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Time to look seriously at Ike dollar?

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News.
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The Eisenhower dollar has just turned 40 since its first production back in 1971. How many collectors are? That’s not a new question. The Eisenhower dollar has been basically under the radar screen of almost everyone for most of the time since the first example was made, but it just might be time to take a more serious look at the Eisenhower dollar and its role in history as well as the dates involved in what is admittedly a relatively small set.

The Eisenhower dollar was the first U.S. dollar coin other than gold dollars to contain no silver – at least in the case of business strikes. That was no small matter as producing a dollar with no silver in it seemed like the final straw in the debasing of the coins of the United States to many collectors at the time. That fact alone was enough to make the Eisenhower dollar a suspect coin in terms of use or in terms of saving examples for collections.

In all honesty, the Eisenhower dollar was almost certainly a coin without any real basis in terms of a commercial need. In fairness, the United States in its history has produced other coins that had relatively little purpose. The 20-cent piece, for example, certainly stands out in that group as it was a silver coin that could do absolutely nothing in circulation that could not be accomplished by two dimes.

The Eisenhower dollar was certainly not that bad. In fact, there were no other dollar coins at the time. The problem is that there is a reasonable question as to whether any dollar coins were needed at the time or even today as most Americans have been perfectly content to use $1 Federal Reserve Notes, knowing that the coins in their purse or pocket are all denominations below one dollar.

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The precise reason for the Eisenhower dollar was not really for use in commerce. That might very well be said of the recently approved Presidential dollars as well. In the case of the Eisenhower dollar, it was simply a case of wanting to do something to honor Dwight D. Eisenhower shortly after his death in 1969. In fact, Eisenhower was no longer president at the time of his passing and that meant that is some respects new ground was being broken as both John F. Kennedy and Franklin D. Roosevelt were placed on circulating coins shortly after their deaths while serving in office.

A more logical step would have been a commemorative, but back in 1971 commemoratives were out of favor. In fact, officials even went to great lengths a few years later to explain that the special Bicentennial reverses and dual dates on the quarter, half dollar and dollar did not make them commemoratives. “Commemorative” had been a dirty word in Washington since 1954, when the classic commemorative series came to an end after 62 years.

So while appropriate, a commemorative for Eisenhower was out of the question because of the strong official feelings at the time against commemoratives.

Changing a portrait on regular circulating denominations was also out of the question. Dwight D. Eisenhower as Supreme Allied commander in Europe during World War II had been one of the most important generals in the nation’s history. As President Ike also turned out to be better than many expected at the time. Certainly he deserved some sort of special recognition, but no one was about to replace Lincoln, Jefferson, or Washington with Eisenhower. Moreover, the other two denominations featuring Roosevelt and Kennedy were not going to be changed either.

The Roosevelt dime was just reaching the 25-year mark where it theoretically could have been changed by the Secretary of the Treasury, but replacing Roosevelt would have caused an uproar no one even wanted to consider. In the case of the Kennedy half dollar, a change would have required an act of Congress and that too was not about to happen.

You have to give officials credit as being blocked on every front they came up with the idea of a one dollar coin. That created no political problems. The only real problem was an authorization as the new dollar could not be silver as the last silver had just been eliminated from the half dollar, which had been 40 percent silver after 1964. You could not make a new silver dollar under the circumstances so authorization was needed for a circulating dollar containing no silver. That proved to be fairly easy as no one was opposed to an Eisenhower coin so long as it did not see anyone currently depicted being replaced as had happened when the Franklin half dollar was cut short to make way for the Kennedy half dollar.

There were a lot of reasons why the Eisenhower dollar did not make much headway with collectors at the time. The design was not inspirational as the coin was large and it was not filled all that well by the portrait of Eisenhower. The reverse using the moon landing patch from the first landing on the moon in 1969 probably was fine as a patch, but as the reverse of a coin it too looked a little unusual. There were simply very few who faced with a non-silver issue of that design were likely to opt for an Eisenhower dollar collection or any extra saving.

Like any new coin, the Eisenhower dollar faced an uphill road with collectors. That was especially true in 1971 as it had been less than a decade earlier when mintmarks, proof sets and mint sets had been discontinued in an effort to discourage collecting. In fact, it worked, as collectors were discouraged, but in many cases they were far from ready to resume their collecting with a modern dollar.

Even had there been no effort to discourage collecting, new coins always have a problem as they by definition seem to be common and available. That was not unique to 1971. Back in 1857 the new Flying Eagle cent inspired many to collect large cents, which were disappearing. In 1916 the dealers of the day were not stocking the new dimes, quarters and half dollars even though some like the 1916 Standing Liberty quarter had very low mintages simply because there was little or no demand for the new issues from their customers.

Probably the best example of low public enthusiasm for a new coin occurred in more recent times with the Franklin half dollar. In the 1950s it was a current issue and with a high denomination was hardly likely to be the darling of many collectors of the time. With little or no demand, dealers were unlikely to stock the Franklin half dollar. Moreover, it was long before our current grading standards were applied to half dollars so any Mint State examples saved or uncirculated rolls were likely to be just average with few if any taking the time to really attempt to see precisely now nice a certain Franklin half dollar would be.

The focus on the best possible grade would later catch up with Franklin half dollars when many wanted not only MS-65 examples, but also MS-65 examples with full bell lines. No one had ever bothered to check for full bell lines back when Franklin half dollars were being released. Consequently, we have seen some big surprises in terms of what dates are better and many older collectors are wishing that they had only taken Franklin half dollars more seriously back when they had the chance to hand select examples for their face value.

Much the same situation was in place for the Eisenhower dollar, although collecting interest in general was weaker than during most of the period when Franklin half dollars were being produced. The idea of seriously examining Eisenhower dollars was not widespread. There might have been a few voices in the wilderness, suggesting that the circulation Eisenhower dollars might be poorly struck and that it was worth paying a small premium to obtain a better example, but few were listening at the time.

Congress attempted to buy collector interest in the new Ike design by authorizing 40-percent silver collector versions in proof and uncirculated. There was also some talk of the United States needing to retain a prestige coin with some silver in it. This was an echo of 1965 when it was decided that the silver content of the half dollar would be reduced rather than eliminated.

What kind of prestige is conferred by debasing coins a lot, but not completely, was never explained.

As it worked out, the Eisenhower dollar was a short-lived set. It began in 1971 and ended with the 1978 issues. It had a large number of changes during that short time.

After only two years of coins being released into circulation, the third year of production was only for mint sets. After the fourth year, there would be no more individual offerings of 40 percent silver BU and proof issues.

San Francisco clad proofs started in 1973 and, of course, the Bicentennial designs of 1976 were sold in three-coin BU and proof 40 percent silver sets. It was exciting if you like things constantly changing but many collector prefer stability in their collections and stability was definitely not a regular feature of Eisenhower dollars as you almost never knew what sort of Eisenhower dollars would be issued from year to year.

Let’s start with the business strikes. If any Eisenhower dollars were taken especially lightly by many at the time it would have been these. There was very little interest except as a novelty. The bulk of the attention in the numismatic press was on the 40 percent silver coins in 1971 or later the Bicentennial reverses of 1976, but few paid much attention to the regular business strike dates from 1971-1974 and then again from 1977 and 1978 in all cases from Philadelphia and Denver.

If you look at the prices of these dates today and include the special Dennis R. Williams 1976 Liberty Bell and moon reverse dates released into circulation as well including both the Type I and Type II 1976 varieties, you find that they are reasonably priced in MS-63. The regular issues range from $4 for the 1978 to $18 for the 1972 Low Relief. The high relief and modified high relief versions of the 1972 are the minting varieties and have higher prices of $175 and $35, respectively – still affordable for most.

Even the 1973 and 1973-D, which were struck only for mint sets, are at a reasonable $12 each. Their mintages are at basically 2 million pieces.

There are almost certainly enough examples of the 1973 and 1973-D to meet demand today as they had basically a 100% percent survival rate. As a result, while more expensive than the others it is difficult for their prices to increase until there is enough demand to threaten the existing supply.

One factor that has to be remembered is that at their prices there is very little reason to send a regular business strike Eisenhower dollar to a grading service. Unless your coin can come back with an extremely high grade, the cost of having it graded will be more than the coin’s retail price in a grade like MS-65 today. As a result, the numbers seen by the Professional Grading Service or any other grading service for that matter are not as reliable as indicators of the likely supply of certain dates in certain grades as is normally the case. We have to assume the Eisenhower dollars sent in for grading represent the absolute best in the eyes of their owners as if they are not in top grades you end up paying more for the grade than you did for the coin.

Taking a serious look at the numbers that are available we can learn a couple things. The first is that the Eisenhower dollars you want in your collection are in grades of at least MS-66. There are a couple where you might have to settle for MS-65, but most dates have hundreds already graded in MS-66. One exception other than various types of the special 1976 types is the 1974. So far PCGS has graded over 1,300 examples of the 1974 and while there were over 500 in both MS-64 and MS-65, the total in MS-66 was just 65 pieces and there was not a single example graded in a grade above MS-66. Numismatic Guaranty Corp. has just one example in MS-67. A couple other dates have had no examples above MS-66, including the 1972, despite different types. The 1973, which is interesting as coming only in mint sets the expectation would be that the 1973 would have some very nice coins, but that is apparently not the case.

In fact the 1973 total graded MS-66 is very similar to the 1974 as it is at 60 and the two are also very close in the numbers of coins graded. NGC has seen two 1973-D examples in MS-67.

The 1972, however, looks to be the key at least in MS-66 and above. The numbers graded are slightly lower than is the case with the 1973 and 1974, but the fact remains that PCGS has only graded 14 examples of any type of the 1972 in MS-66. NGC is similar. It’s an extremely low total and makes it possible that the one date of the regular business strikes where you might have to settle for an MS-65 is the 1972, even though its present prices make it look like an average date.

There were premium 40 percent silver Eisenhower dollars offered from 1971-1974. The general view of the BU silver issues is that the congressional attempt to get collector attention worked. Initial year orders were quite high. As you might expect, prices follow their mintages. That would make the 6,868,530 mintage 1971-S the least expensive, which it might ordinarily be, but the high price of silver has eliminated the pricing differentials among the 1971-S-1974-S issues. They all have a $9.49 silver melt value with $30 silver. Issue price was $3.

It pays to remember the mintages, though. Someday they will again mean something. The 1972-S has a mintage of 2,193,056, the 1973-S has a total of 1,833,140 and 1974-S has a mintage of 1,720,000.
The survival rate in each case is likely to be roughly 100 percent and that should make the 1974-S the most expensive.

There is something else to be found in the grading service numbers. In looking at the 40 percent silver BU Eisenhower dollars we find that the highest grades are generally MS-67 and MS-68. In fact, in MS-67 there are usually thousands of examples. The one exception is the 1971-S where the number PCGS has graded in MS-67 stands at just 161 with the next lowest total being the 1973-S at over 1,600, although there was a special silver BU 1976-S as well and it is just under 1,000. No matter which other BU you pick, the fact remains that the 1971-S has been seen much, much less in MS-67 than the others. In fairness, the others tend to have been graded more often so higher totals are expected, but the 1972-S is a good example as it has been graded about twice as much as the 1971-S. The difference, however, does not explain an MS-67 difference of 161 examples of the 1971-S and 3,033 of the 1972-S.

In fact the situation extends to MS-68 as well as in MS-68 the numbers of 40 percent silver BU coins seen for each date ranges from 108 for the 1976-S to 863 for the 1972-S. There is one exception, which is the 1971-S, which has yet to have its first coin called MS-68.

What we seem to have here is a case where perhaps made in haste the 1971-S was not the same quality as the other dates. It might have been speed or perhaps a problem that was never mentioned and which was worked out the following year, but there is no doubt based on the grading service numbers and even allowing for special considerations because the BU 1971-S has been graded less often than the 1972-S does not appear in anything like the numbers of the others in top grades and that may make it a very real bargain, but only in MS-67 or MS-68 if you could find one in the future.

There are also proofs with 40 percent silver examples being produced from 1971-1974 and also in 1976 while the clad proof-only issues from San Francisco are found starting in 1973.

In the case of the clad proofs, we see a price range from $9 to $12 in the case of the 1973-S. Once again it appears that the 1973-S is getting a a small boost from some source.

If, however, the grading service totals are examined closely, there appear to be no major cases where a coin’s price may be out of line with the others. The grade, however, you want if purchasing a coin for your collection is Proof-69 as all dates show thousands of coins already graded Proof-69, so there is really no excuse to settle for less.

In the case of the 40 percent silver proofs there is one date and then all the rest. The one date is the 1973-S, which had a mintage of just 1,005,617. The reason was that the proofs, which cost $10, during the first two years had actually dropped below their $10 issue price.

Many collectors were not happy with the issue price and even less happy when they paid it and promptly saw the value of their coin. Naturally, under the circumstances, orders for the 1973-S were very low and once the total was announced the 1973-S soared in price. It’s been both higher and lower than its current Proof-65 value of $45, but the fact that it has been inching higher in recent years from $30 suggests that at least for the time being the 1973-S seems to have found its long-term value.

The other dates have been stable as well, but mintage totals suggest that the 1972-S should rise above the 1971-S, which is not currently the case. Like the clads, there appear to be no silver proofs that potentially are seriously out of line in availability, but certainly based on mintages we can see some price movements in the 40 percent silver issues in the future.

In the case of both clad and 40 percent silver proofs it is worth noting that there have been some Proof-70 coins. At PCGS the two dates that are seen most often in Proof-70 are the silver 1972-S which has been reported 22 times and the silver 1974-S which has been reported 10 times. Far behind those two is the 1976-S in silver, which has had 4 coins called Proof-70. Those looking for ultra-grade coins should watch especially for the other dates, but even for these more often graded dates as they are likely to be the coins fetching headline grabbing prices in the future.

Some may doubt whether the Eisenhower dollar will ever really produce premium prices. Certainly today that’s a reasonable question. It seems the many buyers of the early 1970s are leaving the market while there are not enough new collectors to take up the supply. But that same question about premium prices could have been applied to Franklin half dollars and especially full bell line Franklin half dollars in the past.

Now might well be a time when some will begin to take a more serious look at the Ike dollar series. A little attention could go a long way in terms of Eisenhower dollars. If that attention does appear, some of these lesser known or at least lesser appreciated Eisenhower dollars may well suddenly start to move in price much to the surprise of everyone.

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