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Anthony $1 feels weight of the past

Instead of ending up as the solution to just about every ill a government could have, the Anthony dollar introduced in 1979 ended up being compared to the 20-cent piece. When it comes to U.S. coins, that is not a good thing. With a very short period of production, it makes the Anthony dollar a short but interesting set, but a coin with a large number of lessons to be learned from its short but stormy time in use.

Looking back on it today, it seems difficult to believe that much of the Congress and many officials back in the late 1970s seemed to feel that the Anthony dollar would save a great deal of money and be a popular coin, making it as they called it at the time the “Dollar of the Future.”

So convinced were they that the Anthony dollar was the coming thing that there were signs up in post offices and assorted promotions all suggesting that the Anthony dollar would somehow do much better than the Eisenhower dollar it was replacing.

All of the enthusiasm surrounding the idea of the Anthony dollar can be traced to a study done by a group known as the Research Triangle Institute. This group prepared a report in the mid-1970s with a number of ideas concerning the coins of the United States. As sometimes happens, however, the report was adopted where the members of Congress agreed but basically ignored where they had problems. That may be OK some of the time, but the Research Triangle Institute report was really a delicate set of ideas, and in this case, if certain things were not done others were also unlikely to work, but that fact was ignored leading to the Anthony dollar and its assorted problems.

One of the things the Research Triangle Institute had suggested was the elimination of the cent. In fact, that is not a new idea as assorted people have been suggesting that for years. The cent, after all, costs more than face value to produce. Moreover, as those wanting to eliminate the denomination would suggest, the public does not really care about using the coin. There are literally billions of cents currently sitting in drawers and containers waiting to be carted to a bank or Coinstar counter.

While logic might suggest that in fact the cent could be eliminated, popular passion and the politics they inspire have never allowed that to happen. Both of these are egged on by the metal mining industry lobbyists just as silver dollar lobbyists pushed through and then defended the Morgan dollar.

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Lawmakers need the support of the voters to return to office. Their great fear is if the cent were eliminated and people started rounding off purchases, every time customers had the rounding go against them they would blame their representative if they had voted to eliminate the cent. Consequently, when it comes time to decide the issue, the lawmaker might well end up in trouble by actually voting against the cent.

There is another factor as well, which is simply that after a century the Lincoln cent is associated with Lincoln. Voting to eliminate the cent in some minds would be pulling Lincoln out of circulation. We all know that it is not personal, but that does not matter as few elected officials want to be remembered as the one who eliminated Lincoln.

When you couple that with the rounding off problem, the idea of eliminating the cent just never got off the ground even though it was in the same Research Triangle Institute report as the Anthony dollar.

Another part of the report, which did not get support, was eliminating the half dollar. At least in the case of the half dollar it would not create a problem in making change as there are a number of ways to make a half dollar in change. Of course, eliminating the half dollar would mean eliminating Kennedy and much like eliminating Lincoln, that idea has relatively few friends.

The suggestion for elimination of the half dollar, however, was important as the idea for the new dollar was that it be between the quarter and half dollar in size. If there is no half dollar, there is no confusion, as the smaller dollar would be the largest coin in circulation. If, however, you do not eliminate the half dollar the new dollar is suddenly in the middle in size between the quarter and half dollar, that makes it tough to identify in a pocket.

There was probably some understanding in all the hoopla that the new dollar at 26.5 millimeters in diameter would be close to the 24.3mm quarter, but with the half dollar at 30.6mm there was not much room. Of course, sometimes you like an idea so much you do not really test it objectively and the fact that there was virtually no room to sandwich another denomination between the quarter and half dollar was simply overlooked.

The Research Triangle report had also overlooked something. While the idea of a $1 coin might have been more possible if there had been no quarter, it was still a notion which had a problem that it had not addressed and that was the existence of the $1 Federal Reserve Note.

Ironically, even today as lawmakers tried to come up with a $1 coin that will work, they still consistently ignore the $1 Federal Reserve Note. Instead, everyone manages to focus on the design or some other way they think a $1 coin somehow will gain popularity. Overlooked is the fact that for the public it is convenience that matters and it is not just Americans who think that way.

All over the world governments have attempted to have both a bank note and coin of the same denomination in circulation at the same time and in case after case the public has opted for the bank note. The most regular examples of successful introductions of new coins have been when the bank notes were eliminated, such as in Canada in 1987, but when that has not happened the public almost always opts for the bank note as they are easier to carry around and use.

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In fact it may well have been a case of simply trying to ignore a problem and that may still be the situation. No one seriously wanted to make an effort in the 1970s to eliminate the $1 Federal Reserve Note. Confronting that issue directly with the Research Triangle Institute report as well as with officials today seems to be something to be avoided. Eliminating the $1 Federal Reserve Note would create an uproar.

Another matter that the Research Triangle Institute managed to overlook was history, specifically the history of $ coins and their problems. While a modern circulating dollar coin may not experience the same problems as every dollar coin of the past, there is still a mountain of evidence suggesting that dollar coins have had their problems.

In fact, stretching all the way back to the first $1 coin in 1794 there have been problems with the denomination. The problem at first was a simple one in that in creating the dollar the lawmakers had been perhaps too careful. There was good reason as the track record of paper issues during the Revolutionary War had not been very good with many losing money. Faced with the prospect of making coins the government understood that anything less than full value would not be good, especially when there were coins of other nations in circulation.

If the United States did not appear to be providing full value coins, the support for the new government by the public might quickly fade. As a result, the new dollars were quickly exported by some for a profit at a time when the Mint was desperately trying to create enough coins to solve a national coin shortage. It could not waste time and resources on dollars that ended up containing just a bit too much silver.

Finally, in 1804 to contain the exportation problem, the Bust dollar had its production suspended along with the gold eagle. There was apparently no great outcry of protest from the public and for decades there were no silver dollars.

The next attempt at a circulating dollar did not fare much better. When the silver dollar returned in 1840 the basic use of the coins was as reserves or for novelty presents. Later the Seated Liberty dollar would be exported to places like China where large silver coins were needed. While the silver dollar would not have a 1 million mintage suggesting some commercial use until the 1870s, a small gold dollar introduced in 1849 actually fared much better at least based on the mintages. Today it might seem odd that people would opt for a small gold dollar as opposed to a large silver one, but once again it is the matter of convenience as it was much easier to carry around a couple small gold dollars.

Things did not get much better with the introduction of the Trade dollar in 1873. By that time there had been a couple 1 million silver dollar dates and gold was not circulating in most parts of the country, but the idea of the Trade dollar was not to circulate but rather to be exported to China. The Trade dollar was authorized to compete with the Mexican peso, which was the preferred silver coin in China because it was heavier than a standard silver dollar. The Trade dollar was designed to equal the peso in weight.

It proved to be only partially successful, but the real problem came in 1876 when the Congress revoked the legal tender status of the Trade dollar, allowing it to circulate only as 420 grains of silver, which quickly dropped in price to below a dollar, causing many to lose money having accepted the Trade dollar as a dollar. Suffice to say losing money by accepting dollar coins only to have your bank offer 75 cents for the dollar was not a way to convince anyone to use dollar coins.

The Trade dollar fiasco was followed by the Morgan dollar in 1878, which many would suggest is evidence that dollar coins would work. However, the Treasury opposed it, but the silver interests won. The Morgan dollar really was accepted and used in the West and to a degree in the South, but mostly the coins stayed in vaults as backing for Silver Certificates.

The Morgan was not for most of its history in heavy use elsewhere and that is seen in the totals. By the time the Bland-Allison Act and Sherman Silver Purchase Acts had expired in 1904 there had been a production of well over 500 million Morgan dollars. Of that total perhaps 10 percent was in circulation with the rest sitting in vaults waiting for demand.
The only reason there was additional production in 1921 along with some years of Peace dollar production was to restore backing for Silver Certificates as the silver dollars were definitely not needed in circulation, but some 270 million had to be replaced as they had been melted under the provisions of the 1918 Pittman Act with most of the silver shipped to India.

There was no change in public habits in all this time as with each passing year people became more comfortable with bank notes. The silver dollar still had use in the West. The state of Nevada thanks to the casino industry used more than its share, but in many other parts of the country there was very little use of silver dollars and the stockpile was not seriously threatened until the late 1950s when a run that lasted until 1964 began on the dollar supplies from silver speculators and coin dealers who had discovered that there were sometimes premium priced dates being sold by the bag for their face value.

The next time the United States would try a $1 coin came in the form of the Eisenhower dollar in 1971. The Eisenhower dollar contained no silver except for special versions sold to collectors. This new dollar was introduced 36 years after the last Peace dollar had been produced in 1935. It was hard to make any case that the American public was suddenly demanding a $1 coin. The case was simply made that because prices had risen so much between 1935 and 1971 that such a coin was once again logical.

In fact, as the silver coins had disappeared in the mid-1960s there had been no dollar coins for years and there is no evidence that anyone had missed them.

In the event, the Eisenhower dollar not unlike the Morgan and Peace dollars of the past had some limited commercial use as is seen in the mintages. The problem was that such use was not as great as the Research Triangle Institute suggested was possible with a new dollar and it certainly in no way threatened the primacy of the $1 bill.

It is hard to know if it had any influence on the Congress studying the recommendations of the Research Triangle Institute, but there had been an unusual blip in the Eisenhower dollar situation as the special Bicentennial reverses produced 1975-1976 had created added demand. That short period where people saved Eisenhower dollars because of the reverse would have looked like growing demand for a $1 coin, but realistically it was generally just a form of souvenir hunting, which so often happens with new designs. When a longer term view is taken, the Eisenhower dollar can be seen correctly as a dollar that had some but not heavy use.

It appears that all of that history of one dollar coins and their use was basically lost to those making the decisions in the 1970s.

The biggest arguments were once again political and these were based on – you guessed it, proposed designs. The idea of the new dollar coin was approved easily. The first proposal was a flowing hair Liberty which Chief Engraver Frank Gasparro had prepared, but that was quickly thrown out by Congress and replaced by a Susan B. Anthony obverse. Also, the idea of getting rid of the moon landing design of the Eisenhower dollar reverse was made to look unpatriotic just a decade after America’s great engineering triumph, so a basic continuation of the Eisenhower dollar reverse was mandated.
Collectors were less than thrilled. They supported Miss Liberty, but naturally the most loyal constituent group of potential dollar users was ignored.

Even so, expectations were high when the Anthony dollar was to debut. The government even banned premature releases and actively hunted down people who released the coins before the official release date.

The Anthony dollar was given some help, including the use of a “P” mintmark for coins produced at Philadelphia the first time a “P” had been used on U.S. coins since the nickel back in 1945.

The expectations are seen in the initial mintages, which saw Philadelphia producing over 360 million pieces in 1979, Denver added 288 million and San Francisco, kicked in another 109 million business strikes, delighting fans of the “S” mintmark. Even if the reception was wildly enthusiastic, it was unlikely that such numbers could have been needed immediately.

The backlog was seen immediately with fewer than 100 million Anthony dollars being produced in 1980 at the three facilities combined, but even that was 100 million more than were needed.

The third year of Anthony dollar production was limited to coins needed for special collector sets. None was made for circulation. Naturally, that made the 1981 uncirculated coin sets especially popular and almost 3 million were sold to collectors.

Ironically, the third year of Eisenhower dollar production had seen precisely the same pattern, with coins only being produced for special sets and for those who doubt that history repeats the same thing would also take place with Sacagawea dollars, making three straight dollars with such heavy mintages the first two years that none was required for circulation in the third year.

The first 1979 Anthony dollars had proven to be interesting in that they came with a narrow rim called a far date variety, or a wider rim called a near date variety. The near date variety is much tougher with a current price of $70 in MS-63. It was $4 in the 1998 listing while the far date variety is just $2.50 in the same grade.

The other Anthony dollars of the first years are readily available although the 1981 coins, which were available only in mint sets, are now priced at $7.50 each in MS-63 for the Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco coins.

The San Francisco proofs have provided much of the excitement as in the case of the 1979 and 1981 issues they come with either clear or filled mintmarks. The filled mintmark is called Type I while the clear mint marks are called Type 2 and in both cases the clear mintmarks are tougher with the 1979-S listing for $8 in Prf-65 for a Type I but $110 if it is a Type 2. In the case of the 1981-S the Type I is $8 while the Type 2 is up to $230 from $88 back in 1998.

Realistically, long before 1981 officials realized that the once promoted “Dollar of the Future” basically had no future. In fact, there was a significant stockpile as the use of the Anthony dollar was severely limited because people were confusing the coin with quarters.

The stockpile, not unlike the Morgan and Peace dollar stockpile, would slowly disappear to the point that in 1999 there had to be an emergency mintage simply to meet the commercial needs as the Sacagawea dollar was not to be released before 2000.

The 1999 mintages were not large, but were probably heavily saved by some collectors dealers. After all, it had been 18 years since the 1981 coins had been struck. This, too, was an echo of the past as every Morgan dollar collector knows of the 17-year gap between the 1904 issue and the final one in 1921.

No matter what the government attempts to do with the dollar coin, the lessons of the past assert themselves over and over again.

But at least collectors can put together an Anthony set and perhaps continue to enjoy the price gains witnesses in recent years by the key varieties.

At least for now, the future of the 1999 coins is hard to discern, though the proof 1999-P is priced at $25 in Proof-65. Their future remains uncertain as it is really too early to have a serious test of the available supplies.
In terms of its intended purpose, the Anthony dollar was certainly not a success. It had roughly the use that would be expected under the circumstances and that use could have perhaps been increased somewhat if there had been less confusion in size between it and the quarter. That said, the Anthony dollar despite the claims of the Research Triangle Institute and the hopes of officials had limited prospects for success. It is, however, still a part of American numismatic history and while it is a short set, it is a set packed with an interesting story and it makes for an interesting collection all can afford and enjoy.

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