Ike Design Propaganda

Rob Ezerman for the Ike Group
Presented Thursday 31 July, 2008
ANA Convention, Baltimore MD

Propaganda and the Design of the Eisenhower Dollar


This is a story of propaganda versus patriotism told in the design sequence of the Eisenhower Dollar reverse.  Cold war jitters and political realities forced Frank Gasparro to change his initial design of the coin’s emblematic Eagle from fierce to friendly but Gasparro was not to be denied.    When his original “Friendly Eagle” low relief reverse design had to be abandoned, Gasparro had the opportunity to revise that design back toward his original fierce Eagle.


Frank Gasparro, the Grandson of Italian Immigrants, was born in 1909.  When Frank dropped out of High School at age 16 to attend art classes and help support his family, he already manifested hallmarks of his core character:  stubbornness and loyalty (even in frail health in his 90’s he insisted in teaching art classes up to three weeks of his death).

Known to be fiercely patriotic, Gasparro admired, “hero worshipped” really, Dwight David Eisenhower as did so many.

Ike died on March 28 1969.  He did not live to see the success of Apollo 11 a few months later, the first Apollo mission landing men on the moon, memorialized by Armstrong’s words at touchdown “The Eagle has landed!”, and later as he stepped onto the lunar surface, “One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind”.  But it was Ike who had helped instigate, and then signed into law the act creating NASA which launched our great space race with the USSR.

Throughout 1970, Congress and the Mint were fighting over composition and mintage parameters of the proposed commerative Eisenhower Dollar but Gasparro was already well into its design, a portrait of Eisenhower on the obverse and Gasparro’s rendition of the Apollo 11 Mission patch on the reverse.

Before we get into the heart of this talk, here are a few background specifics about the Ike Series to help set the stage.

In 1971, there were two different Ike designs minted and released for the public:  high relief and low relief.  The high relief design was used only for the silver clad proof.  The low relief design was used for both the copper-nickel clad business strikes and specimen silver clad Ikes.

The 1971-S high relief silver Proofs were distributed in Brown boxes and the low relief silver specimen Ikes in Blue Envelopes.  The 1971 low relief clad circulation Ikes were minted furiously beginning July 3rd at the Denver Mint (and later in July at the Philly Mint) and were stockpiled at the Federal Reserve Banks serving the Denver and Philly Mints, respectively, for release to their downline banks in time for public distribution on November 1st 1971.

While the 1971 high relief Proof received considerable pre-release publicity beginning in the second half of 1970, including photos and four sets of Galvanos, full production and early distribution of the proof didn’t crank up until December and the majority of 1971 Ike Proofs weren’t produced until March, 1972.

I mention this because the Mint forcefully publicized the high relief design while not revealing any photos or Galvanos or otherwise publicizing the low relief design destined for the circulation and business strike specimen silver clad Ikes.

The only publicity about the low relief circulation clad Ike was its expected date of release (which kept getting pushed back throughout the first half of 1971).  Since the low relief obverse design is basically the same as the high relief obverse design, it’s logical that the Mint seemed not to know what the low relief reverse design would be right up until the last few weeks before circulation Ike minting commenced.  And that may be exactly what happened.

This talk will cover the Ike Group’s findings and speculations on the two known low relief reverse designs for the first year (1971) and how the second low relief design gave Gasparro a victory over propaganda.

(We’ll ignore the obverse since the only design tension we have found is Lee Lydston’s Prototype Ike which will be introduced and discussed at our “New Ikes” Workshop tomorrow.  Shameless plug, sorry.)


Let’s begin our story of the two low relief reverse designs of the 1971 Ike dollar with the story of the Apollo 11 Mission Patch, the predecessor of the Ike reverse.

Michael Collins tells of the patch’s design evolution in his book “Chariots of Fire”.  First sketched a few months before the scheduled July 1969 lift off, the design concept was simple:  an Eagle, the symbol of our great nation, approaches the moon for a landing, olive branch in beak, a distant Earth hanging overhead.

Writing that a wheels-up landing was a recurring nightmare he shared with many pilots, Collins drew an Eagle with talons out-stretched:  “My eagle was going to have its landing gear down!” Collins wrote.


Collins’ design was submitted to “authorities” who promptly rejected the image, saying that the Eagle looked too fierce, too war-like with those out-stretched claws.

Stunned, Collins and the other astronauts had a brain storm:  they would move the olive branch from beak to talons:  the talons would now be clenched instead of spread.  This revision was promptly approved.


Let’s return to the Eisenhower dollar coin.  On October 29, 1969 Texas Congressman Bob Casey made a motion on the floor of the House that the reverse of the new Eisenhower Dollar commemorate Apollo 11.  His initial motion stipulated that the words of the Apollo 11 Motif, “WE CAME IN PEACE FOR ALL MANKIND”, be spelled out on the reverse.  Since there would not be room for all these words in addition to UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, ONE DOLLAR, and E PLURIBUS UNUM (the Ike is a big coin but not that big), he revised his motion to stipulate that the reverse be “Emblematic of the Apollo 11 Motif”.   The enabling legislation was finally passed and signed into law over a year later at midnight December 31, 1970.

Meanwhile, Gasparro was not waiting for congressional authorization and immediately started work on obverse and reverse sketch designs for the new dollar coin (at that time the Mint was hoping to receive congressional approval in time for minting and distributing a 1970 Ike dollar).


At the heart of this Sundman lecture, Gasparro’s late 1969 initial reverse sketch drawing was rejected by Mint Director Mary Brooks:  she stated that Gasparro’s Eagle was “too fierce, too war-like, a little too threatening”.  ‘Déjà vu all over again’.  But this time I think the rejection was big deal:  Gasparro had drawn the Eagle that fulfilled his artistic and patriotic vision, a bold, proud, fierce and vigilant defender and symbol of the Nation he loved so much, only to be told he had to make it less of an Eagle.

Please note Gasparro’s sketch captures an Eagle in flight, feathers flared.

We have no record of the Gasparro sketches that were finally approved by the Treasury’s Design Authorities, but judging from the 1970 Reverse Galvano and the very similar 1971-S high relief Ike Proof reverse, his revised and approved Eagle was indeed a changed bird:  it had no “deeply furrowed brow line” and the body and tail feathers were not flared, resulting in what Gasparro himself termed a “friendly, peaceful, pleasant Eagle”.

                       1970 IKE REVERSE GALVANO

Note that a galvano is in much higher relief and has more detail than the downline hubs, dies and struck coins.  Here is the 1971-S production proof which is virtually identical in design to this Galvano:


Ike Group member David Golan describes this Friendly Eagle as “a bird at rest, the left wing (our left) wing relaxed, the opposite of a fierce Eagle coming in for a landing”.  Note the absence of sharp feather separation and no flare of body feathers.

One wonders what Gasparro really thought of this “pleasant” Eagle?  Here is one answer directly from Gasparro, his obverse design for a 1976 Bicentennial medal.  ‘Nuff said!


Why were both Collins’ and Gasparro’s initial Eagles designs rejected?  There was ample precedence for a fierce Eagle.  After all, the Eagle is a predator and not somebody’s friendly pet.  For example, here is a slide of the reverse of the Ikes predecessor, the Peace Dollar with which Gasparro grew up as a young man.

1921 Peace Dollar Reverse (high relief)

The answer is conveyed in Bob Casey’s public insistence that the Eisenhower Dollar reverse symbolize for all the world the motif of Apollo 11, “We came in Peace for All Mankind”.

Why the concern about the appearance of the Eagle?  Why the need to turn the reverse of the Ike dollar into an instrument of Government propaganda?

Because the United States was in a cold war nuclear stand-off with the USSR.  Remember Mutual Assured Destruction, MAD for short and all too possibly for real?

Let’s take a moment to summarize the political climate leading up to the late 1960’s.

In the preceding 16 years the world had been shaken by the Soviets crushing the East German uprising of 1953, the violent suppression of the Hungarian rebellion of 1956, Castro taking power in 1959, the erection of the Berlin Wall in 1961, the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, Vietnam for most of the ‘60’s and the tanks-in-the-street suppression of the Czech “Prague Spring” in 1968.  As the decade of the 1960’s matured there were elements of “rapprochement” but it was far from an easy time.

I was in my 20’s and vividly remember periods of considerable anxiety that some trigger-fingered general on either side would start WWIII, a fear captured well in 1964’s dark comedy, “Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Love the Bomb”.

Against this background, 1969’s Apollo 11 was the culmination of a massive US Governmental program to land military men on the Moon.  Remember that the moon always shows us the same face:  an observer on that face would always be looking straight “down” at the Earth.  The moon would be an ideal observation site and launch pad, among other potential military considerations.  At the extreme, getting to the moon first with military boots on the ground could possibly tip the balance of power to our side, perhaps increasing the odds of a Soviet first strike.

It’s understandable, therefore, that NASA and our Government sent out a continuous world-wide stream of propaganda that Apollo 11 was a peaceful mission and only a peaceful mission.  Everything public about Apollo 11 had something to do with peace.  We even landed in the “Sea of Tranquility”.  Every official plaque and mission statement emphasized that this was a peaceful mission on behalf of all mankind.

(By the way, it’s the second definition of propaganda that implies dishonesty or mis-representation.  The first definition is simply persistent, organized and coherent communication of ones position.  And of course our propaganda would always be on the up and up with no programs deep in the pentagon looking at the military advantages of a successful moon landing.  Certainly not.)

Our government continued its propaganda push throughout the Apollo program.  But shortly after Apollo 11 here comes the design proposal of what could be the most important souvenir and representation of Apollo 11 on the flip side of the new dollar coin destined to circulate world wide, a most popular President on the other side.   No wonder the lines of authority in Washington DC would not permit a “war-like” attacking bird of prey to represent Apollo 11 on this new dollar coin!

So Michael Collins initial Mission Patch design and Frank Gasparro’s early reverse sketch were rejected for much the same reasons.   Collins had to retract his landing gear and Gasparro had to soften the ferocity of his beloved American Bald Eagle, make it “peaceful and friendly”.  Utter nonsense when one thinks about it and believe me, Gasparro had thought about it having spent considerable time studying the habits of the Bald Eagle at the Philadelphia Zoo and reviewing previous numismatic and other artistic renditions.

Frank knew that his beloved American Bald Eagle is not a friendly creature but  a deadly swoop-and-destroy killing machine.  But he had no choice.  The official need for propaganda consistent with government policy over-ruled Frank’s artistic and patriotic instincts.  The Eagle had to be “friendly”.


By mid-1970, Gasparro already had two sets of Master Hubs, one pair in high relief, presumably the design we see on the 1970 Galvano and the high relief 1971-S Proof, and one pair in low relief.  Why two sets?  It had become painfully obvious earlier in 1970 that the available die steels were not tough enough to strike his high-relief design onto the hard Copper-Nickel clad planchets being used for circulation Ikes.

According to Gasparro, to arrive at the low relief dies he working intensively from the Galvano through successively lower relief test dies until he finally hit upon the highest low-relief dies that didn’t crack up in use, a time consuming process.  While this is probably factual as far as it goes, Gasparro never talked about the specifics of the low relief design let alone that there were two of them.  The Ike Group has no such reluctance. . .


As mentioned earlier, unlike the Mint’s highly publicized distribution of photos and Galvanos of the high relief design, the Ike Group could find no such publicity or even a public record of the low relief design.

If the Ike Group is correct, however, Gasparro’s initial low relief reverse design was that which we now call the “Friendly Eagle Variety” (FEV for short) (Wiles Catalog number RDV-006).  The second low relief reverse design is that present on all the other 1971 circulating and silver specimen low relief business strike Ikes 

Let’s look once again at the high relief friendly Eagle design:  no brow line and no emphasized feather separation, a peaceful bird at rest.  First, the 1971-S Proof reverse with a close-up of that Eagle’s head and then the Friendly Eagle Variety reverse:

The low relief 1971-D Friendly Eagle Variety’s Eagle also has no brow line and only minor artwork adding some separation to the tail feathers.  In other words, the low relief FEV reverse design also carries the mandated “friendly, peaceful” Eagle and closely resembles the high relief proof design and not Gasparro’s initial sketch design:


It’s important that certain design features of the FEV are consistent with a planned low relief CuNi-clad proof bearing this FEV design.   In this regard, it’s interesting that several million Ike clad proof planchets were used by the Denver Mint in their 1971-D circulation Ike production line.  Where did these clad proof planchets come from?


(Note that it would not be possible to “polish” either such a worn die or the several million proof-like ’71-D Ikes which also are free of planchet chatter.)

For some reason the clad proof project was aborted (we suspect die failure) but not until several million CuNi-clad proof planchets had been acquired and mostly prepared.  These now surplus proof clad planchets were shipped to Denver for use in Denver’s 1971 regular production line.  (Clad proofs were not minted until 1973 when tougher, more resilient die steel was available and all Ikes were minted in high relief.)

We speculate that the Friendly Eagle Variety (FEV) design was also the planned reverse design for all low relief circulation and silver specimen 1971 Ikes but was found to be unsatisfactory for this purpose, too, probably through full-die-life test runs of multiple FEV dies on clad planchets at the Philly Mint.  This is speculative but not wildly speculative as our thinking is based on the remarkably low percentage of several different FEV DD’s and DDO-DDR pairings and partly on the remarkable prevalence of “Very Late Die States” among FEV’s.

At any rate, like the abandoned low relief clad proof project, any plan to use the FEV reverse on low relief circulation Ike production was also abandoned.

Working through all this would have soaked up a lot of time.

In fact, it is our suggestion that the failure of the FEV reverse design forced Gasparro to come up with a new low relief design with time running out.  Severe time pressure would explain the crude and hasty-appearing added artwork on the low relief design finally used on all 1971 circulation and silver specimen Ikes, the subject of the next and last chapter.


By whatever means Gasparro arrived at his final low relief reverse design, we can reason it looked somewhat flat and blah because the 1971 low relief circulation and silver specimen Ikes all have the same hasty-appearing somewhat crude added artwork to give this low relief design greater visual presence.  But Gasparro now had the opportunity to revise the propaganda-mandated friendly Eagle design:  he could create a design that would recover some of the fierceness of his original reverse sketch design.

So what were Gasparro’s low relief design modifications?  He gave the Eagle’s tail and wing feathers greater separation, ruffled the body feathers; and, he replaced the deeply furrowed brow line!  Let’s look through some slides and let them tell this part of the story.

(To put this in perspective, we know of no other series that has a reverse with so much crude added artwork upon its initial release.)



Note the strong resemblence between the low relief FEV’s Eagle Head and the Eagle’s Head on the high relief 1971-S (Friendly Eagle) Proof.

Also, note that the brow line added to the 1971-D low relief common production Eagle Head is crude and looks like the last-minute added artwork it is.  Here is a photo of a “Very Early Die State” example of the added brow line with lighting adjusted to highlight the crude artwork:


The body feathers lay flat and the left wing (our left) feathers are not separated and also appear to lay flat, consistent with a bird at rest or at least one not swooping down in a predatory attack, in other words, a “Friendly” Eagle.


Here,  both the separated left wing feathers and the flared body feathers are consistent with a bird in flight and more consistent with Gasparro’s original sketch design.

Let’s look at the Eagle’s tail feathers:  you’ll notice that they are all separated with heavy crude artwork on the 1971 production circulation Ike.  On the FEV, however, the two top feathers have no added artwork separation and the rest of the tail feathers are not has forceably separated:


Bottom line?  The revised low relief reverse design used for all 1971and 1972 low relief Ikes (except the FEV) now resembles Gasparro’s original rejected reverse design sketch!  How satisfying this return to his original design must have been for this loyal and patriotic but proud and stubborn man!  What a delicious bit of soul-satisfying mischief.