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The 1921 High-Relief Peace Dollar

By Jack Vaughn - March 14, 2023

The 1921 High-Relief Peace Dollar is a key date in its series and is regarded as an essential coin for many type set collectors. This date is known for its low mintage and enhanced appearance. Yet, its story remains in plain sight, underappreciated. As a result of political and economic challenges, the United States Mint paused production of Morgan Dollars in 1904, resuming again in 1921.

However, the U.S. Mint did not immediately proceed with the Peace Dollar. Instead, they struck the most Morgan Dollars ever produced within a year. In fact, the mint struck over twice the mintage of the 1889 Morgan Dollar – the previous record holder for the highest-minted coin in its series. As you can imagine, 1921 was a very busy year at the U.S. Mint. To make production matters even more intense for mint officials, all Peace Dollars dated 1921 were to be struck in the last four days of the year.

The Making of a Classic Coin

The 1921 High-Relief Peace Dollar is a key date in the series due to its low mintage of 1,006,473 pieces. Yet, the rate at which they produced these coins was extreme. If the mint were to strike coins at this rate for a year, they would produce a staggering 91,840,661 pieces – over twice the overall output of the 1921 Morgan Dollar from the same facility.

The mint was also striking the 1921 Peace with high-relief dies. In numismatics, relief refers to the protrusion of the device / design above its surrounding fields – in other words, the "three-dimensionality" of the coin. Because of these dies’ high relief, they required higher striking pressures to translate the design onto the planchet fully. These higher pressures caused dies to fail quicker than anticipated. The high-relief dies would strike roughly 25,000 coins before failure. In contrast, each Morgan Dollar die struck roughly 10 times that. The mint could not afford to continue breaking dies at this rate. So, as a countermeasure, striking pressures were lowered. This change left the highest points of the coin (the ridge of vertical hair located overtop Liberty's ear and where the eagle's wing meets its leg) unstruck.

This example of the 1921 Peace Dollar exhibits a superb strike. Courtesy of PCGS TrueView. Click image to enlarge.


This is a 1921 Peace Dollar carrying a weak strike. Courtesy of PCGS TrueView. Click image to enlarge.

Given the mintage of the coin and the average lifespan of a die, if you were to stumble across a well-struck 1921 Peace Dollar, it is extremely likely it was struck on December 28, 1921, which was the first day Peace Dollars were produced. This is fascinating, because it is one of the few United States coins that can be reasonably narrowed down to its date of production based on diagnostics, excluding die markers, such as die cracks or polish. Instead, this is narrowed down using the presence of detail. Certainly, lower-grade examples of this coin are exempt from this statement as presence of critical strike detail is largely obliterated due to circulation.

1921 Peace Dollar Design Notes

In late 1921, the mint asked eight American artists to submit designs and compete for America's next silver dollar — essentially a coin commemorating peace following the end of the Great War, or the international conflict now known as World War I. The winning design belonged to artist Anthony de Francisci, who modeled the obverse figure after his wife, Teresa. Many people question the spelling of the word "TRVST" on the obverse because of the appearance of what looks to be a letter "V" in place of "U." This was a decision made to mimic Latin, a common stylistic choice of the time. In Latin, the letter "V" is equivalent to the English "U." However, many people believe the "V" stands for "victory." Other people view it synonymously with the hand symbol for peace, which uses one’s index and pointer fingers. On the reverse, a bald eagle sits perched on a mountaintop as it watches the sun rise over a new world. The eagle holds an olive branch in its grasp, which is a symbol of peace. Proof examples of this coin exist, dated 1921 and 1922. The 1921 examples are struck with a satin finish, while 1922 specimens bear a matte finish. Both are exceptionally scarce.

This is a 1921 Peace Dollar carrying a weak strike. Courtesy of PCGS TrueView. Click image to enlarge.


The matte-finish 1921 Peace Dollar, an example of which is seen here, is a rarity. Courtesy of PCGS TrueView. Click image to enlarge.

In 1922, Francisci worked with George T. Morgan, the designer of the Morgan Dollar and then Chief Engraver of The United States Mint. Their goal was to lower the relief of Peace Dollar dies, significantly prolonging their use. The relief remained the same through 1935, its final year of production.

Article provided by PCGS at
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