The Susan B. Anthony Dollar was struck from 1979 until 1981, and then again in 1999. Designed by the U.S. Mint’s Chief Engraver Frank Gasparro, the coin depicts the women’s suffrage movement leader Susan B. Anthony. It was the first circulating United States coin to feature the portrait of an actual woman, rather than an allegorical figure (such as Miss Liberty).
To create the obverse design, Gasparro consulted two photographs of Susan B. Anthony—one at age 28, and the other at age 84. His first design focused on the younger Anthony, but feminist groups complained that the design made her look too “pretty.” After Gasparro switched the design to feature the 84 year-old Anthony, the grandniece of the woman’s rights leader, asserted that the image made her look too old and feeble. The final design for the obverse Gasparro features a middle-aged Anthony, where she appears focused and resolute.
The reverse features the same design that was used for the previous Eisenhower Dollar series, just in a smaller format. The design commemorates the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969. As the spacecraft was nicknamed the “Eagle,” Gasparro adapted the mission’s insignia for the coin—an eagle flying above the moon, with the Earth in the background. The eagle holds an olive branch in its claws, symbolizing the nation’s commitment to peace. Thirteen stars encircle the eagle and the earth.
The Susan B. Anthony dollar was originally given an 11-sided shape (a hendecagon) to make the coin visually unique. Vending machine manufacturers protested this idea, citing that available technology would require extensive and expensive modifications to accommodate this irregular-shaped coin. In light of such opposition, the coin was changed to a rounded shape, with an interior hendecagonal border, to give the appearance of 11 sides.
While the shape ultimately remained the same, the Susan B. Anthony dollar did receive a different size. At 26.5 millimeters in diameter, the new coins were intended to be more convenient and efficient to use than the clunkier 38.1 millimeter Eisenhower dollars that they were replacing.
The Susan B. Anthony coin was released into circulation on July 2, 1979. The Mint struck 761,490,919 coins in 1979 alone, signifying their predictions that the new dollar would be both popular and widely used. However, it soon became evident that the Susan B. Anthony dollar would fall quite short of such lofty expectations.
One of the biggest complaints was that the Susan B. Anthony dollar was too easily confused with the similarly sized, colored, and reeded-edged Washington Quarter. The dollar was even disparagingly referred to as the “Carter Quarter” or the “Anthony Quarter.” Responding to such negative public reaction to the coin, the U.S. Mint drastically reduced production in 1980, and in 1981, ceased all mintage of Susan B. Anthony coins for circulation. The only coins produced after this point were intended for numismatic collector sets marketed by the U.S. Mint.
The demand for the Susan B. Anthony dollars continued to wane, and by the late 1980s, millions of the coins were put away into federal vaults. It was not until the 1990s, with the growing popularity of dollar coins in the vending machine industry and transit authorities, that the Susan B. Anthony coins began to be functional again. In fact, the demand for the Susan B. Anthony became so great that the reserves of the vaulted coins soon disappeared. Eventually, Congress passed the U.S. $1 Coin Act of 1997, which replaced the Susan B. Anthony dollar coins with the Sacagawea golden dollar coin. Because the Sacagawea was not legally allowed to begin production until 2000, the Mint continued to produce Susan B. Anthony dollars until the new golden coins were ready for circulation. In 1999, the U.S. Mint reintroduced the coin into circulation, striking 41,368,000 Susan B. Anthony dollar coins that year.
Despite the limited extent of the Susan B. Anthony dollar coin series, the coin has become one of the most popular amongst collectors. Because the coin’s run was so short, it is relatively easy to complete a full set. More importantly, the coin represents a unique chapter in United States numismatics, and with the colorful story behind it, provides numismatists with a real piece of American numismatic history.