Grading Susan B. Anthony Dollars (1979-1999)
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Rivaling the 20-cent piece as the least successful United States coin, the Anthony dollar was intended to answer the shortcomings of the Eisenhower dollar of 1971-78. It was smaller and therefore more convenient to carry and use. So the thinking went. But while Congress squabbled over what imagery to place on the coin, the new dollar lost its distinctive shape. Originally conceived as an eleven-side coin that would be visibly and tactilely distinguishable from the quarter dollar, the mini-dollar was doomed by its conventional shape, composition and edge. Even to those who handled large numbers of coins daily, it simply looked and felt like a quarter. Debuting at a time of high monetary inflation and dissatisfaction with the presidency of Jimmy Carter, this ill-fated coin was derisively dubbed the "Carter quarter."
Mass production occurred at three mints, but only in 1979-80. By the end of 1980 the Anthony dollar had already been written off as an expensive failure. A few million additional pieces were coined in 1981, but only for inclusion in the U. S. Mint's annual Uncirculated Set. It took nearly twenty years to use up the existing stockpile of these coins through distribution by post offices and transit systems. As the U. S. Mint prepared to issue distinctive, brass-clad dollars in 2000, approximately 40 million additional "Susies" were struck to meet what the Mint claimed was a shortfall in supply. In reality, very few of the 1999-dated dollars were used in commerce, the majority evidently ending up in the hands of collectors and speculators, while those dispensed by post office vending machines were more likely to be dated 1979-80.
When first issued Anthony dollars were not much esteemed by collectors. Those who desired complete sets of modern issues obtained their needed coins from the Mint's Uncirculated and Proof Sets at issue price, but there seemed to be little or no interest within the secondary market. Since that time, however, the rarity of some recent issues in the higher grades has led to very active trading in Anthony dollars. The finest pieces are frequently submitted to grading services such as NGC for encapsulation. In fact, at NGC we may receive large quantities of Anthony dollars for pre-screening. In this service, a grader culls out those coins that don't meet the submitter's specified minimum grade for encapsulation, and this tends to skew the certified population toward the higher grades.
Anthony dollars made for circulation vary greatly in quality, though the ones made at the Denver and San Francisco Mints are generally better than their Philadelphia Mint counterparts. Contact marks are typically not severe on these coins, because their relatively small size and weight spared them the heavy knocks that spoiled so many Eisenhower dollars. Still, coins to avoid when selecting examples for your collection include those made from very worn dies and ones having weak strikes (sometimes the result of greasy dies). This same problem often caused coins to develop unattractive stains that may not be removable. The texture of a coin's luster will vary with the progressive wearing of the dies, fresh dies producing prooflike brilliance. This fades to satiny luster as the dies begin to wear, and the ultimate result of such die wear is richly textured, frosty luster. These distinctive surface textures do not necessarily affect a coin's grade, but collectors may have differing tastes as to their relative appeal.
Proof Anthony dollars were made and packaged with supreme care, and only those pieces that have been mishandled or improperly stored are likely to grade less than Proof-68. Still, the competition for pieces grading PF-68, -69 and -70 is intense. Since proofs of the modern era are always struck two or three times, striking sharpness is not a factor in grading. What matters is that they have pristine surfaces, whether toned or not. If toning is present, it cannot be thick or irregular (blotchy). Since modern proofs are deliberately made to present cameo contrast between their brilliant fields and frosted devices, collectors seek coins that display the greatest depth of contrast — what NGC labels ULTRA CAMEO. These typically are the coins made from fresh, newly installed dies.
From One to Seventy originally ran in The Numismatist, official publication of the American Numismatic Association (www.money.org)
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