July 2, 1979: A Tale of Two Dollars

The dollar coin has a long and checkered history in the United States. The first ones were minted back in 1794, just 1,758 of them. Produced rather sporadically through the years, they came in various flavors: Flowing Hair, Draped Bust, Seated Liberty, Morgan, Peace and lastly Eisenhower. Because of the size and weight of the dollar coins, they circulated minimally throughout their history, except in the West (where they were commonly used in casinos and shootouts). As a result, the coins were generally shipped to Washington and stored in the vaults of the US Treasury; where they sometimes numbered into the hundreds of millions.

In an attempt to get dollar coins into wide circulation, the government introduced a slimmed down, feminine coin on July 2, 1979; 888 million were minted. Coin-carrying Americans took to them like a cat takes to water. Featuring a portrait of Susan B. Anthony on one side and an eagle on the other, they were an instant failure. Because of their similar size and color, it was found to be easy to mistake the coin for a quarter. The originally-planned hendecagon-shaped edge, which would have distinguished it from the quarter, was changed to a picture of a hendecagon on a round coin. While a Canadian dollar coin released into general circulation a few years later gained wide acceptance and was referred to lovingly as the “loonie,” the Anthony dollar was disparagingly referred to as the “Carter quarter,” “Suzie Bucks” or the “Anthony quarter.”

Even with the catchy slogan “Carry three for Susan B,” it went nowhere, and was not minted again until 1999 when the Treasury’s almost endless supply ran out a year ahead of the introduction of the Sacagawea dollar, another doomed dollar coin.

And Americans continue to clutch their wrinkled, grubby dollar bills that wear out every ten minutes.

And I don’t give a damn about a greenback dollar / Spend it fast as I can — Hoyt Axton, Ken Ramsey

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