The 1921 Peace Silver Dollar: An In-Depth Guide for Collectors

As a lifelong collector and professional numismatist, I‘ve had the privilege of handling many rare and iconic coins over the years. But there are few silver dollars as special and captivating as the 1921 Peace dollar. This one-year high relief issue is the undisputed key to the series and has long been one of my personal favorite coins to study and collect.

In this expert guide, I‘ll share an in-depth look at the 1921 Peace dollar, from its fascinating history and origin to its substantial rarity and record-setting values in high grades. I‘ll also offer my insider tips for collectors on how to evaluate and value these coins. Whether you‘re a seasoned Peace dollar collector or simply interested in learning more about one of the greatest American silver coins ever struck, I think you‘ll appreciate this detailed exploration of a numismatic legend.

Origin and History

The story of the 1921 Peace dollar begins a few years prior, in the closing days of World War I. As the war drew to an end in November 1918, the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts began planning a new silver dollar coin to commemorate the restoration of peace. They invited eight renowned sculptors to submit designs, but none were immediately approved.

In December 1921, Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon recalled all the previous unapproved designs and selected the obverse design of Anthony de Francisci, a young Italian immigrant sculptor. Francisci‘s design featured a striking portrait of Liberty with windblown hair, wearing a radiate crown and meant to symbolize the dawn of a new era of peace.

With the coin designs finalized and approved, the U.S. Mint now faced immense pressure to begin production before the end of 1921. Francisci had modeled his design in high relief to showcase the artistic details. While beautiful, the high relief presented significant production challenges.

Mint engravers struggled to translate Francisci‘s high relief models into coinage dies that could withstand the immense striking pressure required. The first dies failed quickly, often after fewer than 25,000 impressions. The Philadelphia Mint worked around the clock in the final week of December 1921, but ultimately had to settle for a lower-than-ideal striking pressure to extend die life.

When 1921 drew to a close, the Philadelphia Mint had managed to strike just 1,006,473 Peace dollars in the new high relief format. With their high relief striking, these coins took on a special appearance unlike any other Peace dollar – deeply mirrored fields and richly frosted devices, almost like a proof coin. But the challenges of the high relief dies convinced U.S. Mint Chief Engraver George Morgan to reduce the relief for subsequent years‘ production.

As a result, the 1921 Peace dollar unintentionally became a one-year type coin that has captivated collectors ever since. With the lowest mintage of the series by far, it would stand as the undisputed key date. Today, the 1921 Peace dollar is widely considered the most desirable and valuable issue of the series, cherished for its beauty, rarity and unique status in numismatic history.

Rarity and Survival Estimates

As a series key date with just over 1 million coins struck, the 1921 Peace dollar is a major rarity in all grades compared to the rest of the series. It‘s believed that a substantial portion of the original mintage was melted in the 1930s, leaving an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 pieces surviving today across all grades.

The vast majority of survivors are circulated examples, as relatively few 1921 Peace dollars were saved in pristine uncirculated condition by collectors at the time of issue. According to the PCGS Population Report (as of April 2023), here is the estimated surviving population in each grade range:

Grade PCGS Population Estimated Survivors
G4-VG8 2,150 75,000-100,000
F12-VF20 3,075 50,000-75,000
EF40-AU58 1,775 10,000-20,000
MS60-MS62 1,040 5,000-10,000
MS63 630 1,000-2,000
MS64 495 500-750
MS65 84 150-200
MS66 9 10-20
MS67 4 5-10

The estimates above take into account that PCGS-graded examples represent only a fraction of the total surviving population for each grade level. The numbers also assume that resubmissions and crossovers between grading services cause some duplication in the census reporting.

Condition Rarity and Values by Grade

With so few uncirculated examples surviving, the 1921 Peace dollar is a significant condition rarity that commands substantial premiums in all grades. Even low-end circulated examples are worth multiples of common date Peace dollars. Values rise sharply through the uncirculated levels.

Based on PCGS population data and recent auction results, here is a breakdown of the typical values for the 1921 Peace dollar in each grade, along with the author‘s analysis:

Good (G4) to Very Good (VG8)

  • Value Range: $125 to $200
  • Population: 2,150 PCGS total

The lowest grade 1921 Peace dollars represent a chance for budget-minded collectors to own this key date. Expect heavy wear with the rim merging with the tops of letters. The eagle‘s breast and leg feathers will show smoothing. But all major design details should remain clear. While not especially attractive, G4-VG8 examples are still highly collectable thanks to their affordability.

Fine (F12) to Very Fine (VF20)

  • Value Range: $250 to $450
  • Population: 3,075 PCGS total

Most circulated 1921 Peace dollars fall in the Fine to Very Fine range. A typical Fine example will show moderate to heavy even wear but no severe marks or damage. The high points of the design like Liberty‘s hair and the eagle‘s head, wing and tail feathers will be heavily worn. VF coins will retain slightly more sharpness and detail but still show substantial friction. These are solid representative examples for collectors.

Extremely Fine (EF40) to About Uncirculated (AU58)

  • Value Range: $600 to $1,500
  • Population: 1,775 PCGS total

Choice circulated 1921 Peace dollars in the EF and AU grade range are where the premiums really start to jump. An EF coin will show light wear on the high points but retain nearly full details elsewhere. The eagle‘s wing and breast feathers will be sharp. The luster remains nearly intact in protected areas. An AU example will reveal only the slightest friction and generous luster. These are highly desirable for type collectors.

Mint State 60 (MS60) to Mint State 63 (MS63)

  • Value Range: $2,000 to $5,000
  • Population: 1,670 PCGS total (1,040 in MS60-62, 630 in MS63)

Most Mint State 1921 Peace dollars are found in the MS60 to MS63 grade range. An MS60 coin will show no wear but have numerous heavy marks, nicks or abrasions on each side. The luster may be impaired but is mostly intact. MS63 examples have strong luster and eye appeal but reveal moderate marks or scuffs, especially in the focal regions. Well-struck coins at this level with clean cheeks can bring solid premiums.

Mint State 64 (MS64)

  • Value Range: $6,500 to $10,000
  • Population: 495 PCGS total

In MS64, the 1921 Peace dollar emerges as a significant condition rarity. Expect a coin with full mint brilliance on each side and no distracting large or clustered marks. The high points of the designs like Liberty‘s cheek and hair will be clean and undisturbed. Overall quality is excellent for the issue. This author considers high-end MS64 examples to be the "sweet spot" grade for acquiring a premium quality type coin.

Gem Mint State 65 (MS65)

  • Value Range: $20,000 to $30,000
  • Population: 84 PCGS total

The 1921 Peace dollar is a major rarity in Gem Uncirculated grades. PCGS has certified just 84 coins in MS65, with none finer. An MS65 coin will showcase incredible satiny luster and a sharp strike. The surfaces are pristine with no distracting marks visible to the naked eye. Eye appeal is exceptional in every respect. For the collector who demands the absolute finest, a top quality MS65 is as nice as this issue realistically comes.

Mint State 66 (MS66) and Mint State 67 (MS67)

  • Value Range: $75,000 to $150,000
  • Population: 9 in MS66, 4 in MS67 at PCGS

In the stratosphere of Peace dollar rarities lie the small handful of superb gems graded MS66 and MS67 by PCGS. Just 13 coins have been certified at these levels, with none graded higher. These are the ultimate quality examples with pristine surfaces, full radiant luster and unimprovable technical quality. Expect immaculate fields and devices with virtually no reportable marks. The strike detail is razor-sharp throughout. Auction appearances of PCGS MS67 coins typically realize six figures.

Notable Varieties and Records

Beyond the circulation strikes, the 1921 Peace dollar series includes two major exotic varieties that are prime rarities. Both are special preparation coins associated with the first year of the design:

1921 Satin Proof Peace Dollar

The Satin Proof coins are presentation strikes made at the start of production before the relief was lowered. These coins have incredible razor-sharp detail and a unique granular matte-like finish that sets them apart from regular circulation strikes. It‘s estimated that fewer than 10 Satin Proofs were made, with 5 or fewer known to remain today. The most recent auction appearance was a PCGS PR67 example that realized $264,000 in August 2005.

Chapman Proof 1921 Peace Dollar

The Chapman Proof coins are another special striking associated with the early production of 1921 Peace dollars. It‘s believed these were presentation coins struck as proposed designs for the regular Proof coinage. Chapman Proofs have deep mirror fields, frosted devices and were struck with polished dies. Just 2 or 3 examples are known in total, making them even rarer than Satin Proofs. The finer of two known coins is a magnificent NGC PR67 Ultra Cameo that last sold for $329,000 in August 2009.

Collecting and Investing Advice

For collectors interested in acquiring a 1921 Peace dollar, I recommend buying the highest grade you can comfortably afford based on your budget. As an extreme rarity in all Mint State grades, the potential for further price appreciation is strong, especially in high-end choice and gem uncirculated examples.

When evaluating potential purchases, here are a few expert tips I‘ve learned over the years:

  • Verify authenticity. Counterfeits and altered coins are an unfortunate reality with rare key dates like the 1921 Peace dollar. I strongly recommend buying only PCGS or NGC certified examples unless you have the expertise to authenticate raw coins. For uncertified pieces, only buy from reputable dealers with a proven track record.

  • Focus on eye appeal. When comparing coins of the same numerical grade, I always prefer the example with superior visual aesthetics. Look for a pleasing overalll appearance with original color, clean surfaces and no distracting marks or scuffs. Some 1921 Peace dollars will show light attractive peripheral toning which can add to the appeal.

  • Evaluate the strike. The high relief design of the 1921 Peace dollar was extremely difficult to bring up fully. The strongest strike you can find for the grade is always most desirable. On Mint State examples, look for coins with sharp hair detail on Liberty, full feather definition on the eagle and crisp inner shield lines.

  • Check the luster. On uncirculated examples, pay close attention to the quality, consistency and originality of the mint luster. The most premium coins will have full unbroken frost over the devices and flashy, semi-reflective fields. Avoid coins with subdued, grainy or dull luster. Some very high grade examples can have an almost "proof-like" appearance.

In terms of long-term price potential, I believe the 1921 Peace dollar has a bright future. The series as a whole seems to be gaining in popularity, as evidenced by the record prices realized by superb gems in recent years. With so few high grade examples available relative to the number of Peace dollar collectors, I expect competition for the finest 1921 pieces to remain fierce.

Personally, my single best piece of advice is to view the purchase of a 1921 Peace dollar as a long-term hold. With limited quantities and strong collector demand, I don‘t see these coins as a "trade" for a quick profit. The most desirable gems may not appear at auction for years or even decades between offerings. So if you are able to acquire a top-quality example for your collection, consider it a treasured centerpiece to enjoy for a lifetime.

Whether you are assembling a complete set of Peace dollars or simply desire a single high grade representative of this iconic rarity, I believe the 1921 Peace dollar is an essential coin for the advanced collector. The combination of first-year status, one-year high relief striking, and immense rarity in pristine condition is unmatched by any other issue of the series. It may very well be the ultimate Peace dollar – the crown jewel in one of the most popular and widely collected classic silver dollar types.

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