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Should You Get A 'Peace' of The Action?

Should You Get A 'Peace' of The Action?

by Ed Reiter

By all objective yardsticks, the Peace dollar ought to be a very special favorite with collectors and investors.

Its series is short, with mintages for the most part on the low side. Its design is widely admired. And, to add icing to this numismatic cake, it’s a crown-size coin of 90-percent silver – a feature that should give it particular appeal to investors.

Yet, for all these apparent advantages, Peace dollars have long been overshadowed by their Morgan dollar predecessors. Silver dollar purchasers have shown a consistent – and rather decided – preference for Morgans, and this is reflected not only in the relative market activity of the two series but also in their relative prices: Morgans bring substantially higher premiums than Peace dollars of comparable rarity and quality.

Are Peace dollars undervalued? And would it be advisable to buy them at this time? Many market analysts suggest that the answer to each of these questions is “Yes.” They also make it clear, though, that caution should be the buy-word for any collector-investors thinking of getting a piece of the Peace dollar action.

The Peace dollar’s “image” problem stems, in large measure, from the way the coin was designed and the way it was struck.

Artistically, the coin always has received high marks from critics; to their way of thinking, its fresh, uncluttered design compares favorably with the staid, almost stodgy design of the Morgan. It shows Miss Liberty in a far more flattering light, and its eagle is unquestionably far more true-to-life than the oddly shaped bird on the Morgan. From a practical standpoint, though, the Peace dollar’s design caused headaches for the Mint: Because of its high relief, it was difficult to strike and difficult to stack, as well.

Soon after striking the very first specimens in 1921, Mint officials realized they would have to reduce the relief. But, when they did so in 1922, the changes left the coin with a somewhat flattened appearance on its high points – and this, in turn, helped create pitfalls for would-be graders.

Accurate grading of the Peace dollar is complicated further by the broad, open quality of its features. The relative absence of details makes it harder for a grader to establish points of reference; on the Morgan dollar, by contrast, there are many more grading keys because the design is so intricate. Not just incidentally, this openness also serves to accentuate minor flaws – just as the Morgan dollar’s intricacy sometimes masks them.

On top of everything else, a number of Peace dollars – particularly those from the San Francisco Mint – were weakly struck. This, of course, creates still more confusion for a grader.

All this talk of problems and confusion might make it seem that the Peace dollar series is simply more trouble than it’s worth. Before potential buyers jump to that conclusion, they owe it to themselves to take a closer look at the other side of the coin: the fact that the Peace dollar has some important pluses.

First of all, as noted at the outset, the series is quite compact. Its lifespan covered just 15 years, from 1921 to 1935, and for five of those years – from 1929 to 1933 – its production was suspended. Counting all date-and-mint combinations, there are only 24 different Peace dollars, and this makes the series highly attractive to people who like to assemble sets. Also, while certain dates are scarce, there are no great rarities; thus, the idea of putting together a set is a realistic goal for the average collector-investor.

The Morgan series, by contrast, has 96 different date-and-mint issues – four times as many as the Peace series – and that doesn’t even include the numerous overdates and other specialized varieties. For all but the wealthiest buyers, then, putting together this set is prohibitively expensive – especially considering the presence of such rarities as the 1895, a proof-only issue which all by itself costs almost as much as a full set of Mint State-65 Peace dollars.

A second attractive aspect of Peace dollars is their price. With few exceptions, mint-state examples are at least 10 to 20 percent cheaper than comparable Morgan dollars – that is to say, Morgans with similar mintage figures and in the same condition.

An obvious illustration of this point is the price differential between the 1921 Morgan dollar and the 1922 Peace dollar. Each is the highest-mintage coin in its series, and the figures are certainly comparable: roughly 44.7 million for the ’21 Morgan and 51.7 million for the ’22 Peace. The two coins were produced just one year apart, so age is not a factor in their relative value. And each is perceived in much the same way by collectors: as the commonest and therefore least desirable of all the coins in its series.

Given all this, one would expect these coins to carry identical price tags. Yet, price guides show the ’21 Morgan costing more in every condition from MS-60 through MS-65. Only in the lower circulated grades, where the coins’ bullion content is the prime consideration, do the prices come together.

Some might argue that Morgans merit more because they're an older series –indeed, for the most part, a 19th-century series. And, without much doubt, this does play a part in their greater popularity. As one observer comments, “They’re the only silver coins from before 1900 that can still be obtained in BU condition for less than $100.”

Upon closer scrutiny, this advantage – though real – seems largely psychological in nature. In any event, the facts of the matter don’t seem to justify a premium based on age. That sort of premium normally denotes that a series, because it is older, has circulated more and that choice surviving specimens have grown scarcer with the passage of time. Morgans, however, never saw much use in circulation; many millions, in fact, remained in storage in vaults from the day they were produced. Indeed, it could be argued that Peace dollars, if anything, saw greater actual use in the nation’s commerce, at least in relation to their numbers.

Morgan dollars got a major promotional boost in the 1970s when the U.S. government staged its “Great Silver Sale” of 19th-century cartwheels – most of them Morgans from the Carson City Mint. That did much to glamorize the Morgan and establish the coin, in the minds of most Americans, as the silver dollar of choice. Again, however, this is an advantage based largely on psychology – on perception, rather than fact.

Peace and Morgan dollars are equally desirable in one important respect: All of the coins in both of the series are 90-percent silver in composition.

All things considered, Peace dollars seem to have a great deal to offer to collectors and investors – even though, to some extent, their assets may be hidden. Still, there remains that one nagging problem: how to be sure the Peace dollars you get are properly graded.

One solution is to stick with coins graded MS-63, at least to begin with. There’s less subjectivity with an MS-63 Peace dollar than there is with an MS-65.

Putting together a Peace dollar set takes plenty of time and patience. But for someone who is willing to make that investment, the rewards – like the coin itself – could be very handsome.

Ed Reiter is senior editor of COINage and executive director of the Numismatic Literary Guild. Reiter wrote weekly numismatic columns in the Sunday New York Times for nearly a decade.