US Coins

Monday Morning Brief for June 10, 2019

The Anthony dollar was first released into circulation in the summer of 1979, after a contentious approval process that many collectors viewed as too political.

Original images courtesy GreatCollections

Browsing through old issues of Coin World provides a reader with a glimpse at our shared past, a look at issues that have commanded collectors’ attention, with some concerns so very similar to the events of today. 

Forty years ago, in the issue dated June 27, 1979, the Letters to the Editor page carried comments from readers on the impending July release of the new Anthony dollar.

The production of a coin honoring Susan B. Anthony, who devoted much of her adult life to fighting for women’s suffrage, was contentious. The collecting community had been following the development of a smaller replacement for the bulky Eisenhower dollar for several years. Early on, a Flowing Hair Liberty portrait for the obverse and a Flying Eagle design for the reverse were being developed for possible use on the new coin. The designs garnered mixed reviews, though many collectors loved the idea of returning Liberty to our circulating coinage. 

1904 Louisiana Purchase Expo medalInside Coin World: 1904 Louisiana Purchase Expo bronze medal: Columns exclusive to the June 24 issue focus on a $25 coin shop purchase and an affordable 20th century wartime overdate variety.

In Congress, however, a coalition of women legislators were advocating for the selection of a real woman rather than a fanciful depiction of Liberty. In their view, it was time for a prominent American woman to be afforded the same status as all of the men who’ve been depicted on circulating coinage. Ultimately, Anthony was selected to appear on the coin.

The decision was not well received in the collector community. Long before the term “politically correct” came into pejorative common use, many collectors decried the politics behind the decision.

Today, we are roiled by the possibility of a portrait of Harriet Tubman replacing that of Andrew Jackson on the $20 note. Collector opinion is mixed, with many favoring the change and many opposing it. And now, as before, some collectors object to what they view as politics guiding decisions about coins and paper money. 

The reality is this, though: Political leanings have played a major role in virtually all major coinage legislation since the original Mint Act of April 2, 1792, which rejected presidential portraits on the new coinage in favor of portraits of Liberty, after spirited debate in Congress. Nickel became a U.S. coinage metal because of lobbying efforts by the nickel industry. Silver dollars, unneeded in circulation, were ordered struck anyway, to prop up silver interests. Every commemorative coin program has at its heart a political component.

Like it or not, politics will always play a role in our coins and paper money. 

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