U.S. Coins and Bills That Never Caught On With the Public
While any U.S. currency, regardless of when it was originally issued, is honored as legal tender, some coins and bills periodically change design or are eliminated. Sometimes this is because needs and preferences change.
But in some cases, public opinion impacts production. Some of these coins and bills had a brief period of popularity, but all eventually fell out of favor. A couple never made it into circulation at all.
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The U.S. government issued the first $2 bill in 1862 with a portrait of Alexander Hamilton, the first Treasury Secretary of the United States, on its face. In 1869, it was replaced by Thomas Jefferson’s portrait, which has been used on every $2 United States Note or Federal Reserve Note since. In 1928, an image of Monticello appeared on the reverse and remained on the bill until 1976, when it was replaced by an image of the presentation of the Declaration of Independence. The most recent version depicts a portion of John Trumbull’s painting “Declaration of Independence.”
Though these bills have been produced for over 150 years, they have never been popular. Some people consider them awkward, and they are often mistaken as fakes by those unfamiliar with the currency.
The $3 coin was introduced in 1854. Congress and the Mint falsely assumed the public would welcome the coin, primarily to purchase sheets of three-cent stamps. Over 100,000 were struck in the first year, but the coins were not widely circulated, particularly when the Civil War disrupted the availability of gold in the East and Midwest. Even after the war, there was little demand for the coin outside of being used as gifts or jewelry.
While the coin was minted from 1854 to 1889, only about a half-million were minted. Congress abolished the $3 coin on September 26, 1890, making it obsolete. Subsequently, 49,087 were melted at the Philadelphia Mint over the next decade. Since only 539,792 $3 coins were produced, total, today these coins are rare.
The stella (Latin for star) was created in response to the 1865 formation of the Latin Monetary Union, an alliance of 20 nations attempting to create a multi-nation currency. In 1879, some members of Congress proposed a $4 dollar coin, which would compete with coins of similar value produced by other nations. Stellas were produced as pattern coins in 1879 and 1880. However, the legislation to authorize the production of coins for circulation failed in Congress.
This coin was produced to commemorate both the death of General Dwight David Eisenhower and the 1969 moon landing. Eisenhower’s profile is featured on the front of the coin, while the insignia of Apollo 11 is seen on the reverse. Coins for circulation were struck using the same copper-nickel composition used for dimes and quarters, and a limited number were struck using 40 percent silver for collectors. A new design on the 1976 coins celebrated the Bicentennial of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Though millions were produced for circulation, the coin was considered too large to carry around and became more a novelty than a coin used for commercial purposes. In 1978, Congress held hearings about the size and design of the dollar coin and ceased production of the Eisenhower coin.
Susan B. Anthony Dollar
Meant to encourage the public to carry dollar coins, The Susan B. Anthony dollar was considerably smaller than its predecessor, the Eisenhower dollar. Though the government commissioned the Research Triangle Institute in 1975 to research and make recommendations for the new coin, only one suggestion was accepted; the coin became smaller. (The research firm also suggested the new coin should have a distinctive edge, be a different color than the quarter and be accompanied by a major marketing campaign.)
While Lady Liberty was originally planned to be featured on the coin, women’s organizations lobbied for a real woman. In 1978, William Proxmire suggested the coin bear the image of suffragette Susan B. Anthony. Though other women were proposed, Anthony prevailed, and on October 10, 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed the bill approving production of the coin.
Though there were high hopes for the coin, which would result in savings both in production costs and a longer expected circulation life, the Treasury Department’s marketing campaign was on a small scale. Anticipation of the coin’s success caused vending companies to retrofit machines at the cost of $100-$500 per machine. Released on July 2, 1979, the coins were quickly discovered to be easily confused for quarters, especially in dim lighting. They were not universally welcomed by the public; some were offended by what they saw as feminist propaganda. By 1981, the coins were minted only for collectors, then production ceased altogether. The coins stockpiled at the Mint were not depleted until mid-1999.
The Coinage Act of 1997 proposed another new dollar coin. This one would be the same weight and size as the Susan B. Anthony, but gold in color and with a plain edge. On June 8, 1998, the Dollar Coin Design Advisory Committee recommended the coin bear the image of Sacagawea, the Native American teenage girl who helped Lewis and Clark in their westward exploration.
After soliciting designs from 23 artists, the committee narrowed the selection and put six obverse and seven reverse designs on the Mint website for public comment. The final recommendation (between three obverse and four reverse designs) came from the Commission of Fine Arts, and the selected design (obverse by Glenna Goodacre and reverse by Thomas Rodgers) was unveiled at the White House on May 4, 1999.
The coin was initially met with enthusiasm, possibly due to a $41 million marketing campaign which included 5,500 coins placed in Cheerios boxes (which had distinct differences, making them especially valuable). Still, people had the same issue they did with the prior coin – it was too hard to tell apart from other coins. Since people were keeping and not spending them, demand fell and production slowed to 5 to 6 million coins per year beginning in 2002. From 2002 to 2008, the coins were struck only as collectible pieces and did not go into general circulation. Production resumed in 2009 with a design change; each year the reverse changed to depict signification Native American contributions to the U.S.
Presidential Dollar Series
The Presidential $1 Coin Act of 2005 looked to the success of the state quarters program in an attempt to increase public demand for dollar coins. Each year, four new coins would be produced, each with the image of a U.S. president on the obverse and the Statue of Liberty on the reverse. The coins were produced through 2016. Since the act specified that honored presidents must be deceased for at least two years, the series as planned would end with Ronald Reagan.
Like the previous dollar coins, these were not embraced by the public. By 2011, the Mint had 1.4 billion presidential dollars that never made it into circulation. On December 13 of that year, the minting of Presidential $1 coins for circulation was suspended. The series would be completed with coins minted only for collectors, starting with Chester A. Arthur.
One of the first coins produced by the U.S. Mint, in 1793, the half cent was a useful coin when the average worker earned about a dollar a day. The coin was produced through 1857, except from 1837 through 1839, and all of these were made at the Philadelphia Mint.
As prices of items went up, the coin’s usefulness declined until it was retired in 1857. Most of the remaining coins were melted for their copper content.
The large cent was one of the first coins produced by the U.S. Mint in 1793. Three versions of the Flowing Hair Large Cent design appeared that year: the Chain cent, the Wreath cent, and the Liberty Cap. Of these, the Liberty Cap was the only one to carry over to later years. Four additional designs appeared on the coin before it was discontinued in 1857. (Several additional coins were minted in 1868. Less than a dozen of these survive.)
While this coin was called a one-cent coin at the time, its size made it unpopular. The coin was cumbersome and heavy to carry around.
The Coinage Act of 1792 authorized production of the quarter eagle, a coin worth 250 cents, or $2.50. Designed by Robert Scot, quarter eagles were gold coins and first struck in 1796. In 1834, the gold content of the coins was reduced. The last coins were produced in 1929, and when the U.S. abandoned the gold standard in 1933, the coin was officially discontinued.
The unusual value of the quarter eagle made these coins less popular than other coins of its time.
This $50 gold coin was proposed by merchants and bankers in San Francisco when the Mint opened there in 1854. The coin was produced as a pattern in 1877. California Senator William Gwin introduced a bill to approve this coin. Though it passed in the Senate, it failed in the House, so it never made it into circulation.
One example each of two different designs were kept for the Mint cabinet, but were said to have been melted. In 1909, both coins turned up and were sold for a record $10,000 each. Later that year, the coins were returned to the Mint collection.
The 20-cent coin was proposed by Senator John P. Jones of Nevada to solve the shortage of small coins in the Far West. Base-metal coins were not in general circulation in the West, and customers complained about not being able to get full change for an item priced at ten cents when they used a quarter. Things were further complicated in that prices in some places were in bits (12 ½ cents). The design for the 20 cent piece was approved on April 12, 1875, and production began in May, with the bulk of the mintage being produced at the Carson City and San Francisco Mints.
The coin was only slightly smaller than the quarter, and though the rims differed, the coins were often confused. By July 1896, Congress was considering abolishing the coin. In March 1877, 12,359 20 cent coins were melted down at the Carson City Mint and Congress voted to abolish the coin on May 2, 1878.
In 1851, Congress authorized production of the three-cent silver coin, believing that it would make the purchase of three-cent stamps easier than using copper cents, either to purchase stamps or as change when presented a half dime. The coin was made of mostly silver and was given the nickname “fish scale” due to its size and appearance. It later became known as a “Trime” (a three-cent dime.) In 1865, the coin transformed into a larger copper-nickel coin, but was only produced until 1889.
When postal rates changed in 1889, the coin was no longer considered useful. The Act of September 26, 1890, discontinued the three cent coin. Millions of these coins were returned to the Mint and melted to be recoined into Liberty nickels.
The Coinage Act of April 22, 1864, established the two-cent coin. The first coin to bear the motto “In God We Trust,” it was welcomed by the public when it appeared; since the Civil War resulted in “coin-hoarding,” people were happy to see any new coin. Its popularity was short-lived. After the war, demand for the coin fell as other coins reappeared in circulation. Mintage declined each year, and the coin was discontinued in 1873.
Franklin Half Dollar
The Franklin half dollar was produced from 1948 to 1963. The coin depicts a profile of Benjamin Franklin on the obverse and the Liberty Bell on the reverse. Since the law required all half dollars to include an eagle, the image of a small eagle was placed to the right of the bell. Though the Commission of Fine Arts did not approve of the design, the Mint went ahead with production, and the new coin was announced on January 7, 1948, and debuted April 30, 1948.
Due to a surplus of Walking Liberty half dollars, there was little demand for the new coin during its early years; just over 465 million were struck for circulation in 16 years. After the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Congress moved quickly to authorize the production of a half dollar bearing his image on December 30, 1963, marking the end of the Franklin coin.
Due to precious-metal shortages during the Civil War, the U.S. government authorized the use of postage stamps as currency. When this then caused a shortage of stamps, the government was forced to issue paper currency in denominations of less than $1. Issued in three, five, 10, 15, 25 and 50 cent notes, these bills were issued between 1862 and 1875, and each issue brought changes.
The second issue made the sizes uniform; the fourth brought the inclusion of Treasury seals. Over the five issues, the portrait displayed on the notes also saw changes. The third issue of the five-cent note bore the image of Spencer Clark, chief of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, which caused such controversy that Congress passed a law to prohibit the image of living individuals from appearing on U.S. currency.
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