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Eisenhower Dollar Piques Public’s Interest

Bicentennial design of the Eisenhower dollar (Images courtesy 

Bicentennial design of the Eisenhower dollar (Images courtesy 

A coin does not have to be rare to be interesting. A steel 1943 Lincoln cent is certainly interesting, although hardly rare or scarce. The 1776-1976 Eisenhower dollar is in a similar situation; it will never be especially scarce, but it is certainly an interesting coin.

The Eisenhower dollar had been around a few years by 1976. It was the latest in a line of attempts to make a $1 coin that the American public would use.

The Eisenhower dollar had not been a product of need. Well, there was a political need, if not a need on the part of the public for a circulating dollar coin. The political need was that officials wanted a coin to honor the late President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

While Eisenhower was certainly entitled to appear on a coin based on his role as Supreme Allied Commander in World War II and his two terms as president, there was a problem. Actually there were five, and their names were Lincoln, Jefferson, Roosevelt, Washington and Kennedy. Four of them were beyond change, and Kennedy’s assassination was still fresh in the minds of Americans.

A $1 coin – the first to be minted and released since 1935 with the possible exception of one or two 1964 Peace dollars produced at Denver and possibly sold to employees before they were ordered melted – was approved for 1971 with Eisenhower on the obverse and a commemoration of the Apollo 11 moon landing on the reverse.

If the Eisenhower dollar was to mark America’s technological success in the 20th century, it fell a little short in terms of the nation’s artistic success. Chief Engraver Frank Gasparro did what he could with Eisenhower, while the eagle landing on the moon in many minds just did not work as an idea or a design. But the U.S. Bicentennial was approaching, and the event was to be marked by placing special temporary reverses on the quarter, half dollar and dollar. The Bicentennial dollar reverse was a Dennis R. Williams-designed Liberty Bell and moon (in keeping with the Apollo 11 theme) coupled with the Bicentennial observance. The obverse carried the double 1776-1976 date.

Design aside, the Eisenhower dollar actually worked pretty well in circulation. It was at least produced regularly, if not in enormous numbers.

The 1776-1976 clad dollars were produced at all mints, and there were also special 40 percent silver versions produced at San Francisco. There were also two varieties, with Variety 1 having more block-style letters, more closed “E’s” and “R’s” with a straight tail. Variety 2 had more contoured letters, open “E’s” and curved tails on “R’s.”

These varieties came about due to changes made after Mint workers discovered that the design did not work as hoped with high-speed production. The price difference between Variety 1 and Variety 2 is relatively small.

In addition to the varieties, there were an assortment of composition and no mintmark proof 40 percent silver coin errors, making the 1776-1976 Eisenhower dollar a virtual modern gold mine for the specialist.

In 1977, the regular Eisenhower dollar resumed production, although special three-coin 40 percent silver sets of the 1776-1976 coins were available for years. The 1776-1976 Eisenhower dollar had, however, already gained a place in our numismatic history as a very special and interesting dollar. ◆