Ed. R. writes: I remember reading ‘Coinage’ magazine at the time the Susan B. Anthony coin had just been released. In this one issue were photos of proposed coins for the new dollar. As I remember it, the proposed coin had multiple sides. The obverse image was a rendering of “Liberty” and not S.B.A. My question is why did they use Susan B. Anthony and on a round coin instead of one with multiple sides? I thought the different edges were so that people could easily discern the difference between the SBA and quarters. Also, if the coin wasn’t popular, why did they strike more coins in 1999?
The reason for the round instead of multi-sided coin was because of problems that the vending machine industry had in developing a mechanism to accept such a coin. The Feminist movement was responsible for having Susan B. Anthony’s portrait instead of the allegorical head of Liberty. The SBA dollar was also minted in the prescribed clad sandwich as the dime, quarter and half dollar. Though the edge is round, the SBA dollar has a multisided rim. This was a consideration for the blind.
Though there certainly were “too many cooks”, the chief reason for the coin’s failure as a circulating medium probably lies in the fact that Americans do not want to give up the paper dollar. I don’t think the size, shape, color or who is portrayed on the coin has any bearing at all.
Actually, the SBA dollar was quite successful, not as main-stream money, but as a token. Many municipalities in the United States adopted the SBA as a transportation token. ‘A great idea, considering the cost saving of not having to make ones own token. The coin was also heavily used in Postal vending machines (all the change was in SBA dollars) and in private vending machines.
The coin was so successful as a token, that by 1999 the U.S. Treasury was almost out of their vast supply of 1979 and 1980 SBA’s. Since the new dollar couldn’t be minted until 2000, another run of SBA’s was minted to enhance the supply.
Note that SBA’s have not been withdrawn nor are they obsolete. They are exactly the same weight and size as the Sacagawea Dollar and later dollars and they are interchangeable in vending machines and turnstiles. In fact, the challenge was to make a different looking coin with exactly the same weight (8.1 grams) and electrical characteristics as the SBA dollar. The resulting coin is not a clad piece at all but an alloy of Manganese-Brass (88.5% Cu, 6% Zn, 3.5% Mn, 2% Ni).