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.
Early years (1971–1974)
The Mint struck over 125 million of the Eisenhower dollars in 1971, more than doubling its largest annual production for a dollar coin. Despite an increased mintage in 1972 to over 170 million, and despite what CoinAge magazine termed "near-heroic measures on the part of the Mint", the piece did not circulate. In a 1974 article for CoinAge, numismatist Clement F. Bailey noted, "the circulation value of the coin has been nil". Many Eisenhower dollars were put aside as souvenirs by non-collectors. Nevertheless, the silver coins sold so well that in October 1971, Mint Director Brooks warned that orders for 1971-S proof dollars would not all be filled until well into 1972. She ascribed the delay to the large public demand and to production difficulties which she indicated had been corrected. More than 11,000,000 of the 1971-S silver pieces were sold, in proof and uncirculated, with nearly 7,000,000 in proof. In May 1972, Treasury Secretary John Connally, testifying before a Senate committee, described the profits the Mint had made on the silver version of the Eisenhower dollar as "just unconscionable", with the average profit on a silver coin at $3.89, and expected to increase as production became more efficient. Mint officials felt that reducing the price would anger those who had already purchased the pieces.
The 1972 silver pieces were again struck at San Francisco. Sales dropped considerably, to just under 2.2 million specimens in uncirculated and 1.8 million in proof. The part-silver 1972-S Eisenhower dollars were available for sale by mail order, with the ordering period from May 1 to July 15 for the proof coins and August 1 to October 16 for the uncirculated version.
With ample supplies of Eisenhower dollars, the Federal Reserve had no need to order any in 1973, and none were struck for circulation. The 1973 and 1973-D were the first Eisenhower dollars struck for inclusion in mint sets, and were, in theory, only available that way. Many 1973 and 1973-D are known in circulated condition, leading to speculation that the 230,798 pieces which were reported melted after the Mint failed to sell as many mint sets as anticipated, were in fact released into circulation. John Wexler, Bill Crawford, and Kevin Flynn, in their volume on Eisenhower dollars, deny this, citing a 1974 letter from Assistant Director of the Mint for Public Services Roy C. Cahoon, which stated that all Eisenhower dollars from unsold mint sets were melted. The 1973-S was struck for inclusion in base-metal proof sets, as well as for the regular "blue Ikes" and "brown Ikes". Sales of the part-silver pieces dipped to a total of just under 2.9 million. The coin was struck again for circulation in 1974, was included in mint sets and proof sets, and was available in proof and uncirculated silver clad from San Francisco. Congress ordered that some of the money from the sale of 1974-S silver pieces be used to support Eisenhower College in Seneca Falls, New York. Coin collectors felt that this set a bad precedent, but about $9 million was paid to the college, which, despite the infusion of money, soon closed its doors.