In 1971, the United States Mint resumed striking $1 coins for the first time since 1935, when the last Peace dollars were made. The Eisenhower Dollar, or Ike Dollar, was a tribute to World War II general and former President General Dwight D. Eisenhower, whose bust appears on the obverse, as well as the 1969 Apollo landing on the moon, which is celebrated do the reverse.
Eisenhower Dollar Design
Eisenhower dollars were issued in both clad and 40% silver versions for collectors through 1978. The design of both sides of this large coin, the largest clad piece ever made by the U.S. Mint issued in the same size as the famous Morgan and Peace dollars, was the work of the then U.S. Mint Engraver, Frank Gasparro. Gasparro also famously designed the reverse of the Kennedy half dollar and the Lincoln cent reverse used from 1950 to 2008.
For the obverse, Gasparro’s starting point was a sketch he had made of Eisenhower during the parade following the allied victory in 1945, while the reverse was based on the Apollo 11 mission patch designed by one of its astronauts, Michael Collins. The reverse design was also issued for the Robbins medals for Apollo 11 that were restruck in 2019 as commemorative medals. Eisenhower silver dollars were initially popular with the public.
However, the silver dollars never circulated a lot because they were too large and bulky for commerce. They did prove to be a big hit at casinos, where over 70% of the clad coins were used. The first 40% silver coins were struck in March 1971 and would be issued in uncirculated condition sold in blue envelopes, and proof condition sold in brown boxes, for the duration of the series.
In 1975, art student Dennis Williams redesigned the reverse to mark the nation’s bicentennial with dual-dated coins (1975-1976) that were very popular with the public and collectors. After that, interest in the series softened in part as interest shifted to the modern commemorative coin program that began in 1982, and the Silver and Gold American Eagles in 1986.
In the 1990s, there was a resurgence of demand in the price guide for the coins and interest in the Eisenhower dollar value of the series. That resurgence was driven by an interest in higher-grade example and die varieties among groups of collectors and experts who specialized in the series, such as the Ike Group. As the coin marks its 50th anniversary this year, the Eisenhower Silver Dollar remains a popular series with collectors of modern U.S. coins who like large, hefty coins.
The Eisenhower Dollar Series
In the late 1960s, there was interest within the U.S. Congress and the U.S. Mint (especially from Mint Director Mary Brooks in 1969) to reissue dollar coins, but the rising price of silver bullion already threatened the continued issuance of 40% Kennedy half dollars, let alone the distribution of another silver coin.
Following President Eisenhower’s March 28, 1969 death, various bills were proposed in Congress - some to issue coins in his honor made of clad and others that called for new silver dollars. Then on October 29, Rep. Robert Casey introduced a bill that said the new coins should honor both Eisenhower and that year’s moon landing.
A compromise was struck under which 150 million coins would be issued in 40% silver alloy for collectors, while a larger number would be struck in clad for circulation. From the first time 1971 Eisenhower dollars were struck, problems were encountered from the stress the large clad coins put on the dies, which resulted in many low-quality examples being released into circulation.
This production quality level also led some collectors to acquire rolls of the coins from banks to search for higher-quality specimens. Production issues also necessitated a reduction in the design’s relief, and strengthening of the design, such as giving the Earth that appears on the reverse a better definition.
These changes also resulted in the numerous and complex die varieties of Eisenhower dollars, especially for the 1972 Eisenhower dollars, whose type 2 variety is the series key made in error by using dies intended for proof coins. Only 2,504 of those coins exist.
After almost 300 million coins were made in 1971 and 1972, no circulation coins were needed in 1973, but 1973 and 1973-D coins were made for inclusion in mint sets. Production of circulation coins resumed in 1974. Over 200 million bicentennial dollars dated 1975-1976 were released in 1976, followed by the final two years of production at much lower levels than in prior years.
Towards the end of the series, the government concluded that since the large coins did not circulate much, they needed to issue a new dollar coin with a smaller diameter, which led eventually to the Susan B. Anthony dollar’s debut in 1979.
Eisenhower Dollar Highlights
- The Eisenhower Dollar was issued by the United States Mint from 1971 to 1978.
- 40% Eisenhower Silver Dollars contain 40% silver, while clad Eisenhower dollars contain no silver.
- The Eisenhower Dollar was struck at the Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco Mints.
- Special Bicentennial Eisenhower Dollars were issued in 1976 to celebrate 200 years since the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
How Much Does An Eisenhower Dollar Weigh?
Although these coins have the same diameter as classic silver dollars of 38.1 millimeters, they weigh a little less than their traditional counterparts. The 40% Eisenhower Silver dollars weigh 24.592 grams, consisting of outer layers of .800 silver and .200 copper that are bonded to an inner core of .209 silver and .791 copper. The Clad Eisenhower Dollar coins weigh 22.68 grams, which is made of outer layers of .750 copper and .250 nickel bonded to an inner core of pure copper.
How Much Silver Is In An Eisenhower Dollar?
The 40 percent silver versions of the Eisenhower Dollar has a net silver weight of .3161 oz of pure silver. Clad Eisenhower dollars do not contain silver and are notably the only large U.S. dollars whose business strikes do not contain any silver. Such Eisenhower dollars contain a .750 copper and .250 nickel alloy.
How Can I Tell If My Eisenhower Dollar Is Silver?
Eisenhower Silver dollars that contain 40% silver were struck at the San Francisco Mint from 1971 to 1975 as special collector’s pieces in both proof and uncirculated finishes. A few 1974-D and 1977-D Eisenhower Dollars were struck in silver clad composition, but those remain few and far in between.
Proof Eisenhower Silver dollars were packaged in an iconic brown box, while uncirculated issues were packaged in dark blue envelopes. To tell if your Eisenhower dollar is silver, you can look for the San Francisco Mint’s “S” mint mark on the obverse of the coin, it will be above the 7 in the coin’s date. You can also check the weight of the coins; a Silver Eisenhower dollar will weigh 24.59 grams, while a clad Eisenhower dollar will weigh 22.68 grams.
Where Is The Mint Mark On An Eisenhower Silver Dollar?
Eisenhower dollars were struck at the Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco Mints. Issues for the Denver and San Francisco branches will carry their “D” and “S” mint marks respectively, while issues from the Philadelphia branch do not carry a mint mark. To find the mint mark lettering on an Eisenhower dollar, look at the obverse design, the mint mark if applicable, will be above the “7” in the date.
Collecting Eisenhower Dollars
The vast majority of hobbyists who collect Eisenhower dollars aim to complete a 32-coin set. It consists of all the regular-issue business strike and proof coins. This includes the 40% silver Eisenhower's dated 1971-S, 1972-S, 1973-S, 1974-S, and 1976-S. Such a set can be completed with coins in typical uncirculated and proof grades for less than $500. That includes the 40% silver key dates mentioned above.
Collectors with deep pockets will add a much more expensive dimension to their Eisenhower dollar objectives. They often pursue each of the regular-issue clad coins in Gem grades. They target proofs that grade Proof-67 or higher. Many will also seek the abundance of scarce varieties known for this series. Surprisingly, clad business strikes in grades of MS-65 to MS-66 or better are among the most valuable Eisenhower dollars.
There are few such Eisenhowers that grade MS-68 or better. The United States Mint took little care in handling or transporting these large, heavy circulating dollar coins. Understanding this, it becomes clearer why clad Eisenhowers in Gem condition are so hard to locate. Most of the rarest Gem examples trade for more than $1,000 today.
Top-end proofs are not nearly as rare as their high-grade business-strike counterparts. They are tough to find with full cameo frosting, however. The 40% silver Eisenhowers are among the easiest to find in grades of Proof-69 or Proof-70. Meanwhile, deep cameo contrast is most common on the 1977-S and 1978-S Eisenhower dollars.
This originated from a period when deep cameo frosting was becoming more the norm rather than the exception for U.S. proof coinage. The Eisenhower dollar boasts a wide array of varieties. Those who collect design varieties have plenty to love. The most popular varieties are among the 1972 Eisenhowers. It showcases at least three different versions of planet Earth in reverse design.
- Type I is a relatively low-relief variety showing three islands to the right of Florida.
- Type II, the scarcest of these three varieties, shows no islands below Florida. (Water lines are in their place instead.)
- Type III shows three islands below and to the left of Florida.
Clearly, there are some geography issues at hand with these varieties. They keep collectors busy! Several other exciting oddities are out there. This includes various doubled dies and the rare 1974-D and 1977-D 40% silver transitional wrong-metal strikes.
There are numerous avenues in the Eisenhower dollar series that one can take. So many collectors have devoted their entire numismatic careers just to the Eisenhower dollar. These modern clad coins offer a multitude of rewarding opportunities for collecting, research, and discovery - enough to satisfy even the most passionate of dedicated collectors for a lifetime.
The History Of The Eisenhower Dollar (1971-1978)
When the Treasury Department ordered a halt to the paying out of silver dollars in March of 1964, it looked like the final chapter had been written for these historic coins. Surprisingly, Congress voted that same year to coin 45 million additional silver dollars.
Coming in the midst of a severe nationwide coin shortage, this seemingly frivolous employment of the Mint’s machinery and manpower was terminated after just 316,076 pieces were struck, and these coins were never issued. The Coinage Act of July 23, 1965 included a provision that no standard silver dollars were to be coined for a period of five years. The situation could then be re-evaluated at that time.
At the end of Congress’ five-year ban on silver dollars approached, the idea was conceived for a circulating dollar coin to honor war hero and two-term President Dwight David Eisenhower, who had recently died. With silver long gone from the nation’s dimes and quarters, and with ongoing debate over its discontinuance in the half dollar, there was never any serious condition of including the precious metal in circulation strikes of the new Eisenhower dollar.
There were those, however, who argued for a silver collectors’ edition to be sold at a premium over face value. Congressman Bob Casey of Texas introduced a bill into the House on October 29 1969, calling for a circulating commemorative dollar to honor both Eisenhower and the Apollo XI space flight, mankind’s first landing on the moon. More of a year of political wrangling was to follow before this bill was finally approved in a modified form.
Along the way, the U.S. Mint prepared an alternative reverse design featuring a heraldic eagle that looked, in the words of noted numismatic author Q. David Bowers, like someone would find on a Mint pattern of the 1870s.
Reportedly, one of the two proposed reverse designs (probably the Apollo XI image, given its implications for the world’s future) originally featured an eagle whose expression the U.S. State Department feared other nations would interpret it as hostile. Whether the eagle which ultimately did appear on the coin’s reverse is a “friendly” bird is difficult to ascertain from its neutral expression.
Becoming law in December 1970, the bill that created the President Dwight D. Eisenhower dollar provided for a circulating coin made from the copper-nickel sandwich or “clad” composition then being used for dimes and quarters (and for half dollars beginning in 1971). It also permitted the coining of up to 150 million silver-clad coins with coin values for sales to coin collectors.
These would be coined in the same composition lately used for halves dated 1965-70, two outer layers that were 80% silver and 20% copper bonded to an inner core that was approximately 21% silver and 79% copper. This created an overall mix that was 40% silver, with the balance being copper.
A controversial amendment to this bill provided that a portion of the profits from the sale of these collector coins would be donated to Eisenhower College, a private institution in Seneca Falls, New York which ultimately folded despite receiving some $9 million dollars from this source.
As Mint Director Mary Brooks wanted the coins produced quickly, there was no time for a public design competition. Chief Engraver Frank Gasparro was directed to prepare the models in as little time as necessary with the required mintage. Anticipating this coinage, Gasparro had already begun work; his galvano for the obverse bore the date 1970, even though the first Eisenhower dollars were dated 1971.
His design portrays on the obverse a bare-headed, left-facing profile of the late president. Arranged in an arc above him is the legend LIBERTY, while the motto IN GOD WE TRUST appears in two lines below Eisenhower’s chin. The date is at bottom, with the mint mark above it and to the right. Gasparro’s initials FG are on the truncation of the bust. The reverse depicts the American eagle, an olive branch of peace in its talons, descending onto the moon.
The distant Earth is in the field above and to the left. The motto E PLURIBUS UNUM is centered above the eagle, and the legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA is arranged in an arc around the upper periphery. The value ONE DOLLAR is superimposed on the moon’s surface along the lower periphery. An arc of small stars surrounds the eagle, Earth, and the motto. The initials FG appear below the eagle’s tail.
Final Word On The Silver Dollar
There are no rare dates within the regular coinage of Eisenhower dollars, although several issues, particularly 1971 and 1972 dollars from the Philadelphia Mint, were poorly made and are difficult to locate. A number of minor varieties resulted from refinements to the hubs during the first few years.
A small quantity of silver-clad dollars were made at the Denver Mint in error and may be found dated 1974-D, 1976-D or 1977-D. Proofs of the Bicentennial dollar were coined in 1974 without a mint mark, but none are currently known to survive. What your Eisenhower Silver Dollar is worth has been covered here but it will take some experimentation to figure out! Is it simply clad or does it contain silver is the question!