Background and History
The 20th century has given rise to a number of numismatic rarities which were struck in relatively large numbers, but for varying reasons the majority were destroyed and the existence and potential ownership of any survivors remains controversial. The most well known of these are the 1933 Double Eagle, 1974 Aluminum Cent, and the 1964 Peace Dollar. The latter is the focus of this site and the only one completely unconfirmed to exist in private hands, which would make the discovery of any genuine example a numismatic sensation.
The 1933 Double Eagle was struck at the Philadelphia Mint with an original mintage of 455,5000 pieces. Following Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidential order of March 6, 1933 to recall federal gold, the entire mintage was supposed to be melted. The government insisted that all were melted and that none were officially released; yet, an export document was issued for one, and the coin ended up in the holdings of an Egyptian King (King Farouk). The coin became a subject of a decade long legal battle until it was ruled to be legal to own because of the export document. So only one is legal to one, yet, over a dozen examples are known to exist elsewhere, including a certain group which is still the subject of an ongoing battle.
The 1974 Aluminum Cent was struck as a test project to come up with a cheaper alloy for our lowest denominated coin. More than 1.5 million pieces were struck in 1973 for testing purposes. A number of the coins were distributed to Congressmen for demonstration purposes and the coins were ordered to be returned at a later date. It is known that about a dozen where not returned, most likely because of unclear record keeping by the Mint, as to who received what. One of these examples turned up in 2011 in private hands and was certified by ICG and later PCGS before once again disappearing from the public spotlight.
The 1964 Peace Dollar is different from the previous two examples by the fact that no examples are known to exist. Even the Smithsonian Institution, who has both 1933 Double Eagles and a 1974 Aluminum Cent in its holdings, does not have a 1964 Peace Dollar. We know that the coins were minted thanks to government records and testimonials from former Mint employees. Yet, the government claims that all were melted, and that none ever got out of the Denver Mint. Nonetheless rumors have persisted that some pieces did manage to escape and details of the melting lend support to the possibility.
Whether or not any examples of the 1964 Peace Dollar actually exist, they may never be publicly revealed due to the legal status of the pieces. The government has maintained that any examples of the issue which managed to survive would be considered government property and subject to immediate seizure.
At the urging of Senate Majority Leader Mansfield and Senator Metcalf, both from Montana, legislation was passed in August 1964 to strike 45 million silver dollars. The Senators had made the case that the coins would be necessary for circulation within the western states, which had relied heavily on silver dollars for the past 80 years. The Denver Mint was chosen for production due to its location and ability to produce circulating coinage at scale.
Despite attempts to recall the legislation, including opposition from Mint Director Eva Adams, production commenced on May 12, 1965 (with the dies dated 1964). The coins were announced three days later and excitement about the issue immediately began to spread with some coin dealers offering multiple times the face value of the coins. Needless to say, it became all too obvious at that point that these new silver dollars would never actually circulate and only become an instant collectible if they were ever released to the public.
Mint records indicate that a total of 316,076 pieces were struck. It was indicated that these were trail strikings, and not coins that had been intended for circulation, despite the earlier legislation. Congress soon passed the Coinage Act of 1965, which altered the composition for circulating coins and forbade the minting of silver dollars for the next five years. Prior to this point, all of the 1964 Peace Dollars had supposedly been melted, and according to the government and the Mint, none had ever left the Denver production facility.
Yet, ever since the mid 1960s, there has been talk that some pieces did manage to escape. Modern research has revealed loopholes in the security system that would have created the opportunity for certain individuals to remove some coins and bring them to market. Prior to the melting, the coins were not verified individually or by hand, but only by their weight. This would have allowed the opportunity to replace one of the newly struck 1964 Peace Dollars with an earlier dated Peace Dollar, which would be readily available at the time. We don’t know if it actually happened, but if it did, there just might be one or more 1964 Peace Dollars in private hands in existence. There is also the possibility, although unlikely, that some of the coins were given out as samples to the Mint Director, members of Congress, or even the President, allowing them to escape the melting pot.
The government has declared that all 1964 Peace Dollars are government property and subject to immediate seizure by the Secret Service. If one does appear there might be a lengthy legal battle, as would be expected in the case of the 1974 Aluminum Cent, and as has been the case with the 1933 Double Eagle. There are a large number of patterns, technically all of which are trail pieces struck for Mint use only, which are traded freely on the public market without the Secret Service confiscating any of the pieces. So why would the 1964 Peace Dollar be an exception? We only know what has been stated by the government, and so far none of the pieces has been brought to the daylight to challenge the issue.
If an example does appear on the market and is determined to be legal to own (which would most likely take a court ruling after an extended legal battle) it could sell for a substantial amount. It has been quoted to be the most valuable coin that could possibly be in existence, and a minimum auction result of 10 million dollars is often suggested. Even at this lofty price level, it would only take two spirited bidders with deep pockets to take the price even higher.
Perhaps we will never know the true value of a genuine 1964 Peace Dollar, but if circumstances ever align to allow a sale, it would truly be considered one of the most historic numismatic events in history.