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Will Ike dollar prices ever wake up?

Before modern commemoratives arrived in 1982 and before American Eagles were created in 1986, anybody who wanted an American silver coin after the metal was removed from the half dollar in the mint sets after 1970, the only choice was the Eisenhower dollar.

One fine day we will all wake up and suddenly Eisenhower dollars will be getting a lot of attention and moving to high prices. It might not be at any point in the near future, but realistically the short Eisenhower dollar series deserves a lot more attention and eventually that will happen.

One of the things that many overlook at the moment is that in the type sets of the future, the Eisenhower dollar is going to be a very interesting and unusual coin. It was, after all the first clad dollar except for the special proof and uncirculated 40 percent silver versions. Moreover, it turned out to be the only large clad dollar as the others that have followed have been much smaller in size. Simply put, it is going to stick out as an unusual dollar and that will potentially produce some interest.

One of the big mistakes that generation after generation seems to make is that they simply assume that the coins being issued will always be common and of relatively little interest in the future. It has happened over and over again and has happened in the case of the Eisenhower dollar as well. We have seen recently both Kennedy half dollars and Washington quarters dated after 1964 containing no silver suddenly jump in price. It was natural as they were ignored much like the Eisenhower dollar and suddenly demand appeared and we saw sharp price increases.

The fact that these other denominations were overlooked is hardly surprising. If you look back in history you will find there is a long track record of collectors and dealers at different points in time missing great opportunities simply because they assumed the coins of the day were not worth saving.

Large cents dated back to 1793, but until the arrival of the first Flying Eagle cent, which meant clearly that the large cent was finished in terms of production, many people had really never given the large cent a second thought as a collection. There were a few collectors, but the emphasis was on word “few,” as by the time many began a large cent collection many of the better dates like the 1793, 1799 and 1804 were almost impossible to find in circulation in part because they had been saved by a few collectors, sure, but also in part simply because they had worn out and already been retired.

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There certainly could have been no better time to save coins in the past century than in 1916. Wouldn’t you like to time travel to that point in time and load up? There were all sorts of great coins in circulation like the 40,000 mintage 1913-S quarter and the new designs of 1916 made the circumstances even better. There was the new 1916 coins including the 52,000 mintage 1916 Standing Liberty quarter and the 264,000 mintage 1916-D Mercury dime. Yet Q. David Bowers in his study could find only a couple dealers with “working inventories” of the 1916 quarter. It was not a case where they could not find the 1916, but rather a case where they simply did not stock new coins because there was little if any demand for them. Those who wanted new issues would simply get them from circulation and not from dealers, so many great coins were simply allowed to circulate.

Had you gone into a coin shop in the early 1960s, as I did, you would have been unlikely to find things like Franklin half dollars. Once again there was basically no demand and since Franklin half dollars were not saved in large numbers when they were released and later melted when silver reached $50 an ounce there would appear real shortage of some dates especially in top grades.

Had you told a collector or dealer back in 1961 that the 1953-S Franklin half dollar would be worth $16,000 in MS-65 with full bell lines, he would have probably declared you totally insane, but that is typical of new issues.

The Eisenhower dollar would have those normal problems and more as it was introduced in a period when relations between collectors and the government were not the best. As the government during 1965-1967 had done its level best to discourage coin collecting, to then turn around and expect to sell new Eisenhower dollars to collectors in 1971 was really asking for quite a bit, but collectors responded positively anyway.

The elimination of silver, mintmarks and proof and mint set sales had had an impact on collector behavior.

The whole idea of the Eisenhower dollar was somewhat unusual. After all, the last silver dollars that were made were 1964-dated Peace dollars struck in 1965 that were never released. Prior to that there had been hundreds of millions of silver dollars sitting in Treasury vaults as backing for Silver Certificates. These coins were paid out and supplies nearly exhausted by 1964 because of collector interest and silver speculation along with some modest regular commercial demand.

Simply put, there was no real demand for a circulating dollar coin, but there was a demand in the Nixon Administration to have a coin honoring Dwight D. Eisenhower who had just died in 1969. Certainly there was nothing wrong with that notion except for the fact that realistically there was no place to put Eisenhower.

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The denominations were all taken by Lincoln, Washington, Jefferson and Roosevelt and Kennedy. The idea of going before the Congress and getting approval to remove Kennedy was not going to work any more than would the notion of replacing any of the others. Even though changes could be made by the Treasury in some without congressional approval, apparently no one wanted to explain why they had replaced Washington or Jefferson with Eisenhower. No one had any problem putting Eisenhower on something as with his success in World War II and eight years in the White House he was certainly as deserving as someone like Grant.

It was also slightly unusual as historically there was not much basis for an Eisenhower dollar. The Roosevelt dime had been the first time any President was immediately placed on a coin after his death. The Kennedy half dollar was the second time and in both cases they had died while in office. In a couple of other cases Presidents who had died in office ended up on bank notes and not on circulating coins. For a retired President to end up on a coin immediately after his death was really going where no one had ever gone before in terms of U.S. coin designs. That said, the Bank Holding Company Act, which Nixon signed Dec. 31, 1970, carried in it an authorization for a new Eisenhower dollar.

The fact that those promoting the idea of the Eisenhower dollar were not exactly old hands at understanding the rare coin market and coins in general can be seen in a number of elements of the legislation. The fact that a dollar coin was unlikely to be very popular or useful in circulation was ignored or not considered simply in desperation to find a coin on which they could use Eisenhower. The fact that the coin was large did not make for a very good design as Eisenhower’s portrait did not really fill out the obverse. The reverse was interesting as well as everyone was avoiding commemoratives, but the United States had put men on the moon and that deserved some recognition somehow so the Apollo 11 moon landing patch design was used on the dollar’s reverse in an attempt to commemorate something while not being an official commemorative. That said, the patch design probably worked better on a patch than it did on a coin.

Another perplexing decision was the one that saw the legislation authorize the production of up to 130 million BU and 20 million proof examples of the Eisenhower dollar with a 40 percent silver composition. This would be one year after the last 40 percent silver half dollar was produced. In fact in a nation of collectors who remembered well using 90 percent silver coins, the idea of paying extra for 40 percent silver coins was something not popular except with the realization was the alternative was no silver at all. The authorizations were far too large, in any event, and the $10 pricing for the proof almost caused a boycott.

The announced prices of the special 40 silver Eisenhower dollars were $3 for the BU, which seemed reasonable. It was the $10 proof price which caused the uproar as back in 1971 you could buy a proof set for $5 and some collectors probably thought that price was perilously close to price gouging, too. To charge $10 for a 40 percent silver proof Eisenhower dollar when less than a decade before you could have purchased a Mint State 90 percent silver Morgan dollar was too much for many. The letters to the editor and threats of boycotts poured in, but the price was not changed.

As it turned out, the boycott never happened and the sales of the 1971-S silver proof ended up at 4,265,234 pieces, which is a significant number of coins. The BU total stood at nearly 7 million, which is an amazing number.

The 40 percent silver coins were the only way to obtain an Eisenhower dollar produced at San Francisco. The totals were so high that the proof promptly dropped in price and even today after some recent increases, it still stands at just $11 just above its issue price although the BU 40 percent silver 1971-S has climbed to $15.80 in MS-63.

In 1972 with the novelty gone and the price decline, proof sales naturally dropped. The proof total dropped by more than 50 percent to just below 2 million while the BU total fell to 2,193,056. Despite the lower total the 1972-S proof also dropped in price and currently at $9 is lower than the 1971-S proof. The BU did better with a current price of $15.80 although realistically it is hard to determine whether that is an appropriate price or not as it is higher than the lower mintage 1972-S proof.

Two years of $10 proofs promptly falling in price on the secondary market was not the sort of thing that would encourage greater sales in the third year. The sales in 1973 dropped even further than many expected with the BU total being roughly 1.9 million while the proof total slipped to just 1,013,646. That number being close to 1 million seemed to strike a nerve and it saw the 1973-S rise quickly and dramatically in price reaching a peak of around $150 in 1980. That peak price is probably not fair as it was at the time of $50 an ounce silver and although that would influence the silver value of the 1973-S, the fact was that there was a great deal of added money in the market that saw most items at or near record prices for the time. In a more normal market the 1973-S later dropped, going all the way down to just $15 in 1998 before rebounding to it’s current $45 while the BU is at $15.80.

The success of the 1973-S in the secondary market certainly helped the program regain some interest although things were certainly not back to 1971 levels with the 1974-S silver proof selling 1,306,579 examples while the BU was just over 1.9 million. Those totals have produced prices of $15.80 for the BU and $11 for the proof, which once again do not seem right when you compare the mintages to other years.

The 40 percent silver coins were just part of a larger story as the Eisenhower dollar had been produced for circulation at Denver and Philadelphia, but with no silver content. The 1971 mintages of 47,799,000 from Philadelphia and 68.5 million from Denver were large and that would be the case in 1972 as well when Denver produced a record 92.5 million Eisenhower dollars as Philadelphia added 75.9 million.

By 1973 that meant that there was a backlog and the only Eisenhower dollars of 1973 from Denver and Philadelphia would be ones found in mint sets. The sales of those sets were 1,769,258, which meant the 1973 and 1973-D would be low mintage. Of course in special sets they would have a nearly 100 percent survival rate, which results in prices of $12 in MS-63 today while the 1971 Denver and Philadelphia coins trade for just a little less at $8-$10. the 1972 with its minting varieties is more.

A factor which should be considered in the case of all Eisenhower dollars is that not unlike the Franklin half dollars of the 1950s, many are not really checking their Eisenhower dollars carefully in anticipation of the market in future years when a new generation of collectors might want Eisenhower dollars, but only in extraordinary grades.

There is no bell on the reverse to have full bell lines, but even now we can judge based on the grading service totals that Eisenhower dollars in grades above MS-65 are going to be desirable and those in MS-67 or better are going to be rare and expensive.

The 1971 for example has been graded over 1,500 times by the Professional Coin Grading Service and only one coin reached MS-67, which is ironic as at least based on MS-67 totals you will have a better change of finding a 1796 quarter than a 1971 Eisenhower dollar.

The Eisenhower dollar seemed to be a coin that was constantly being changed. In 1973 for the first time there was a clad proof issue from San Francisco joining the San Francisco 40 percent silver versions. That 1973-S clad currently lists for $12 in Proof-65 while the 1974-S clad proof is at just $11 despite a slightly lower mintage.

Changes continued for the Eisenhower dollar with no production dated 1975 in preparation for the special Bicentennial 1976 reverse which featured a Dennis R. Williams Liberty Bell and moon reverse. Like all the special 1976 coins the Eisenhower dollar was popular and they have managed to stay at solid prices in all versions over the years.

There was an interesting feature of the Bicentennial dollars in that there were two varieties with Variety 1 having low relief and bold reverse lettering while Variety 2 had a sharper design and more delicate lettering. The Philadelphia Variety 1 had a mintage of 4,019,000 while the Variety 2 total was 113,318,000. The prices of $12 in MS-63 for the Variety 1 and $8 for the Variety 2 are much closer than the mintage and seem likely to change in time.

The Denver Variety 1 mintage was just over 21 million while the Variety 2 total was at more than 82 million. Once again, prices are much closer than the mintages with the Variety 1 at $7.50 while Variety 2 is $6. In all probability the price gap between the two varieties will increase once there is greater demand for Eisenhower dollars in general.

The regular design of the Eisenhower dollar would make its return in 1977 although once again there would be changes in the dollar available as there would be no more 40 percent silver proof and BU issues ending that idea with barely a dent having been put in the 150 million authorization.

The constant changes probably did not help to encourage collecting. The 1977 and 1978 Eisenhower dollars would have only clad proofs from San Francisco with both at $9 in Proof-65.

The business strikes from the final two years have seen some price changes in recent times. Back in 1998 virtually all were about $2.20 in MS-63 but we have now see the Denver dates move to $4 and $4.75 while the lower mintage Philadelphia 1977 is $5 and the Philadelphia 1978 is $4. These look cheap.

Only time will tell if future collectors will push up these attractive prices.


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