By Bullion Shark LLC ……
In the years since silver was removed from our circulating coinage in 1964, there have been multiple attempts to create a dollar coin for commerce that would save taxpayers money since coins last much longer than paper bills. In fact, coins typically last around 15 years, while paper money lasts only about 18 months. Plus, coins generate millions of dollars in seigniorage for the taxpayer – the difference between their face value and the minimal cost to produce them.
But every modern U.S. dollar coin issued since the Eisenhower dollar debuted in 1971 has been a failure as a circulating coin because most Americans continue to prefer to use paper currency for the $1 denomination rather than carry around coins. Even before the explosion in electronic transactions, dollar coins were widely perceived as cumbersome.
In 2011, the Obama Administration announced that because the Federal Reserve had amassed a large hoard of Presidential dollars that were barely circulating, dollar coins would no longer be issued for that purpose and would be struck solely for collectors.
Nevertheless, modern dollar coins have had a better track record as numismatic collectibles, with some series such as the Eisenhower and Native American dollars being quite popular with collectors. However, many were puzzled when Congress authorized another new $1 coin about five years ago, the American Innovation dollar program, partly because they failed to fully understand the concept behind it.
Since 1971, these are the six different types of U.S. dollar coins that have been issued in the modern era:
- Eisenhower dollars: 1971-78
- Susan B. Anthony dollars: 1979-1981, 1999
- Sacagawea: 2000-2008
- Native American dollars: 2009 to present
- Presidential dollars: 2007 to 2016, 2020
- American Innovation dollars: 2018 to present
The launch of the Eisenhower dollar in 1971 was mostly done in response to requests from casinos in Western states where large dollar coins had long been popular, and over the course of the period within which they were struck, the West was where the coins tended to circulate the most.
Initially, “Ike” dollars were also popular with the broader public due to the widespread popularity of the former president, general and Allied forces commander from World War II whose appeal transcended political boundaries. The reverse motif that was inspired by the Apollo 11 mission patch was also popular.
The coin’s design was modified to mark the United States Bicentennial in 1976 when dual dated “1776-1976” coins were issued, and the series was briefly reprised for two more years after this. But for most Americans, the coins were just too bulky.
With collectors, the series has made a comeback in recent years, and the many die varieties of this coin are especially popular for those who specialize in the series. The 40% silver versions of this dollar coin issued in Uncirculated and Proof versions are also popular with collectors.
Susan B. Anthony Dollars
In the late 1970s, the U.S. Congress commissioned a study on creating a new dollar coin that would not be as bulky as the Eisenhower dollar, which was strongly supported by the vending machine industry. The coin that was eventually issued in 1979, the Susan B. Anthony dollar, would become a poster child for misguided efforts to get Americans to use dollar coins in commerce.
The fact that the coin featured a rather unflattering portrait of suffragette Anthony did not help, but the key problem is that the coin was, as the Treasury Department noted, only 9% larger in diameter than a quarter, 43% heavier than quarters, and was also the same color because of its copper-nickel composition. The first two factors, along with the cost of just three cents to produce each coin, were viewed by the Treasury as advantages over the Eisenhower dollar, but the coins were easily confused with quarters and never became popular with the public despite a major public campaign to get them circulating.
By the late 1990s, the coins struck two decades earlier had been depleted in Treasury storage. Dollar coins were being used more widely, primarily in vending machines and mass transit. A new, golden colored dollar, the Sacagawea $1, would be issued in 2000, and to ensure that enough dollar coins were available, the Anthony dollar came back for just a year, in 1999.
In the late 1990s, a group of congressional legislators pushed again for a dollar coin, but this time they reasoned the coins would become more widely accepted by the public because they would be golden in color and have a plain rather than a reeded edge. Plus, the new Sacagawea dollar series would be issued to honor Sacagawea, the young Native American who assisted Lewis and Clark during their famous expedition to the Pacific Northwest, which resulted in an attractive design by Glenna Goodacre that remains popular.
However, expectations for the coin once again proved to be overly optimistic, and before long millions of Sacagawea dollars were piling up in Treasury vaults. The series ended in 2008 but was reprised the following year with a change.
Native American Dollars
The new version of this coin featured a different reverse design each year of a Native American theme, which has made the coins popular with collectors and a fun series to collect. However, Congress also mandated that the dates and mintmarks for each of these coins be placed on the edge, where it is difficult to see (especially if the coins are housed in an album), which may have hurt their appeal for collectors.
A significant aspect to the popularity of the ongoing Native American dollar for collectors is that there are some scarce issues – such as the 2015-W Enhanced Uncirculated dollar, which was the first coin of this type struck at the West Point Mint and the first to feature that finish. Plus, only 88,805 of those coins were made, and when they were issued, the Mint did not publicize the fact that they were so special and left it to collectors to discover that.
The Presidential $1 coin program issued from 2006 through 2016 was thought to have ended with the coin for Ronald Reagan. But after the passing of George H.W. Bush in 2019, the program was amended to create a coin for him that was issued in 2020.
For collectors, these coins have been quite popular even though they continued the practice of placing the date and mintmark on the edge of the coins. A major aspect to the series’ appeal is the fact that it is replete with error coins, such as those that are missing the edge inscriptions that have been a big hit with collectors.
When the coins were first issued, there was some degree of public interest in them. But once again, the public did not embrace the coins for commerce, and by 2011 it was reported that 1.4 billion of these coins were being stored at considerable expense in Federal Reserve vaults. On December 13, the Obama Administration announced the coins would no longer be issued for circulation, which also applied to the Native American dollars, and would only be struck for collectors and sold at a premium.
American Innovation Dollars
In 2018, yet another modern dollar coin debuted. Issued only for collectors, American Innovation dollars honor American innovators and innovations, with a coin for each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the five U.S. territories issued in the order in which they were admitted to the Union.
Just one coin was issued in late 2018: an introductory issue that features a facsimile of George Washington’s signature from the very first patent ever issued in 1790. Since 2019, four new dollars have been released each year with distinctive reverse designs that honor significant innovators or innovations from each state or territory. The series will end in 2032.
Each coin is sold at a premium in bags and rolls as well as in annual Mint and Proof sets – including a set of each coin struck with a Reverse Proof finish.
While there was uncertainty about the series and the very idea of issuing yet another $1 coin when the series began, collectors have warmed to the program since then. In 2022, bags and rolls of the American Innovation dollar were big sellers.