Give Peace Dollars a Chance: Finest Known 1923-D Captures $76,375 at Sale

The single finest known 1923-D Peace Dollar, graded MS 67 by PCGS. (Photo: Heritage Auctions)

It brought a record $76,375 at Heritage Auctions’ Long Beach Signature Sale on June 6, 2013. (Photo: Heritage Auctions)

At the conclusion of the First World War it was suggested in many circles that a commemorative coin a “Peace Dollar” should be issued for general circulation. As elected officials put efforts forward for this endeavor, a whirlwind of positive public opinion for this venture ensued. A commission was formed and on July 28, 1921, President Warren G. Harding issued an executive order that designs for the proposed dollar coin be submitted to the Fine Arts Commission for their approval.

On Nov. 19, sculptors—many noted artists of current U.S. coins—were invited to produced designs. The winner would receive a $1,500 prize, while all other competitors would receive $100 for their efforts. Time was of the essence and a December 13 deadline was imposed in order for the coins to be produced in the calendar year 1921. After the deadline, the Mint’s Chief Engraver George T Morgan, prepared models of all the contestants’ designs to be judged. Ultimately, it was the youngest designer—Anthony de Francisci’s, at age 34—whose design was selected.

With such short notice for the competition, de Francisci did not have time to locate and hire a model for his Ms. Liberty design. He instead looked to his lovely wife, Teresa, for inspiration and modeled the triumphant “Ms. Liberty” after her.

In essence, this is truly an American story, as Teresa de Francisci was born Teresa Cafarelli in Naples, Italy, and around the time of the release of the coin, she relayed in several interviews that when she was 5 years old, she and her family were immigrating to America. When their steamer passed the Statue of Liberty on the way to Ellis Island, she was so fascinated by the statue that she called her family over and struck a pose in imitation of the welcoming Ms. Liberty.

Teresa later wrote to her brother Rocco, “You remember how I was always posing as Liberty, and how brokenhearted I was when some other little girl was selected to play the role in the patriotic exercises in school? I thought of those days often while sitting as a model for Tony’s design, and now seeing myself as Miss Liberty on the new coin, it seems like the realization of my fondest childhood dream.”

The Treasury announced the new design on Dec. 19, 1921. Photographs of Mint Director Raymond Baker and de Francisci examining the final plaster model appeared in newspapers. At the time the actual designs were not released to the press, as it was a practice of the Mint that only written descriptions were to be used. Needless to say, the public’s anticipation accelerated as they anxiously awaited the release of this new coin. Finally, on Jan. 3, 1922, the Peace Dollar was released into general circulation. Although the design was well received by the public, the coin’s somewhat high relief was a concern to some bankers as it was thought stacking the coins was a minor problem. To remedy the concern, a modest retooling of the design from the high relief to the slightly modified one was incorporated on all 1922 issues through the series end in 1935. 

Sculptor Anthony de Francisci (left) and Mint Director Raymond T Baker (right) inspecting a plaster model of the new Peace dollar.

Teresa de Francisci, posing here for a newspaper photograph in 1922, served as her husband’s model for the Peace dollar.

For many, the Peace Dollar is ripe with nostalgia. Their short lifespan conjures up memories of the Roaring ’20s, a trip through prohibition, the stock market crash and FDR’s new deal. Perhaps, fittingly in tune with the times, many critics referred to the new design as a dramatic improvement, having dropped the stoic Greek influenced interpretation of its predecessor (The Morgan Dollar) and adopted a more streamlined “Flapper” style Ms. Liberty. Certainly the coin is modernistic and Art Deco in appearance.

Collecting the Peace Dollar
For the beginning collector or serious numismatist, this series is relatively easy to assemble. This is especially true in circulated grades as there are no real “stoppers” and an average circulated set can be put together for about $1,000. In fact, only the inaugural 1921, 1928 and 1934-S will only set the collector back a few hundred dollars each in extremely fine grade.

For me, the Peace Dollar is especially attractive in mint state. When buying uncirculated coins, it is wise to find examples with minor abrasions in the unprotected areas, look for full satiny luster and a sharp strike. Usually, coins MS 64 or better will fit nicely in even the most demanding collector’s cabinet. Of course, the higher the, grade the pricier the coin. For the collector looking to procure a “Type” or representative example, the common dates in the series are the 1922, 1923, 1924 and 1925 Philadelphia issues and each is currently available for around $85 in MS 64. However, one of the keys to the series, the 1934-S, will run more than $4,500 in the same grade!

While Morgan Dollars may enjoy a more broad-based popularity, the ability to assemble a true mint state collection is a very pricey and time-consuming venture costing the collector or investor several hundred thousand dollars. Conversely, Peace Dollars are an attractive and popular alternative. Since this is a relatively short set (24 coins to complete the series and no real “stoppers”), the average collector can certainly set their sights on an average circulated set as I mentioned. If you wish to elevate your sights, a mint state collection grading MS60 with a little effort, could be put together for around $4,600.

Interestingly, in the collector-friendly MS63 grade, a quick review of the combined NGC & PCGS reports reveal that fewer than 900 complete sets of Peace Dollars in those grades could be assembled! At this level, more time would be required to assemble a set of this quality and at today’s market level, it would require an outlay of around $8,500. 

One of the finest inaugural 1921 High Relief Peace Dollars, graded NGC MS67 and tied for the finest known with a mere dozen others. (Photo: Heritage Auctions)

It captured $51,750 at the 2006 ANA Convention in Denver as a part of the Heritage Signature sale of Aug. 14, 2006. (Photo: Heritage Auctions)

For the advanced numismatist, there are many Peace Dollars which are very rare in MS65 or better (such as the notoriously weakly struck 1925-S, which commands $23,000 or more in MS65). Prices for “type” coins accelerate in premium grades, as well. While an MS65 1923 coin, for instance, will run around $125, an MS66 would fetch $520 and an MS67 would set you back around $4,500.

It is wise to note just how scarce true MS67 Peace Dollars are; as a series, both major third-party grading services (NGC & PCGS) have only designated 532 examples as such within the entire series as of June 2013.

Demand can be fierce when coins of this exalted caliber appear. In fact, in the just-concluded Heritage Long Beach Signature sale (held June 5-9), a superb 1923-D Peace Dollar graded PCGS MS67 powered to an astounding $76,375! This price realized was nearly five times the published dealer “bid” for this coin. While this coin reports in with the second-highest Denver output for the series (a little more than 6.8 million coined), it is easy to come by and is considered common in grades up to AU, and is only modestly scare in MS63, commanding around $150. Yet it is very rare as a condition census coin and that is why this record price was necessary to capture this finest known example which is certainly destined for a collectors’ registry set.

Overall, Peace Dollars are definitely a great choice for the average collector or serious hobbyist. Either circulated or MS60 or MS63, the ability to complete the series in one or two years is a distinct possibility for most collectors of average means. Minted from 1921 -1935, this proud coin also served as the last “silver cartwheel” minted for general circulation. Captivating and elegant, everyone should give Peace Dollars a chance.

Until next time, happy collecting!

Jim Bisognani has written extensively on U.S. coin market trends and values and was the market analyst and writer for a major pricing guide for many years. He currently resides in New England and frequently attends major coin shows and auctions.

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