Do you remember how starved collectors were for something new in 1971 when the first Eisenhower dollars were struck and we hobbyists were given the opportunity to buy proof and uncirculated examples in a 40-percent silver alloy in addition to the standard copper-nickel clad?
They seemed so special then. Not anymore.
Who thinks of Ikes today?
By far the best time to make your coin purchases is when the coins you want seem to be of no interest to anyone else. That would actually be a good way of describing the current situation with the Eisenhower dollar as there are very few avidly seeking to assemble sets. With each new dollar coin, and there are plenty to come in the form of Presidential dollars, the Eisenhower dollar seems just that much more distant in the past. That, too, tends to mean lesser demand, all of which makes the Eisenhower dollar a perfect collection today for good values on a set that everyone can complete.
Of course, some who have their doubts might well point out that when a coin is slow in terms of interest it seems likely that the situation will never change and that the low prices seen today for many Eisenhower dollars are likely to remain that way for years. That may be correct but then again, much the same was said about Washington quarters and then along came the 50-state quarter program and suddenly there was new interest in the Washington quarter as well as new and higher prices.
What might happen to wake up the Ike set probably would set off a lively discussion at any coin club meeting.
Realistically, there is nothing new about both dealers and collectors seeming to ignore new issues. In fact, it’s about as old a pattern as is coin collecting in the United States. Just remember 1857 when suddenly there was a new and exciting Flying Eagle cent, which seemingly caused record numbers to discover the joy of collecting large cents which they had been carting around in their pockets since 1793.
There could have probably been no more exciting year in the past century for a collector than 1916 as there were not only three excellent new designs being released, but in the dimes, quarters and half dollars of 1916 there would also be key low mintage dates that would become legendary coins to generations of collectors.
The reaction back in 1916, however, was that the dealers of the day were not very likely to stock these new and potentially valuable coins as their customers would get their own examples if they wanted them, but they were apparently not likely to buy them as they bought more valuable coins from dealers and not new issues.
In more recent times, the 1950s saw an enormous interest in coin collecting. The problem was that the interest was in things like Lincoln cents and other sets you could assemble cheaply from circulation. In the case of something like a Franklin half dollar, which had a high face value, there was little interest and it shows as today especially with full bell lines and in MS-65 some Franklin half dollars are bringing prices no one would have ever thought possible back in the 1950s. Of course, it was that very attitude that made today’s price possible as by ignoring Franklin half dollars at least in higher grades they were almost certain to become scarce and valuable at a later point in time.
For all practical purposes, the copper-nickel clad Eisenhower dollar has received very much the same cold shoulder from recent generations of collectors and dealers. It’s interesting as just like so many other issues of the past, if you really check you will find that for a few dollars today there are some Eisenhower dollars that are seemingly the ultra-grade auction stars of tomorrow.
Just consider the fact that at the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation they have graded 599 examples of the seemingly hopelessly common 1971, yet only 15 of those 599 examples were called MS-66 and not a single coin was graded MS-67 or better. There is a similar situation with the 1972, yet neither date currently is being promoted in any major way at high prices in MS-66 even though that may well be the highest grade where they can be found. That is just one example of a set that has received little attention since the last Eisenhower dollar was made in 1978.
The fact that there was a lack of saving from the start for the Eisenhower dollar is at least partially because of the fact that it was a dollar coin. Back in 1971 when the Eisenhower dollar first appeared, there were very few dollar collectors. In fact, there were fewer collectors of any issues as it was just a few years after the period when the government had deliberately tried to discourage collecting by not only not offering proof and mint sets, but more importantly, by having no mintmarks on any coins from 1965 to 1967. That made every date hopelessly common as mintage figures were the combination of the Philadelphia and Denver production. Moreover, it forced collecting by date only and that was a change in collecting habits as had been practiced by virtually everyone since the 1930s. As a result, many collectors had become discouraged and basically stopped their collections right where they were in 1965.
It should be remembered as well that dollar collecting had not been that active even in the early 1960s. The one thing that had produced interest in dollars had been the release of bag after bag of Mint State dollars from the Treasury in the early 1960s. The cost of the dollars was their face value and if someone had gotten interested in collecting dollars they would have been unlikely to find the new Eisenhower dollar very appealing.
The exceptions were the special proof and BU examples of 40-percent silver Eisenhower dollars sold directly to collectors, but even these seemed inferior when considering those bags from the Treasury of less than a decade earlier. There was something about 1,000 Morgan or Peace silver dollars that pushed the Eisenhower dollar into the shade.
However inferior they might have seemed when compared to the classic cartwheels of a prior age, the proof and uncirculated collector versions of the Ike dollar in their turn made the circulating copper-nickel versions seem inferior.
No one had been expecting new coin designs during those stagnant years of the late 1960s, but then Dwight D. Eisenhower died in 1969. Historically speaking, the death of a President who was not in office has not usually produced a new circulating coin design. In the two cases where a coin was released shortly after the death of a President (Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy) each President had been in office. Putting a President on a circulating coin after his death when he was not in office at the time was something new unless decades or even more than a century had passed as was the case with Lincoln, Washington and Jefferson.
That little bit of numismatic history probably had no impact even the point was even raised to then President Richard M. Nixon. Honoring Eisenhower was something Nixon wanted to do. After all, Eisenhower had named Nixon as his running mate twice. Without Eisenhower, it was not very likely that Nixon would have made it to the White House except as a visitor. Putting Eisenhower on a coin would have been a personal matter for Nixon and the real question at the time was not if but rather what coin.
The immediate problem had been that all the denominations in production were taken. Removing Lincoln, Jefferson, Roosevelt, Washington or Kennedy was out of the question and that is when all eyes turned to the dollar. No one would be offended by a change in the $1 coin design. The last one had been issued in 1935 and a planned revival in 1964 was aborted by the rising price of silver.
Even if dollars were not being produced at the time, the point was that they could be produced and carrying a Dwight D. Eisenhower design. Although the change in design did not require congressional action, the change in composition from the 90 percent silver Peace dollar did require the approval of Congress and that came in the form of the Bank Holding Company Act that Nixon was able to sign on Dec. 31, 1970. (This act, incidentally, removed the remaining silver in the half dollar alloy.)
The Eisenhower dollar was not called a commemorative, but realistically that is precisely what it was, although a circulating commemorative. The commemorative nature of the Eisenhower dollar was not limited to Eisenhower on the obverse as it also had a commemorative reverse, which was taken from the Apollo 11 moon landing patch. Unfortunately, it did not make for a great coin as the size was too large for a simple profile of Eisenhower on the obverse and the Apollo 11 patch worked better as a patch than a coin.
Chief Mint Engraver Frank Gasparro had based the profile of the former President on his look in a New York ticker tape parade following victory in World War II.
The fact that officials were out of touch with collectors can be seen in the fact that there was a special provision in the legislation that allowed for the production and sale of 130 million BU and 20 million proof coins made from 40 percent silver. Having had 90 percent silver dollars available for their face value just a few years earlier, paying premiums for 40 silver Eisenhower dollars was not likely to excite many collectors.
There was never any immediate likelihood of selling 150 million premium priced 40 percent silver dollars, and the situation was not helped when the prices were announced as $3 for the BU and $10 for the proof. The proof price caused the major stir as in 1971 for $5 you could obtain a proof set while a mint set was $3.50. People were not used to paying $10 to the Mint for anything and while the $10 seems like nothing today, in 1971 it was high enough to cause charges of price gouging and produced threats of boycotts.
As it turned out, the threats were not to come to pass as new coins still attract interest and the sales of the first 1971-S in 40 percent silver stood at 4,265,234 while the BU sales were nearly 7 million. Such totals were enough to keep the 1971-S from rising in price. In fact, the proof dropped immediately. Currently the $10 proof is listed at $11 in Proof-65 although the BU has climbed to $7.50 in MS-63, more than double its $3 issue price.
The price decline of the proof would join with the normally lower interest in the second year of a design to have a significant impact on sales of the 1972-S proof. In 1972 the proof sales dropped to below 2 million while the BU sales tumbled to 2,193,056. The 1972-S BU is now $7.50 today and the Proof-65 is currently $14.
With the proof 1972-S doing virtually the same thing as the 1971-S by initially dropping in price, the collectors of the time were confronted with a pattern they did not like in that they were paying $10 for the proofs and promptly losing money. That always produces a reduction in sales and that was seen clearly in 1973 when the BU sold about 1.9 million pieces, but the proof slumped to 1,013,646.
Being so close to 1 million, that proof total seemed to excite the market and the 1973-S proof promptly soared. Worthy of the Apollo 11 reverse, it went all the way to $150 in 1980, but that was in a very hot market driven by the prices of silver and gold. Later it would drop back to just $15 in 1998, although since that time it has moved up to $35 while the lesser BU sits at $8.50 in MS-63.
The 40-percent silver 1973-S results produced a small return in interest with the 1974-S producing sales of 1,306,579 while the BU was just over 1.9 million. That produces prices for the 1974-S of $7.50 for the BU and $14 for the Proof-65, which seem out of line, and probably is, but to produce an upward change will require additional demand.
The 40-percent silver Eisenhower dollars were only part of the story as at Philadelphia and Denver there were regular business strike mintages. In 1971 in anticipation of more demand than there really was even in the days of real silver dollars the Philadelphia mintage was 47,799,000 while the Denver output was 68.5 million. It would be a similar story the following year with Philadelphia at 75.9 million and Denver producing a record 92.5 million.
The high totals resulted in an immediate backlog and that meant in 1973 coins from Philadelphia and Denver were produced only for mint sets. Ironically, the same thing also happened first to the Susan B. Anthony dollar in its third year of 1981 and then to the Sacagawea dollar in its third year of 2002 as after two years of production both were limited to just mint set coins in their third year. However, in the case of the Sacagawea coin of 2002, collectors could also buy them in bags and rolls in addition to sets. None was produced for circulation.
Prices of the dates from Philadelphia and Denver are surprisingly high if you compare them to the 40-percent silver versions, they are anything but expensive. There are some surprises, too, if you attempt to find a higher grade. All are possible in grades up to MS-66, but in the case of the Philadelphia 1971, it appears to be much tougher in MS-67 than the others. In fact, so far NGC has graded 599 examples of the 1971 but has yet to see a single MS-67 and just 15 in MS-66 and those are far lower totals than the others raising the possibility that in the future the 1971 will be the key date in top grades as the Professional Coin Grading Service has seen over 1,500 examples and they too have never seen an MS-67.
The next surprise for the Eisenhower dollar came in the form of clad proofs from San Francisco which started in 1973. These were included in the regular proof set. The clad proof 1973-S lists for $12 while the lower mintage clad proof 1974-S is $11. Once again with the lack of collector interest in Ike dollars there is no market pressure to produce prices that reflect the mintages, but that should eventually happen.
Changes seemed to be a constant fact of life for the Eisenhower dollar as it along with the half dollar and quarter were selected to have special dual 1776-1976 dates and special reverses to mark the Bicentennial.
In a competition, the dollar reverse was the work of Dennis R. Williams who prepared a Liberty Bell and moon reverse. The one-date issues would be very popular with the public and were for sale for years. Some ultimately were melted, leaving us with a somewhat uncertain situation as to precise mintages. That said, the availability of both the special 40 percent silver versions as well as regular composition versions for circulation remains high enough to keep prices reasonable.
For Bicentennial Eisenhower dollars there were two varieties with Variety 1 having low relief and bold reverse letters while Variety 2 coins have a sharper design and more delicate lettering. The Philadelphia Variety 1 had a mintage of 4,019,000 while the Philadelphia Variety 2 mintage was 113,318,000, although despite a very large mintage difference the price difference is small and both prices are less than $10.
The Denver Variety 1 mintage was just over 21 million while the Variety 2 total was more than 82 million, but once again the prices are much closer than the mintages would suggest. Here, too, the price difference is not an accurate reflection of the mintage difference.
There might have been an important role played by the Bicentennial issues as they were clearly an attempt by nervous officials to produce a commemorative without calling it a commemorative. The fact that the effort was a big success probably played a significant but unspoken role in opening the door to a return to real commemoratives in 1982.
The regular Eisenhower dollar dates would return in 1977, although not without surprises, as this time there would be no 40 percent special issues even though no serious dent had been made in the 150 million authorization.
The end of the 40 percent silver issues meant that the only San Francisco Eisenhower dollars for the final two years were the clad proofs. Right now the 1978-S is slightly more expensive than the 1977-S at $12 in Proof-65 as opposed to $10 for the 1977-S although the mintage differences are not large, meaning we could see the two at closer or even identical prices in the future.
The final two years of business strikes have seen some slight price changes in recent years. The Denver mintages were lower and the 1977-D and 1978-D are $7 and $5, respectively, while the higher mintage Philadelphia dates show the 1977 and 1978 at identical prices. These levels do not really reflect mintages totals so they could change and likely will as the years go by.
Worthy of note as well is that again MS-67 is a key grade. We have not had enough coins graded to draw firm conclusions, but NGC has graded some 2,226 examples of the 1978-D and so far that total has produced just one coin grading MS-67. The other dates have very low MS-67 totals as well but not as low as the 1978-D, so it is worth watching.
In fact it can be said of the entire set that the Eisenhower dollar is worth watching, but it is also well worth acquiring if you are looking for good values at what are currently very low prices and have a time horizon that is long enough to await the eventual sorting out process. Be on the lookout for those coins that will grade out at the top of the uncirculated scale. Your reward might be very large indeed.