On June 20, 1945, about four million people jammed onto the streets of New York City for a World War II victory parade. Buried in the the crowd was a young artist and junior U.S. Mint engraver, Frank Gasparro (1909-2001) hoping for a glimpse of his hero, 5-Star General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Towards the end of the parade, Frank did get a brief glimpse of his hero, and that one fleeting moment changed future U.S. numismatic history.
As soon as he returned to the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia, Gasparro made a sketch that captured Eisenhower’s strong and determined gaze. Twenty-Six years later, that sketch became the inspiration for one of America’s most iconic modern coins – the Eisenhower Dollar, the last large sized Dollar coin produced in the U.S.
The story of the Eisenhower Dollar starts with the Apollo 11 space mission. On July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first person to set foot on the moon. With America caught up in “space fever”, the U.S. Mint looked for a way to honor this world-changing moon-landing event and it needed a coin as impressive as the achievement itself. So the one-dollar coin was resurrected. That large coin size/denomination hadn’t been used since 1935, the final year of the Peace Silver Dollar.
At the same time, the Mint wanted to honor Dwight D. Eisenhower, who died shortly before Apollo 11. Since as president, Eisenhower helped create NASA — and without President Eisenhower’s (and later President Kennedy’s) vision, the moon landing might never have happened — Eisenhower and Apollo 11 became the perfect match for this coin. So Frank Gasparro began work on mating his old 26 year old sketch of Eisenhower with the Apollo 11 Mission Insignia to create this new coin.
The Eisenhower Dollar was minted from 1971 through 1978. However there are no Eisenhower Dollars dated 1975, since that entire year was used to strike the 1976 bicentennial dollars, which had a special reverse featuring the Liberty Bell. Special 40% Silver Ikes were struck for Collectors at the San Francisco mint throughout the series. These coins were basically unloved and little used during their short run, but have been undergoing a collector resurrection in recent years due to their large size, low cost, and short run making collecting the complete set a relatively low cost endeavor.
However it should be noted that extremely high-grade business strikes are quite rare and expensive due to their low field populations. PCGS lists MS67 business strikes as having a fair market value of between $4,000 and $15,000 each, depending on the year. High grade proofs remain very low priced however — I recently bought a 40% Silver Deep Cameo PCGS PR69 first-year-issue Proof for $38.