The Eisenhower dollar
The Eisenhower dollar is a one-dollar coin issued by the United States Mint from 1971 to 1978; it was the first coin of that denomination issued by the Mint since the Peace dollar series ended in 1935. The coin depicts General and President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who appears on the obverse. Both its obverse and reverse were designed by Frank Gasparro.
In 1965, the Mint had begun to strike copper-nickel clad coins instead of silver, due to rises in bullion prices. No dollar coins had been struck in thirty years, and none, initially, were minted in the new metal. Beginning in 1969, legislators sought to reintroduce a dollar coin into commerce. After Eisenhower died in March of that year, there were a number of proposals to honor Eisenhower with the new coin. While these bills generally commanded wide support, enactment was delayed by a dispute over whether the new coin should be in base metal or 40% silver. In 1970, a compromise was reached to strike the Eisenhower dollar in base metal for circulation, and in 40% silver as a collectible. President Richard Nixon signed legislation authorizing the new coin on December 31, 1970.
Although the collector's pieces sold well, the new dollars failed to circulate to any degree, except in and around Nevada casinos, where they took the place of privately issued tokens. There are no dollars dated 1975; coins from that year and from 1976 bear a double date 1776-1976, and a special reverse by Dennis R. Williams in honor of the bicentennial of American independence. Beginning in 1977, the Mint sought to replace the Eisenhower dollar with a smaller-sized piece. Congress authorized the Susan B. Anthony dollar, struck beginning in 1979, but that piece also failed to circulate. Due to their modest cost and the short length of the series, sets of Eisenhower dollars are becoming more popular among collectors.
Bicentennial issue (1975–1976)
The United States had issued commemorative coins between 1892 and 1954, as a means for fundraising for organizations deemed worthy of federal support. A sponsoring organization would be designated in the authorizing legislation, and was permitted to buy up the issue at face value, selling it to the public at a premium, and pocketing the difference. Various problems with the issues, including mishandling of distributions and complaints that public coins should not be used for private profit, resulted in firm Treasury Department opposition to such issues, and none were struck after 1954.
The American Revolutionary Bicentennial Commission (ARBC) was established by Congress in 1966 as an oversight body for the 1976 two-hundredth anniversary of American independence (the "Bicentennial"). In 1970, its coins and medals advisory committee recommended the issuance of a special half dollar, and subsequently the committee sought the temporary redesign of circulating American coins. Brooks and the Mint initially opposed legislation to effect these proposals, but eventually Brooks supported legislation to redesign the reverses of the quarter, half dollar, and dollar coins, and to issue special collector's sets in silver clad. Legislation to authorize this was signed by President Nixon on October 18, 1973. By the terms of this legislation, coins of these denomination minted for delivery after July 4, 1975 and before December 31, 1976 would bear special reverses, and also be dated 1776–1976. A total of 15,000,000 sets (45,000,000) coins in all) would be struck in silver clad for sale to the public at a premium.
The reverse designs for the three Bicentennial coins were determined by a design competition open to the public. This competition closed in January 1974, and in March, a design submitted by 22-year-old art student Dennis R. Williams was selected for the dollar. Williams, the youngest person to that point to design a U.S. coin, had submitted a design depicting the Liberty Bell superimposed against the Moon. Gasparro slightly modified the design, simplifying the features visible on the lunar surface, and altering the lettering and the bell. Williams and the designers of the other denominations operated the presses to strike the first coins on August 12, 1974; a set of these prototypes was later given to the new president, Gerald Ford. Williams' design was liked by the public but attracted criticism in the numismatic community as the Liberty Bell had been previously used on coinage (for example, on the Franklin half dollar). Fearing that a low-mintage 1975 piece would be hoarded, the Mint obtained legislation in December 1974 allowing it to continue coining 1974-dated pieces until it began coinage of Bicentennial pieces.
The Bicentennial dollars were the first of the three denominations to be struck for distribution to the public; these were coined beginning in February 1975. The silver pieces were struck at San Francisco beginning on April 23, 1975. The Mint found that the copper nickel dollar was striking indistinctly, a problem not seen with the silver pieces. Brooks called a halt in production to allow Gasparro to modify the dies; the most noticeable change is that the revised issue, or Type II as it came to be known, have narrower, sharper lettering on the reverse. All silver pieces (struck only at San Francisco) are Type I; all three mints struck both Type I and Type II copper nickel pieces. All dollars included in 1975 proof sets are Type I; all those included in 1976 proof sets are Type II. The first Bicentennial dollars were released into circulation on October 13, 1975.Over 220,000,000 were struck. The Bicentennial design was not used after 1976; sets of silver clad Bicentennial coins were sold by the Mint until sales were finally closed at the end of 1986.
One proof Bicentennial coin in silver clad and lacking a mint mark, similar to the dollar in the prototype set given to President Ford, is known. This piece supposedly came from a cash register drawer at the Woodward & Lothrop department store in Washington, D.C. Thomas K. DeLorey, who was then a reporter for Coin World, spoke to the discoverer and was suspicious of the story, thinking it more likely the coin was surreptitiously obtained from the government. He declined to question the origin then, fearing it might be seized and lost to the numismatic community. The piece brought almost $30,000 by private sale in 1987.