The 1921 Peace Dollar was the first issue of the new series of silver dollars to commemorate the restoration of peace following the conclusion of the Great War. This also represents a one year type coin, as it was struck in higher relief than subsequent coins in the series. While the high relief makes for a stunning impression of design by Anthony de Francisci, it made the coins extremely difficult to strike. This along with other problems caused the mint to alter the design before the first Peace Dollars dated 1922 were struck.
Anthony de Francisci was an Italian born artist (born as Antonio in Palermo on July 13, 1887), who had come to the United States in 1905, at the age of 18. Early in his career he would work under artists such as James Earle Fraser, Adolph A. Weinman and Hermon MacNeil, all who had been or would be responsible for the designs of various circulating coinage designs introduced in the early 20th century. These mentors, in particular Weinman (who designed both the Mercury Dime as well as the Walking Liberty Half Dollar), had a large influence on de Francisci.
As had happened with the various denominations introduced during the previous decade, a competition was declared to determine the design to be used for a new silver dollar. The origins of the theme for the coin can be traced back to 1918, when a paper was prepared by Frank G. Duffield calling for a coin to commemorate the end of World War I. This was intended to be read at the 1918 ANA convention, which was cancelled due to the Spanish Flu, and in modified form a new paper was prepared by Farran Zerbe and read at the 1920 ANA convention. The paper called for a coin, preferable half dollar or silver dollar, with a design representing the ideals of democracy, liberty, prosperity and honor.
The silver dollar had been struck in 1921 with the Morgan Dollar design, representing the first production of the denomination in almost two decades. Had the silver dollar denomination not been available for a redesign, a commemorative half dollar could have potentially been issued instead. Commemorative half dollars were regularly issued in the early 20th century, and one commemorative issue had already featured a design by De Francisci in 1920 (the Maine Centennial half dollar). However, the silver dollar denomination was available, and by the fall of 1921 eight artists were working on designs. All had to be done in a hurry, as the first steps were not taken until early November, with the first coins due to be released before the end of the year.
The obverse design of the 1921 Peace Dollar would feature a portrait of Liberty, which de Francisci had based on his wife, Maria. The original design for the reverse featured an eagle with a broken sword in its beck, signifying peace, although it was later determined that this might be taken as defeat, and the design was altered. The final design portrayed the eagle standing on a rock, which might be considered one of the most natural looking bald eagles ever featured on American coinage. One of the most important elements of the design is the word PEACE, which is placed on the rock, below the eagle on the reverse.