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The First Mini-Dollar
By Tom LaMarre, Coins Magazine
July 14, 2010

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News.
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Thirty years ago, newspapers called it a flop—a costly fiasco, an egg laid by the Treasury Department. The Susan B. Anthony dollar was minted only from 1979-1981, and then one more time in 1999. But you can hardly call it a failure. Today, a new generation of mini-dollars, descended from the Anthony dollar, is popular with collectors.

A 1976 study claimed the government could save millions of dollars each year by striking a small dollar coin instead of printing dollar bills. Another benefit would be an indefinite postponement of a planned $110 million Bureau of Engraving and Printing expansion, the study concluded.

President Jimmy Carter signed legislation authorizing the Anthony dollar Oct. 10, 1978.

The coin would be 11-sided for easy identification by the blind. It would have an Apollo reverse design borrowed from the Eisenhower dollar. The new coin would weigh only one-third as much as the Eisenhower dollar, and would be smaller than the Kennedy half dollar and larger than the Washington quarter.

The choice of women’s rights leader Susan B. Anthony’s portrait for the obverse sparked a lot of controversy. Not everyone agreed with her cause. Many people criticized her physical appearance.

Engraver Frank Gasparro had hoped to use a Liberty head on the dollar coin. His proposed Liberty Cap design was adapted from early cents. Gasparro prepared a model, but officials scrapped the design in favor of Anthony’s portrait.

Interest in the coin was widespread. Drawings of the Anthony dollar appeared in the June 30, 1979, issue of The Virgin Islands Daily News.

The first Anthony dollars were released July 2, 1979. Long lines and strong demand were reported at many banks. The People’s Bank of Lakeland had a $2,000 supply the first day. They were gone by 1 p.m., despite a limit of $10 worth per person.

Anthony dollars were struck at Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco. It was the first time Philadelphia dollars had a “P” mintmark. More than 360 million 1979-P dollars were struck.

However, interest in the Anthony dollar quickly faded. The biggest complaint was that it was too easily mistaken for a quarter.

In February 1980, production was suspended because of large inventories. Additional Anthony dollars were struck in 1981, and then the presses were silenced again.

The Anthony dollar made an unexpected comeback in 1999, mainly for use in Postal Service vending machines. Its successor, the Sacagawea dollar, was not yet ready.

Today, the most expensive Anthony dollar is the 1979-S Variety 2 proof, valued at $110 in Proof-65. It has a clear mintmark.

The 1979-P “near date” variety is valued at $70 in Mint State-63, according to Coin Prices.

The 1999-P proof, which was sold individually and not as part of a proof set, is valued at $25 in Proof-65. Other Anthony dollars are listed at around $3 to $8 each.

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