US Coins

Monday Morning Brief for June 18, 2018

The United States Mint had high expectations when it launched the Anthony dollar on July 2, 1979. As we now know, the coin failed to circulate widely.

Image courtesy of David Sundman and Matt Heller.

On July 2, 1979, a new kind of dollar coin was issued by the United States Mint. At 25.5 millimeters in diameter, it was a lot smaller than the coin it was replacing — the traditionally sized, 38.1-millimeter Eisenhower dollar — though the two coins shared the same reverse design. This “mini dollar,” as it was being promoted, was being struck in huge numbers with the anticipation (at least by Mint officials) that it would be widely accepted in commerce and would reduce the number of $1 Federal Reserve notes needed in circulation.

We are discussing the Anthony dollar, of course, honoring women’s rights advocate Susan. B. Anthony — the first circulating U.S. coin to depict a real woman (all previous depictions of a woman on a circulating U.S. coin were of allegorical Liberty figures). 

The Mint had been discussing a replacement for the Eisenhower dollar for years. That coin had never widely circulated since it was introduced in 1971. It was too bulky to carry in any quantity in one’s pockets, and most people preferred the more convenient (and familiar) dollar bills over what was to them a new coin.

In seeking a smaller and lighter alternative, Mint officials considered making the coin multi-sided rather than round, to be distinctly different from the quarter dollar, which was of a similar diameter to what was being discussed.

Early on, Mint officials mostly focused on the technical aspects of the coin, but the Mint’s chief engraver, Frank Gasparro, was focused on the coin’s design. He proposed an obverse sporting a Flowing Hair Liberty portrait, an homage to the designs on the first U.S. coins. His design is seen on the cover this week, helping to illustrate the feature on the U.S. Mint’s heritage assets.

 


U.S. Mint heritage assetsInside Coin World: Mint’s heritage assets are slowly coming to light Some of the U.S. Mint’s greatest treasures, its “heritage assets,” are slowly coming out of the vaults and into the open for collectors to marvel over.


As you probably know, the Flowing Hair design and Gasparro’s Flying Eagle reverse were replaced with the Anthony portrait and existing Apollo 11 design, after a congressional movement won support to depict an actual woman on the coin rather than an allegorical figure.

Just as collector reactions to Gasparro’s original designs were mixed (some loved them, others hated them), so was his portrait of Anthony. Many derided it as “ugly,” a view that is common in the hobby today.

As we all know, the Anthony dollar failed to circulate widely. The monster mintages of 1979 gave way to much smaller numbers in 1980, and in 1981 the coins were struck for collector sales only.

The Anthony dollar showed that the American public has little love for dollar coins, no matter their design. Those sentiments have been borne out with the failures of the Presidential, Sacagawea, and Native American dollars that followed. And yet, members of Congress continue to promote new dollar coin programs.

Most collectors, I suspect, hope Congress does not continue to make the same mistakes it made all those years ago that led to the July 2 release of the Anthony dollar.

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