US Coin News

Coin History – The Eisenhower “Ike” Dollar

The story of the Eisenhower “Ike” Dollar is one of interest. It was the last big dollar coins that were produced by the United States Mint and when they were released in 1971, they were the first dollar coin struck since the Peace Dollar ended in 1935. But like many dollar coins in our history, the Ike Dollar never circulated well because of both its size and weight and production ended in 1978.

The creation of this new dollar coin began 1969. Originally, the Mint did not plan to have former President Eisenhower on the coin, but with his death in March 1969, momentum within congress wanted to honor the President on the new coin. The big hang up however was the metal content.

Starting in 1965, because of the rise of bullion prices, the Mint began striking coins in copper-nickel “clad” metals. The coins, namely the Quarter Dollar, Half Dollar, and Dollar (although none had been struck since 1935) to that point and been composed of 90% silver. When the bill for the new Dollar Coin was introduced, the question came down to if the coins would be struck in this new clad metal or would have silver. The dispute almost killed the coin entirely until a compromise was reached in 1970. That compromise meant that the circulating dollar coin would be made of the clad metals while the collector coins would be struck in 40% silver. President Nixon, who had served as Vice President under Eisenhower, signed the legislation authorizing the new dollar coin on December 31, 1970.

The design of the new Ike Dollar came down to Mint Chief Engraver Frank Gasparro. He consulted with the president’s widow, Mamie, on the Obverse and Reverse of the coin. Gasparro did not have full reign over his design however. It was insisted upon him that the Obverse have a similar look to that of the Washington Quarter – i.e. a profile of Eisenhower. Further, he produced two reverses for the coin. One was more of a heraldic eagle design while the design that was adopted, was modeled after the Apollo 11 mission patch designed by astronaut Michael Collins. Many, notably numismatic historian Q David Bowers, saw this as a brilliant design, commemorating both the late president as well as the successful moon landing in a single coin. Gasparro had to make a few minor changes to the eagle on the reverse – some in congress felt it looked to fierce – but the final designs were accepted late 1970.

Historically, many have looked at the overall design of the Ike dollar as mediocre. Many numismatic authors and historians felt the design was lackluster because of the way the Ike’s hair was treated as well as the eagle’s feathers.

1971 Eisenhower Dollar Obverse
Eisenhowever Dollar Reverse

Mintage of the new dollar began in early 1971 with production occurring at both the Denver and Philadelphia mints for circulating coinage. The circulation clad coins were released on November 1st of that year while the silver clads were released on March 1st. (Thanks to Ultra High Relief for the dates!) That year, the Philadelphia mint product 47,799,000 of the new dollars while the Denver mint coined 68,587,424. Meanwhile, at the San Francisco mint, the 1971-S with its 40% silver composition for collectors was produced with a total production of 4,265,234 Proofs and 6,868,530 Uncirculated.

With the bicentennial of the United States coming in 1976, the reverse of the Ike dollar was changed. No coins were produced in 1975 given that there were a significant number of the dollars already available and to give time for the mint to focus on the new reverse. That reverse depicted the Liberty Bell as well as the moon.

1975-1976 Type 2 Reverse

The biggest problem that faced the Ike Dollar was its size and weight. Many people simply did not carry them because of this and the dollar failed to gain any real traction in circulating coinage. It was popular in Las Vegas however for slot machines and other gaming machines. Indeed by 1975, the United States Treasury was concerned about the resources being consumed for striking a dollar coin that seemingly nobody wanted. They went as far as to hire a consulting firm which suggested that the size and weight of the coin was a detriment and that a smaller coin, one-third the size, would be more used by the public. Shortly after this report, the designs for the new Susan B Anthony dollar began, all-but killing the Ike Dollar.

Historically, we now know that the SBA was also doomed for its size and weight too, just slightly different than the Ike. People confused the SBA with the Washington Quarter and it had an even shorter lifespan than the Ike.

In total, across all the mint locations, circulating coins, uncirculated silver and proof silver Ike dollars, 741,646,153 were produced.

From a collectors perspective, the Ike dollar has been somewhat polarizing but they are an affordable addition. Most of the circulation coins in Mint State range from $6-12 each while the silver uncirculated samples range from $15-35 each. The proof coins are about $45 each.

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