October 21, 2013
Simple, dramatic, effective. Dennis Williams hit the mark with his Bicentennial design for the Eisenhower dollar’s reverse. The Liberty Bell-moon combination conveyed 200 years of history and achievement, from the Revolutionary War to the lunar landing.
Bicentennial souvenirs abounded in the mid-1970s. Commemorative quarters, half dollars and dollars were among the more memorable examples.
The U.S. Mint had not struck commemoratives since 1954. It was an important victory for collectors when President Richard Nixon signed legislation authorizing Bicentennial coins on Oct. 18, 1973.
The quarter, half dollar and dollar were to receive a Bicentennial reverse design, while retaining the regular obverse but with the dual dates “1776-1976.”
The Bicentennial coins would be circulating commemoratives, released at face value.
Uncirculated and proof dollars, including some struck in a silver alloy, would be available to collectors at premium prices.
Reminiscent of contests held many years earlier, the Bicentennial coin design competition was open to the public. It closed in January 1974, leaving plenty of time to begin production of the coins before the Bicentennial celebration began.
No 1975-dated dollars were struck. Instead, special legislation enabled 1974-dated Eisenhower dollars to be struck until mid-1975.
The unveiling of the winning Bicentennial coin designs received wide press coverage. Jack Ahr’s Colonial drummer was chosen for the quarter, Seth Huntington’s depiction of Independence Hall for the half dollar, and Dennis Williams’ Liberty Bell and moon image for the dollar.
Williams, a 22-year-old student from Erie, Pa., became the youngest U.S. coin designer. U.S. Mint chief engraver Frank Gasparro made some slight changes to the design.
A trial strike or prototype Bicentennial dollar was made on Aug. 12, 1974, and later presented to President Gerald R. Ford.
A proof Bicentennial dollar similar to the prototype and lacking San Francisco’s “S” mintmark eventually turned up in private hands. It is rumored to have come from a cash register drawer.
Full-scale production of Bicentennial dollars began in February 1975. The San Francisco Mint started striking the silver-clad version on April 23, 1975. Uncirculated and proof examples were sold in three-coin Bicentennial packs.
The first Bicentennial dollars were released in the fall of 1975. Production was briefly suspended while Gasparro modified the dies, resulting in the Type 2 Bicentennial dollar with narrower, sharper lettering on the reverse.
Bicentennial dollars were primarily of interest to collectors. A 1976 study revealed Eisenhower dollars were seldom carried and spent because they were too bulky.
The Eisenhower dollar’s original reverse design returned in 1977. Production of Eisenhower dollars ended in 1978. The Susan B. Anthony mini-dollar made its debut in 1979.
Currently, a copper-nickel clad Proof-65 Bicentennial dollar is valued at $10. Coins lists the 40-percent silver-clad version at $14. Mint State-63 Bicentennial Eisenhowers are valued at $6 to $16, depending on alloy, mint and type.
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