Chapter 21: Susan B. Anthony Dollars, Historical Background Table of Contents


Historical Background


by R.W.Julian


Perhaps the most ridiculed coin ever issued by the United States was more formally known as the Susan B. Anthony dollar. It was well designed and struck, but the fatal flaws had nothing to do with these factors; rather it involved the political and economic decisions of the Jimmy Carter administration, It all began in the mid-1970s when the Research Triangle Institute was commissioned by the Treasury to study the coinage of this country and make recommendations for the future ....

The 1976 report by the institute covered a number of areas, including the abolition of the cent,(A perennially popular subject for research "experts," economists, etc., many of whom cannot understand that the all-time record high coionages for cents m recent years have not been due to the availability of goods or services for one cent but, rather, to the need for the coins in areas with sales taxes.) but discussed the dollar in some detail. It was clear to everyone that the Eisenhower dollar was not circulating except in isolated cases, and for a dollar coin to be used by the public some drastic changes would be necessary. First and foremost was the necessity of reducing the size.

Use of a dollar coin, which is a good idea from virtually every standpoint, would save the taxpayers a considerable sum of money because of the great costs involved in printing dollar bills. These paper currency bills last only about 18 months while coins are used 20 or more years; the savings are clear. As early as March 1977, Treasury Secretary Michael Blumenthal went on record as favoring a smaller dollar. He also suggested a Liberty head for the coinage, but this was ridiculed by Senator William Proxmire of Wisconsin, who called the design a "cop-out."

All of the above were in the minds of key officials of the Bureau of the Mint in the summer and fall of 1977 when the question of a dollar coin became a priority. It was decided at an early date that the new coin would be slightly larger than a quarter dollar but considerably heavier than the 25-cent piece so that the two coins could be easily distinguished. At one point an eleven-sided coin (as opposed to round as on all other regular U.S. coins) was considered but rejected because of the mechanical problems involved. It would have been more expensive and time-consuming for this type of coinage. One with ten sides was also seriously discussed. This rejection of a good idea was to prove the death knell for the coin.

A key element missing from the work that went into this ill-fated project was the numismatic background of new coinage. Had the promoters of the Anthony dollar takenthe trouble to consider what happened to the 20-cent piece, which was too dose in size and artwork to the quarter, they would have taken a much different approach to the new dollar. Those who fail to learn the lessons of history are condemned to repeat its mistakes. The Anthony dollar is a classic case of this aphorism. A quick conference with a few numismatists would have saved the government the huge sums it spent elsewhere on "scientific research."

Development of the Anthony Dollar

Once the general parameters of the coinage had been worked out in the Bureau, the political decision-makers took over and made matters much worse. Many in the Carter administration were committed to "social" causes, and the women's liberation movement was one of the most important. Because of this, it was decided to honor the well-known feminist leader from the nineteenth century, Susan B. Anthony.

Q. David Bowers

Chapter 21: Susan B. Anthony Dollars, Historical Background Table of Contents