Continuing from last week I discuss the numismatic scene of 1979.
Eisenhower dollars, minted since 1971, were not popular in
circulation. Many were used, however, on gaming tables in Nevada.
The Treasury Department came up with the money-saving idea of a
new coin – the mini-dollar – a small diameter dollar, not much larger
than a quarter dollar. The theory was that they would be widely used,
as quarter dollars were, and would replace paper dollars. As the paper
bills wore out quickly, this seemed ideal.
Chief Engraver Frank Gasparro started experimenting in 1977 with a
Liberty Cap dollar (illustrated last week), based on a traditional
design. Discussions continued in Congress. Then that nasty part of
American life, “political correctness,” intervened. Relevant members
of the House of Representatives could not figure why some old
depiction of Miss Liberty should be used when they could gain some
political advantage by showcasing an early champion of women’s rights.
Gasparro was commanded to discard the Liberty Head and cap design and
do a motif with Susan B. Anthony.
He scouted around to try to find a photograph showing her smiling,
or with some pleasing countenance, but all he could find were rather
Undaunted, he went ahead and made models, which were accepted.
Dies were made and all was set. The first 1979-dated coins were
“pre-struck” on Dec. 13, 1978.
It was anticipated that soon the paper dollar would be history.
Wrong! First of all, vending machines were equipped to take quarter
dollars and other coins, but not the mini-dollars of unusual diameter.
Discussions with members of that industry revealed that a couple
hundred million dollars or so would be involved in converting the coin slots.
Although Anthony dollars were not seen in circulation to any
extent, complaints reached the popular press about such coins being
confused with quarter dollars. Gasparro said that he was probably the
first person to notice this, as shortly after they were released, he
took one and spent it in the Mint cafeteria, where the cashier asked
for more money, until Frank told her to look at the coin carefully —
it was a dollar not a quarter dollar!
I never met anyone who got one in change. However, I do recall
leaving New York City by automobile and going across the Tri-Borough
Bridge headed toward New England, and seeing signs stating that
Anthony dollars would be accepted at the toll booth. Post offices had
them available as well, but there did not seem to be much call for them.
To be continued ...
Q. David Bowers is chairman emeritus of Stack’s Bowers Galleries
and numismatic director of Whitman Publishing LLC. He can be reached
at his private email, firstname.lastname@example.org,
or at Q. David Bowers, LLC, Box 1804, Wolfeboro, NH 03894.