In 1971, the United States Mint resumed striking $1 coins for the first time since 1935, when the last Peace dollars were made. The new coin, the Eisenhower Dollar, or Ike Dollar, was a tribute to the famous World War II general and former President General Dwight D. Eisenhower, whose bust appears on the obverse, as well as the 1969 Apollo 11 landing on the moon, which is celebrated on the reverse.
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 then U.S. Mint Chief Engraver, Frank Gasparro. Gasparro also famously designed the reverse of the Kennedy half dollar and the Lincoln cent reverse used from 1959 to 2008.
Eisenhower Dollar Design
For the obverse, Gasparro’s starting point was a sketch he had made of Ike 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 to much extent 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 then Silver and Gold American Eagles in 1986. In the 1990s, there was a resurgence of demand for the coins and interest in the Eisenhower dollar series. That resurgence was driven by an interest in higher-grade examples 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: A Brief History
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 Ike 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 time the first 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 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 dolalrs 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 from 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 on an Eisenhower dollar look at the obverse design, the mint mark if applicable, will be above the “7” in the date.
Q. David Bowers, A Guide Book of Modern United States Dollar Coins (Whitman, 2016)
R.S. Yeoman et al., A Guide Book of United States Coins 2021 (Whitman, 2020)