The Peace Silver Dollar's Belated Creation
by John Devitt
Many Americans find it curious that the 1921-1935 U.S. Peace silver dollar, commemorating the end of World War I, wasn't introduced until three years after the Armistice of November 1918, which ended hostilities, and two and a half years after the signing of the Versailles Treaty in June 1919. The reason was that an isolationist faction in the U.S. Senate, led by Massachusetts Republican Henry Cabot Lodge, blocked the ratification of the Versailles Treaty later in 1919, chiefly over the provision that the United States would enter the new League of Nations, the brainchild of President Woodrow Wilson. Wilson refused to compromise on the issue, predicting that another war might well follow within 20 years if all major nations did not commit to an international peace-keeping body. The matter remained in limbo until after the election of President Warren G. Harding, when Congress passed the Knox-Porter Resolution in June of 1921, effectively a separate peace treaty between the United States and the defeated Central Powers.
A Magnificent Silver Dollar Honoring Peace
To mark the belated event, a commemorative U.S. Peace silver dollar was proposed and quickly authorized by Congress. Although George T. Morgan (creator of the Morgan silver dollar) continued as the U.S. Mint's Chief Engraver, a design competition was opened to all. The engravers of the Lincoln cent, Walking Liberty half dollar and Standing Liberty quarter all submitted Peace dollar designs, but the winner proved to be an Italian immigrant named Anthony di Francisci, a sculptor and medalist who had previously created the U.S. "Maine Centennial" half dollar of 1920. His model for the Liberty personification was his wife Teresa. The tall spires of Liberty's crown somewhat resemble those of the Statue of Liberty, which had greatly moved the couple when they entered New York Harbor on an immigrant ship. The spires are echoed on the reverse side as the powerful rays of a new dawn behind the vigilant peacekeeping American Eagle, with "PEACE" inscribed on the mountain rock below. In the original design, the Eagle stood over a broken sword to symbolize the end of war ("the war to end all wars," as Wilson had called it). But objections arose that a broken sword might convey weakness, so Morgan substituted a peace branch in its stead.
Relatively Few Were Authorized
Congress decided to extend the commemorative Peace dollar's minting beyond 1921, but limited the total number in the series to those Morgan dollars melted in 1918 (270 million Morgans were melted to temporarily help the financially beleaguered British Empire in the last year of the War, most of the silver shipped to India via the U-boat-free Pacific). The first million Peace silver dollars emerged from the Philadelphia Mint's presses in late December, 1921. However, the high-relief designs resulted in many dies breaking and stacking problems in banks. So the design was altered for 1922 and all later issues, whose modified relief allayed the difficulties. By 1928, the series' quota was reached and minting stopped. But in 1934, in the midst of the Great Depression, Congress renewed the series in the hope of stimulating the economy. The last 1934-1935 Peace dollar mintages were fairly limited, though. They proved to be the last productions of a circulating U.S. silver dollar, ending a national tradition that had begun in 1793. Three decades later, Congress authorized a new 45 million mintage of Peace silver dollars to be dated 1964 (the last date for circulating 90% silver U..S dimes, quarters and half dollars). About 300,000 had been struck by the Denver Mint when the order was rescinded and all of these were melted at the mint.
Today the U.S. Peace dollar remains a collecting favorite for its splendid Art Deco designs and its expression of lasting American ideals and aspirations, as the nation fulfills its vital peace-keeping role throughout the world.