign for the obverse, and an open-ended design that incorporated an eagle on the reverse. The Lady Liberty design de Francisci used was based on his beautiful wife, Teresa de Francisci. His initial design for the reverse side included an image of a broken sword. Still traumatized from the war, many Americans complained that the broken sword could be interpreted as a symbol of defeat. Responding to the criticism, the reverse side was later redesigned to omit the broken sword.
On January 3, 1922, the Peace Dollar finally went into circulation and remained in circulation for seven years. It was reissued temporarily from 1934–1935. All issues were made of 90% silver. Today, a Peace Dollar will cost you far more than a buck. Its value, like all coins, depends on its condition as well as they year it was issued. From helping to end WWI to its immigrant designer, this coin can easily be called a true American victory.
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