The 1921 Silver Dollar and World War I
Peace – at last
Back in 1921, the world was a different place. America only ended World War I with Germany, that year, by signing the Treaty of Berlin – until then it was still, officially, at war.
The cost of that war was astronomical – and this affected the American economy – not even the 1921 silver dollars escaped these effects.
Back in 1918, after the cessation of fighting in Europe, the American government decided that it would pay its debts with precious metals.
The Pittman Act, of that year, authorized the melting of millions of silver dollars for this purpose. The American government effectively took the coins out of circulation and used them as the settlement for its war dues.
Records at the United States Mint show that 259,121,554 silver dollars were melted for bullion. That is the equivalent of $3,687,216,920 In today’s currency.
It then sold this silver bullion to England to meet the costs incurred by the allies in defending their territories.
As part of the Pittman Act legislation, it was agreed that the melted silver was to be replaced with new currency to the same value.
What’s in a name?
It is often forgotten now, but we used precious metals, back in 1921, every day in most transactions rather than paper currency. Both silver and gold were commonplace. For example, gold coins were available in $5, $10, and $20 denominations.
At this point, the US Mint had not struck any new silver dollars for around 17 years – they needed some new dies and machinery if they were to produce them.
The government decided it that this was a good time to introduce a new design of coin to the mix. Solid silver is extremely malleable, but this makes it susceptible to wear. The mint was aware of this and specified that they would strike this new coinage using a 90% silver and 10% copper alloy to make it harder and more resistant to everyday use.
The new coin design took longer than expected to come to fruition – so the US Mint reintroduced the Morgan silver dollar as an interim measure until they brought the new coin on stream.
This year, then, saw the introduction of two coins of the same denomination, in different designs. The “new” 1921 Morgan silver dollar, which had originally ceased production in 1897, and the all-new 1921 peace dollar.
The Peace dollar was a logical introduction – and was intended as a commemoration of the end of the most destructive war ever seen – one that cost the lives of an estimated 15-19 million deaths and 23 million wounded.
A design fault
The delay in the new coin’s introduction was due to differences about the initial design. Anthony de Francisci, an immigrant to the US, had won a competition where various concepts were put forward. His design was accepted as the winner and showed an eagle breaking a sword on the face side, and the profile of a woman, Liberty, on the obverse. The model for Liberty was de Francisci’s wife, Teresa.
When the designs were going through the final stages several groups objected to the design of de Francisco’s eagle. Officials at the Treasury, and the Fine Arts commission – who had run the competition to select the winning designer – felt the motif of the breaking of the sword implied a defeat for US forces rather than a negotiated peace brought about by the Allied victory.
In a quiet piece of “design diplomacy,” an engraver at the US Mint – George Morgan – rejigged the design as an olive branch rather than a sword – and this became the image on the Peace dollar.
A financial crisis looms large
Because of all the delays, the first of the Peace silver dollars was not struck until Boxing Day. By this time, over 100 million 1921 Morgan dollars had been minted.
The remaining week of the year saw around a million peace dollars minted – this makes these coins particularly rare and sought-after.
From 1922 until 1928, the Peace dollars effectively replaced the Morgan silver dollars and became the de facto dollar coins of the United States during those years.
The completion of the terms of the Pittman Act luckily coincided with the stock market crash of 1929.
Silver reserves, to meet the demand for silver dollar coins, had become exhausted – at the same time – the call for coins with silver dollar values dropped because of the prevailing economic conditions.
Production was halted.
After the country had recovered from the “Wall Street crash” (as it came to be known) the US Mint resumed production of Peace dollars – and continued minting them until 1936.
This series of coins then ceased manufacture – and with them, the making of any silver dollar coins until the introduction of the” Eisenhower dollar” in 1971.
As with all coins, the price, and worth of silver coins from 1921 depends on what collectors consider the coin values to be – rare coins being more valuable, and fetching more than the more common ones – those in good condition fetching more than worn or damaged coins.
There is no doubt that 1921 is one of the most interesting periods for numismatics in the history of US Mint issues. There are collectors who amass coins from this year alone. It is, certainly, a great year to start a coin collection off with …
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The Morgan Silver Dollar is an essential part of American History. The first was released in 1878 and became an immediate success. We have sourced 3 different versions of this iconic coin. These will be an investment as well as a family heirloom for generations to come.
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