Of all the coins struck over the long career of the United States Mint, no coin has as much support from the federal government only to see it immediately cast aside upon release as the Susan B. Anthony dollar.
Even the Morgan dollar, a large clunky silver coin that went largely unused in much of the country, stayed in service long enough to make America’s silver mining interests wealthy.
The Birth (And Death) Of The Modern Small Dollar
Once proclaimed the “dollar of the future” but quickly derided as the “Carter quarter” or the “Agony dollar”, the Susan B. Anthony coin came into being after President Jimmy Carter signed its authorizing act into law on October 10, 1978. The coin had unanimous support in the United States Senate, which voted on August 22, and passed the House of Representatives by a 368-38 vote on September 26.
Congress and the Treasury Department saw the small-dollar as a practical alternative to the large cartwheel Eisenhower dollar, which was produced to great fanfare and large numbers but relatively little circulation. The Anthony coin was created after a series of outside studies and Treasury reports.
In 1975, the U.S. Mint commissioned the Research Triangle Institute to look into the efficacy of the United States’ current coinage and its various metallic compositions. This review came one year after the Mint struck cents in an experimental aluminum alloy attempting to reduce the cost of producing one-cent coinage.
One of the RTI’s findings was that the large size and weight of the U.S. one-dollar coin denomination were detrimental to that coin’s circulation, so the RTI recommended the production of a dollar coin with a size in between that of the quarter and the half dollar. A year later, the Treasury commissioned its own study, which resulted in the publication of a report titled, “A New Small Dollar Coin: Technical Considerations.”
Support For The New Coin
Also in 1976, Federal Reserve Governor Philip E. Coldwell supported the coin, seeing cost savings for the Treasury in excess of $4.5 million over the Eisenhower dollar - more, if they were struck to replace the $1 Federal Reserve Notes. The Treasury saw the new mini-dollar as a boon to the vending industry as well, which could offer a new range of products with the new smaller coin.
The American Bankers’ Association, however, voiced opposition to the idea, citing the government’s “piecemeal approach to the nation’s circulating coin and currency system” and suggesting without a clear policy and public information campaign that the project was doomed to fail.
Interestingly enough, the Treasury Department, despite its internal optimism, foresaw many of the coin’s shortcomings as the project came closer to fruition. Former U.S. Mint Director Philip Diehl, who oversaw the release of the Susan B. Anthony dollar replacement, the Sacagawea dollar, in the 2000s, said in an interview that several design recommendations were ignored by the Mint when the coin went into production.
For starters, experts had recommended that the coin be a different color than the quarter, have a different edge, and that the Mint should undertake a massive advertising campaign to promote the coin. All three of these concerns were ignored in the final product.
In theory, the Susan B. Anthony was meant to be 11-sided. The vending industry lobbied against this on the grounds that their machines were designed to accept round coins and therefore the 11-sided coin would require an expensive refit of their machines.
The Mint ultimately backed down from this idea and instead kept the 11 sided polygon as a design embellishment on the rim of the coin. The Susan B. Anthony dollar also came with a reeded edge, which made the new dollar coin and the quarter confusingly similar in size, shape, and appearance.
Upon release, the National Automatic Merchandising Association took a wait-and-see approach to the new coin to determine whether the public would accept it before the trade organization and its members bore the expense to update their machines. After the enthusiasm around the coin’s launch gave way to apathy and indifference, the vending industry pulled its support.
Political Shifts Away From Feminism
The Susan B. Anthony dollar was the first circulating coin to honor a non-mythical woman. Although the Isabella quarter of 1893 was struck to honor Spain’s Queen Isabella and was sold as a souvenir at the Women’s Pavilion at the World’s Columbian Exposition, the coin was not intended to circulate as a regular U.S. coin.
Even on this coin, with no known likeness of Queen Isabella to draw from, Mint Chief Engraver Charles Barber had to imagine her likeness. Placing the 19th-century suffragette and civil rights leader on the obverse of the new dollar was not the Treasury’s original intent.
Instead, the Department proposed that the new coin would feature an allegorical Liberty, whose likeness had dominated United States coins until former presidents and founding fathers began to accumulate on our coinage.
In line with the Treasury’s plan to use Liberty on the coin’s obverse, Chief Engraver Frank Gasparro created a design that was loosely based on the Flowing Hair cent design of 1794. Photographs of models made using this design, dated 1977, have been widely distributed in the numismatic media. The coin’s authorizing legislation called for a different approach.
Ohio Representative Mary Rose Oakar (D), introduced a bill calling for a mini-dollar bearing the likeness of Susan B. Anthony. Oakar felt that allegorical representations of American womankind were not appropriate. Given the fact that American coins had featured the likenesses of presidents and founding fathers since 1909, Oakar’s position had historical justification.
Ultimately passed in a bipartisan fashion, Oakar’s bill garnered support from a panoply of women’s groups, including the League of Women Voters, Daughters of the American Revolution, the National Organization for Women (NOW), and the American Association for University Women. Eventually, Gasparro, too, lent his support.
After President Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, the Mint silently concluded its production of the Susan B. Anthony dollar coin. Here’s a rundown on values for the Susan B. Anthony dollars in grades of MS-63 and Proof-65.
- 1979-P, Narrow Rim - $4
- 1979-P, Wide Rim - $35
- 1979-D - $4
- 1979-S - $4
- 1979-S, Type I, Proof - $4
- 1979-S, Type II, Proof - $45
- 1980-P - $4
- 1980-D - $4
- 1980-S - $4
- 1980-S, Proof - $4
- 1981-P - $5
- 1981-D - $5
- 1981-S- $5
- 1981-S, Type I, Proof - $5
- 1981-S, Type II, Proof - $100
- 1999-P - $3
- 1999-D - $3
- 1999-P, Proof - $18
For the most part, circulated Susan B. Anthony dollars are worth only face value. However, there are several issues that are scarcer. Collectors have identified several minor varieties, such as doubled dies and other curiosities. There is also a fair share of interesting strike errors known among these coins.
All well-preserved business strikes are worth significant premiums above the grade of Choice Gem/Mint State-66. There are also a few varieties in the series well worth noting. These include:
- 1979-P Wide Rim: On this variety, the obverse rim nearly touches the bottom of the date.
- 1979-S Type II Proof: While most 1979-S proofs show a blobby-looking “S” mintmark, the scarcer Type II shows a more clearly defined “S” mintmark.
- 1981-S Type II Proof: Most 1981-S proof Susan B. Anthony dollars exhibit the “S” mintmark used in 1979. Yet a much clearer (Type II) “S” mintmark was used on some 1981-S proof dollars and these show more bulbous serifs.
Susan B. Anthony Dollar Series Overview
Susan B. Anthony dollars are the only small-size copper-nickel-clad dollar coins the United States has ever made. They were struck from 1979 through 1981 and one last time in 1999. The Susan B. Anthony dollar has the notorious distinction of being one of the nation’s shortest-lived and most unpopular coins.
Yet, in recent years, this modern dollar has enjoyed an increasing collector following and more appreciation from numismatic scholars. This gathering has helped spur more market activity for these coins. It has also subsequently pushed prices slightly upward on some issues in the series.
Susan B. Anthony dollars were signed into law by President Jimmy Carter on October 10, 1978. It served as a miniature replacement for the large-diameter Eisenhower dollar coins. “Ike” dollars had been in production since 1971. They measured 38.1 millimeters wide - the same width as a traditional silver dollar.
The intention behind creating the Susan B. Anthony dollar was to encourage the public to use dollar coins instead of dollar bills. This is because it was - and remains today - cheaper over the long haul to produce dollar coins than to print notes. Coins survive an average of 30 years in circulation, whereas dollar bills are typically worn out after just 24 months of service.
The coin’s namesake, Anthony, was a leading suffragette who lived from 1820-1906. Chief Engraver of the United States Mint Frank Gasparro designed and engraved the coin. He used the few surviving photographs of Anthony as a reference. Gasparro also received input and inspiration from her descendants.
The coin began production at the Philadelphia Mint on December 13, 1978. The Denver and San Francisco Mints struck their first Susan B. Anthony coins on January 9th and 29th, respectively, of the following year. More than 500 million were struck in time for the coin’s official release on July 2, 1979.
Public Rejects The New Coin
Problems were evident as soon as the first “Susie B's” hit channels of commerce. Many people confused the dollar coin for the quarter, which is of similar size, color, and shape. Within months, the public had become frustrated with using the new dollar coins.
In short order, the coin was derisively dubbed the “Carter quarter.” This was due to their close proximity in size and the fact that President Carter helped bring the coin to fruition with his signature. The coin was so unpopular that it became nearly absent from circulation by the spring of 1980.
That year, the U.S. Mint launched a new marketing campaign. It hoped to entice the public to use the Susan B. Anthony dollar, but the promotion ultimately failed. The mint struck Susan B. Anthony dollars in 1981 only for numismatic sales. It retired the coin by the end of the year. But the Susan B. Anthony dollar did enjoy a prolonged last hurrah.
In the mid-1980s, the Susan B. Anthony dollar gradually saw increasing use. It served as a means for the public to pay for transit tokens. The coins were also dispensed as the change from the U.S. Postal Service stamp vending machines. By the mid-1990s, it became evident there was a place for the dollar coin, even if not in mainstream circulation.
The United States government geared up to release the first Sacagawea “golden” dollar coins in 2000. Yet a growing shortage of dollar coins caused the U.S. Mint to strike one last batch of Susan B. Anthony dollars in 1999. It was curtains for the Susan B. Anthony dollar after that final one-year striking.
A Legacy Beyond Failure - The 1979-P
The Susan B. Anthony dollar marked the end of Frank Gasparro’s design imprint on circulating U.S. coinage. It was a sour note to go out on and it also marked an end to the era of powerful chief engravers at the Mint. Gasparro was replaced in 1981 by Elizabeth Jones, but her tenure saw a total diminution of the position - which went unfilled for 16 years after her departure in 1990.
Although most Susan B. Anthony dollars dated 1979 were struck that year, the coin actually went into production on December 13, 1978. The inclusion of the P mintmark marked the first time coins struck at Philadelphia bore a mintmark since the silver-clad Jefferson nickels were struck from 1942-45. From this point on, the P mintmark would be used on all coins struck at Philadelphia with the exception of the cent.
As a collectible, the coin enjoyed a degree of success when the Mint introduced Susan B. Anthony coin sets in 1985 and was one of the most popular items in the catalog. The 1979-P dollar was sold in Mint Sets and proof sets and was widely distributed into circulation as bullion. The bulk of the year’s 360,222,000 mintage, however, was held in storage for a decade until most of the stock was released into circulation at the end of the 1990s.
In circulated grades and in raw uncirculated cognition, the Susan B. Anthony dollar value has a minimal numismatic value over face. Given the effects of inflation over time, the typical Susan B. Anthony dollar is worth less today than when it was struck for circulation.
Regardless, there a number of criteria that make the 1979-P dollar potentially valuable in coin price. They are: Varieties and Errors, Premium Eye Appeal Authentic Toning, and Conditionally Rare High Grades (certified by NGC or PCGS.)
The two major varieties of the 1979-P dollar are the Wide Rim and Narrow Rim varieties. Differentiating between the two can be difficult to the untrained eye, but the easiest method to identify the more valuable Wide Rim variety is to look at the roundness of the rim and close proximity of the numerals 1 and 9 to the rim.
On the Narrow Rim variety, the rim has been cut back, is sharper, and the 1 and 9 are farther away. In MS65 and MS66, the Wide Rim has a value of about $45-$50. At the conditionally rare grade of MS67, this value jumps to over $1,600.
The Narrow Rim is worth a fraction of these values, with a certified example in MS65-MS66 being worth less than the cost of submission (i.e., Terminal Grade) and the conditionally scarce MS67 being worth about $225.
Premium Eye Appeal Authentic Toning is scarce on clad coins, but it does happen on Susan B. Anthony dollars. The 1979-P seems to be especially prone to toning in pleasing rainbow colors, and high-grade examples with PQ color that have been certified by PCGS or NGC bring significant premiums.
Beware, however, that unscrupulous sellers are known to use chemical agents to rapidly tone inexpensive coins in order to sell them on eBay. Any toned with color that is not certified by PCGS or NGC or sold through a reputable dealer should be treated as inauthentic.
How To Collect Susan B. Anthony Dollars
As Susan B. Anthony dollars age, more and more collectors are taking the time to study these coins with care. This is particularly true of the original 1979-1981 run. Historically, the Susan B. Anthony coin was collected merely as an appendix to the Eisenhower dollars that preceded them.
More recently, the Susie B. dollars are becoming more respected for their own merits. Now they are being collected on the basis of the standalone series that they represent. Perhaps in time, as more collectors focus on building complete sets, awareness of these varieties and errors will increase. So too, could their values.
Be choosy when buying these dollar coins. Look for pieces that exhibit clean (not cleaned!) surfaces with few nicks, bruises, and bumps. These are in the minority and are much more visually attractive. These nicer pieces also stand a better chance of retaining and potentially gaining value down the pike.
Collectors who want to build sets of Susan B. Anthony dollars have many options available to them. There are several coin albums, coin folders, and coin display cases devoted to organizing the collections of Susan B. Anthony dollars in attractive arrangements.
The Final Thought
It’s fair to say Susan B. Anthony dollars don’t circulate much these days. They are, however, still readily obtainable from coin dealers who specialize in modern United States coinage. Indeed, there are many wonderful challenges and avenues of discovery just waiting for anybody who wishes to endeavor upon building a collection of these modern dollar coins.