This article was originally printed in the latest issue of Numismatic News.
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Virtually every silver dollar has an interesting story. The 1935-S Peace dollar, as one of the last silver dollars ever produced, not only has an interesting story but also a unique place in history.
Realistically, there never should have been a Peace dollar, especially a 1935-S. The Peace dollar basically resulted from the 1918 Pittman Act. Now the act said nothing about making Peace dollars, but it did allow for the melting of up to 350 million silver dollars that were sitting in Treasury vaults. As it turned out, only a bit over 270 million were actually melted. Most of the silver was shipped to India.
The melting of all those silver dollars created a problem because they were required for backing Silver Certificates. If the government didn’t have the silver dollars, it had to take out notes with 2 percent interest. A quick order was given to make silver dollars and to make them fast.
The first production consisted of 1921 Morgan dollars, but they were replaced by Peace dollars. So, had there been no Pittman Act melting, there would have been no 1921 Morgans or Peace dollars.
By the time 1928 rolled around, the necessary Peace dollars had been produced. The vaults were once again full of silver dollars. The crisis had passed and officials relaxed.
As it turned out, the crisis simply changed as the next year the stock market crashed and the country began a downhill slide into the Great Depression. Silver dollars were not a major part of the strategy for dealing with the economic situation. Some silver purchases, however, were made and that meant that small numbers of additional silver dollars could be made.
The Peace dollar returned to production in 1934 and 1935. All three mints produced them in 1934, although none of the facilities’ production reached 2 million. In 1935 Philadelphia and San Francisco would produce silver dollars, although again neither produced 2 million. At 1,964,000, San Francisco did come close.
Certainly, the 1935 and 1935-S were historic as the last Peace dollars. They were also the United States’ last 90 percent silver dollars. Of course this wasn’t really known at the time. In fact, in 1965 there was an additional Peace dollar production at Denver dated 1964, but they were never released.
In addition, dealers of the day would not have saved many examples of the 1935 and 1935-S since there was very little demand from collectors. Moreover, given the terrible economy, few would have wanted a $1,000 face-value bag of recent silver dollars.
In fact, bags of 1935-S dollars ended up sitting around gathering dust in government vaults for years. Many were paid out later in the late 1940s and early 1950s, but those coins were simply lightly circulated then returned.
In his book, American Coin Treasures and Hoards, Q. David Bowers reveals, “I recall being offered a bag of them around 1955 and declining to buy at $1,200. I couldn’t figure out what to do with more than a few dozen pieces.”
Other bags would emerge at later dates, but in every case the number saved appears to have been small. In some cases such as the bags found in the Redfield Hoard, the quality of the coins was suspect at best. Many were reported as being poorly struck.
The situation results in the 1935-S being available today but not apparently as available as it should be, especially in upper grades. The mintage, while low, is not of much concern. Unlike Morgans, there was no melting because of the Pittman Act. The 1935-S was not heavily produced but basically the full mintage was released. The problem is that they were not carefully examined and saved.
Today the 1935-S is priced at $275 in MS-60, which is higher than most other Peace dollar dates. In MS-65 it is $1,350, which is well below the tougher dates but also certainly not a common date price.
With greater demand, there has to be a question about 1935-S supplies as it is one date that seems to have gotten away from the collectors and dealers of the time.