Most numismatists enjoy their coins, and even have special favorites. But there are a few United States coins that were quite unpopular during their time. These coins were so disliked, mintage was often stopped after a short while.
What made these coins so disliked? Their similarity to other issues is a big factor. An unattractive design doesn’t help. Perhaps the denomination was not needed and not wanted.
The 1793 Chain cent bore an unattractive Liberty head on its obverse, with scraggly long hair, and a homely face. One writer described Miss Liberty as being “in a fright.” To make matters worse, a chain appeared on the reverse. Although this was intended to represent strength in unity, some felt it represented slavery.
The Trade dollar has long been considered to be America’s most unwanted coin. This coin was the result of a failed experiment: a dollar coin that would circulate in the Far East with other dollar-sized coins. Mintage began in 1873, with Trade dollars minted in Philadelphia, Carson City, and San Francisco. The coins were legal tender in the United States for up to $5. But this short-lived experiment did not work out.
In 1876, this coin was demonetized; from 1879 until the end of the series, the Trade dollar was struck in proof only. In 1887, the Treasury redeemed all Trade dollars that had not been chopmarked. Many Trade dollars suffered this fate; dollars were stamped with Oriental markings. I have seen some so chopmarked that the design was almost obliterated.
This coin has the dubious honor of being the only United States coin that was demonetized. Trade dollars were available for less than face value in the early 20th century.
In its late years, 1879-1883, the Trade dollar was minted in Proof only. Ten were minted in 1884, and five in 1885. These coins are not mentioned in Mint records, and many collectors believe these coins were not a part of the Mint issue.
A real contender for the title of America’s most unwanted coin is the Susan B. Anthony dollar. After the Eisenhower dollar failed to circulate, a smaller sized dollar coin was considered. The small dollar coin was approximately the size of a quarter, and once again, as with the 20-cent piece, a new coin was confused with a quarter. The size and color were similar.
Many people, collectors and non-collectors, thought the design was unattractive. The reverse design was the same as on the Eisenhower dollar. Despite a lot of public relations, this coin did not circulate; Americans preferred paper dollars, as they still do. I recall ads by the Chicago Transit Authority encouraging riders to use the Anthony dollar coin.
The Anthony dollar was struck for circulation in only 1979 and 1980, with 1981 coins struck for Mint and Proof sets. Some years later, in 1999, the Anthony dollar was struck again, to use as change in vending machines.
Collectors now enjoy these “hated” coins, and look for these coins, to include in type sets; sometimes, collectors may want the entire set. If these coins are not exactly No. 1 on the numismatic hit parade, so much the better: less competition and fewer collectors searching for these coins.
I once saw a complete set of 20-cent pieces, including the proof-only issues, at a convention. The common 1875-S had been cleaned, but the others were attractive. The set was housed in a black holder. This was the only complete set I have ever seen. Someone who liked to go against the crowd came up with a nice, scarce set of unusual United States coins.
The 1793 Chain cent is always in demand from type collectors, specialists in large cents, and students of early federal coinage. Even though this coin is not the prettiest, this quaint copper cent is on most everyone’s want list. Owning one is quite an accomplishment. Large cent lovers can even collect Chain cents by variety: the “Ameri” and “America” are two very distinct varieties.
Trade dollars are wanted by type collectors, silver dollar collectors, and fans of Seated Liberty coinage. Yes, it is a Liberty Seated motif. The coin has its own unique history, and entire books have been written on this coin. Many of the coins bear chopmarks. Some were engraved into “potty dollars,” showing Liberty seated on a chamberpot. Some were converted into “box dollars,” to hold any kind of treasure (or contraband). And this coin can be collected just for its beauty, and for the thrill of the chase.
I once saw a collector purchase an entire set of proof Trade dollars, 1873-1883, at a convention. The set was housed in a black plastic holder. Each coin showed beautiful proof surfaces, many with a frosted cameo effect, and each would have been a desirable piece on its own.
Even the Susan B. Anthony dollar has its fans. This coin is collected by those who like modern coinage, proofs, and small-sized dollar coins. There are varieties to keep the collector searching. This coin, for all its detractors, can be quite pretty in proof.
These United States coins were strongly disliked, even hated, during their times, but many collectors like these coins now, searching for them, building sets, and appreciating their history and their place in American numismatics.