Why is the Susan B. Anthony Coin So Poorly Designed?

The Susan B. Anthony dollar coin is without a doubt one of the most interesting pieces of US coinage. This coin is widely regarded as being one of the least attractive coins ever made by the U.S. Mint, but along the way there were many times the design could have been fixed but was not.

Size

Before the Susan B Anthony dollar, the US Mint was making large dollar coins that were 38.1mm in diameter. The Mint decided to cut costs and make the coin more usable by bringing the size down to 26.5mm in diameter.

Unfortunately, the 26.5mm diameter along with the gold coloring made the coin too easily mistaken for a 24.3mm quarter. This was one of the reasons the SBA dollar was not widely used.

Shape

Originally, to prevent the Susan B Anthony dollar coin from being mistaken for a quarter dollar, the Deputy Director of the U.S. Mint, Dr. Alan Goldman, planned to make the coin an 11-sided polygon.

The vending machine companies lobbied against the proposal of an 11-sided coin, however, arguing that their machines were only meant for round coins. So the mint kept the 11 sides visible on the coin, but made the coin round.

I’m not sure why the mint bothered to keep the decorative edges? I assume this was all very last minute, as the edges only clutter the coin.

Eagle Reverse

Most coins follow a theme. The person on the obverse usually has a relation to the image on the reverse of the coin. For example, Thomas Jefferson’s nickel has Monticello, his plantation. The Lincoln Penny until recently had the Lincoln memorial.

Susan B. Anthony was a woman’s rights leader who was instrumental in getting women the right to vote. Susan B Anthony died in 1906, 63 years before the moon landing.

Susan B Anthony clearly had nothing to do with the moon landing, so why is there an image of an eagle landing on the moon on the reverse of her coin?

The reverse of the eagle landing on the moon originally appeared on the Eisenhower Dollar coin from 1971-1978. As it turns out, Eisenhower was not alive during the moon landing either. He died about a year prior, and while in talk about designing an Eisenhower coin, the U.S. government decided the reverse of the coin should honor the moon landing.

Late in the design process, Utah Senator Jake Garn passed an amendment to keep the ‘Eagle has landed’ reverse. Why? I’m not sure.

Having a Woman On A Coin

Having a real woman on a U.S. coin was as controversial then as it is today. Before 1979, Lady Liberty was the only female featured on a coin. There were many different complaints about the addition of Susan B. Anthony to the dollar coin.

Some argued she wasn’t influential enough and a great many argued that she wasn’t attractive enough. (Ironic, given that Abraham Lincoln, considered one of the least attractive presidents now and in his time, is still honored on the penny and the 5$ bill.)

Granted, there was a lot of political posturing in putting a woman on a coin. Some people were in favor in order to gain more credibility with female voters.

The rush to get a female on a circulating coin paired with the rush of the U.S. Mint to produce more dollar coins is a big reason why this design is so poor. Many elements of this coin on their own are great, but as a whole the coin does not fit together.

What the designers got right:

I think the depiction of Susan B Anthony is really good, Frank Gasparro made an accurate image of Susan B Anthony. She looks regal in her portrait, and the strike is clear.

The Eagle design is also very good. The eagle landing on the moon was already in use for the much larger Eisenhower Dollar Coin, but it scaled down nicely for the SBA dollar.

I wish this had become an 11-sided coin, I am a big fan of coin shapes that deviate from the usual circle. That could have been the saving design factor that pushed the Susan B. Anthony Dollar into popularity.

What it almost was:

The original concept for the small dollar coin by Frank Gasparro is one of my favorite coin designs. I know I complain about Lady Liberty being used on a coin more than real women but I absolutely ADORE this design.

Gasparro_Liberty_obverse
Original concept for the small dollar coin by Frank Gasparro.

Lady Liberty is shown with a Phrygian Cap, a symbol of the pursuit of liberty. I like her adventurous, Grecian look in this design.

Small Dollar Coin Concept Obverse Frank Gasparro
Original concept for the small dollar coin reverse.

The obverse is a very classic design of an eagle. Although Lady Liberty and a soaring eagle are both overused symbols, in my opinion, Frank Gasparro did a fantastic job using them for this design. The design is classic and detailed without being cluttered.


Although the Susan B. Anthony coin has a lot of flaws, all of the flaws are what attract me to this coin as a coin collector. The SBA dollar is one of my favorite coins! There is so much history to just this one coin.

If you are looking to get a Susan B. Anthony dollar coin, you can get change from vending machines, or ask your local bank teller. If you are still having trouble finding a Susan B. Anthony Dollar you can buy them on Amazon or eBay. (Seriously, check with your bank first though.)

Even proof coins can be bought for cheap. Here’s a SBA coin selling on Amazon:


What do you think of the Susan B Anthony Dollar coin? Share a comment and vote in our poll!

I am an Amazon Affiliate, so I earn a commission on sales made through my links. This does not increase the price of any item linked through my site. My main goal is to inform.

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