The United States One-Dollar Coin

The United States one-dollar coin has a long history. It dates back to the earliest days of the nation, when the most common currency in much of the land was the British pound sterling. One early dollar is particularly prized -- the 1804 Silver Dollar (which was not produced, apparently, in 1804) has garnered its own web site, complete with domain name (

Susan B. Anthony DollarThe most recent dollar coin, of course, was the Susan B. Anthony dollar. Although widely promoted by the Carter administration, it did not gain wide acceptance, due in large part to its similarity in size and shape to the quarter. The coin is still in use -- for example, U.S. Post Offices equipped with stamp vending machines give change in dollar coins -- but production has been halted, and the remaining supply is expected to be exhausted sometime during the next two years.

In an effort to produce a new dollar coin that would, hopefully, be more palatable to the public, a plan has emerged in Congress to mint a new one-dollar coin, which would have a golden colour and a distinctive edge. (This would be similar to the Candian one-dollar coin, the "loonie"). The original bill called for the coin to picture an eagle on one side (the reverse), and the Statue of Liberty on the other (the front, or "obverse") -- two distinctly American symbols which represent this nation well, and have done so for many years.

The bill passed the House of Representatives by an overwhelming margin, 411 - 7. However, as noted in a recent National Review article, it failed to make its way unscathed out of the Senate Committe on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, where Sen. Barbara Boxer (D., CA) and then-Sens. Lauch Faircloth (R., NC) and Carol Moseley-Braun (D., IL), in particular, objected to replacing a coin depicting a woman's rights worker, Ms. Anthony, with one based on a symbol of freedom for all Americans -- indeed, a symbol of all that is American -- on the grounds that the American woman would be somehow insulted by the action. The bill passed the Senate, but in an amended form -- now, the then-Secretary of the Treasury, Robert Rubin, had the authority to choose the figure on the coin.

President ClintonIn its amended form, it was resubmitted to the House, where the membership approved it even with its modifications, and then to President Clinton, who signed it into law on December 1, 1998. (You can visit the U.S. Mint's page on the subject here). The search for an image then began. Secretary Rubin appointed a panel to accept public input and to nominate and elect an image for the obverse of the coin. (It should be noted that Sec. Rubin specifically prohibited men from nomination). The choice of his appointed panel was that the coin "bear a design of Liberty represented by a Native American woman, inspired by Sacajawea and other Native American women." Sacajawea, in case you're not familiar with her contribution to American history, was the guide who helped Meriwether Lewis and William Clark's Corps of Discovery on their exploration of the northwest in the early nineteenth century. Her selection was made despite the fact that little or nothing is known about her life except for this one incident -- the committee's odd selection of "Libery represented by a Native American woman" was a necessary one, if only because no pictures of Sacajawea survive.

I have no trouble honouring Sacajawea -- she likely did as much to insure the safe completion of their journey, or more, as did Lewis or Clark, and thus one could certainly credit her with helping to open exploration of what is now the western United States. However, there are many great Americans who have never been given the honour of appearing on U.S. currency (or, like Lewis and Clark themselves, have appeared only on currency that is no longer in circulation).

It would appear, however, that such sentiment means little in today's America. According to this reply to my initial inquiry, Secretary Rubin, on July 29, 1998, approved the panel's selection; the new coin depicting Sacajawea's likeness is expected to appear in 2000.

This could have been the end of the story. However, certain brave Congressmen decided to stand up for the American people in this matter. Rep. Michael N. Castle (R., Del.) introduced House Resolution 4329, the United States Statue of Liberty $1 Coin Act of 1998. This bill, introduced July 24, 1998, would amend the existing law to remove Secretary Rubin's authority to choose the obverse side of the coin, mandating instead that it be the Statue of Liberty. He is supported in this measure by House Republicans, including Rep. David Dreier (R., Calif.), who noted the bill in a response to my email concerning the topic. Unfortunately, the bill appears unlikely to emerge from the House Committee on Banking and Financial Services, and, on May 4, 1999, Sec. Rubin reaffirmed his selection of Sacajawea for the design on the upcoming coin.

Sec. Rubin resigned shortly thereafter, and I have yet to see any indication of his successor's feelings on the topic. The new Secretary of the Treasury, Larry Summers, is known as a dilligent worker and as a Wall Street genius. Perhaps he will be more amenable to the will of the American people, and to H.R. 4329.

Also, the recent election losses by former Sens. Moseley-Braun and Faircloth might make this bill somewhat more palatable to the Senate. Therefore, I strongly recommend that all interested parties make their voices known; the sooner the better.

Because of the time required to prepare a new coin design for minting, it is imperative that this bill be adopted as soon as possible if we are to avoid running out of the Anthony dollars before the replacement is available. Thus, I urge you to write your Representative and Senators (see below), as well as the Department of the Treasury, to let them know your opinion. Although it seems unlikely that the bill will ever see the light of day, a show of support could do only good.

To register your opinion with the Department of the Treasury, you can send e-mail to the Office of the Secretary of the Treasury. If you do so, please use the subject line "Comments on the $1 coin" to assist the staff there in routing your comment appropriately. Again, I cannot overemphasize the importance of keeping the Department up-to-date about the attitude of the American people.

If you'd prefer to send physical (U.S.) mail, you can use this address:

Department of the Treasury
Office of Public Correspondence
1500 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20220
Again, I would recommend that you include a line on the envelope specifying the issue you're addressing.

If you would like to (attempt to) speak to a live person, you can try calling the Office of Public Correspondence directly. Their telephone number is +1 (202) 622-2000. Note that this is a toll call outside the DC metro area.

Of course, any action taken on H.R. 4329 is up to the House of Representatives. You can contact your Representative using the House web site's representative lookup. If the bill passes, it will be referred to the Senate; you can reach (most) Senators using the Senate web site as well. (Recall that you are represented by both of your state's two Senators). If it passes that test, the President must sign it; you can attempt to contact President Clinton and Vice-President Gore through the Executive Office of the President.

It is, of course, possible that H.R. 4329 will not pass into law. It is, perhaps, even likely. The result would be the minting of the Sacajawea coin. If that happens, the most effective technique of protest, will be simply to boycott the coin. If someone attempts to give you one of these coins as change, refuse them politely and request a bill, half-dollars, or quarters. If the coin goes unused, the mint will end production.

The John J. Miller article "Money Changers" in the July 6, 1998, National Review insipred the creation of this document.

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J. Nathaniel Sloan

Last Modified: June 6, 1999