For three or four months now I have been the owner of a Susan B. Anthony dollar, and I am beginning to feel as if it were a collector's item -- the only Susan B. Anthony dollar in circulation.
I didn't come by the coin in honest commerce. Someone gave it to me as a souvenir, and at the time I thought it was a phony. I hadn't heard about the Susan B. Anthony dollar, or had forgotten about it, and I assumed that this one had come from one of those novelty houses that make explosive cigars, handshake buzzers and that sort of thing. I thought it was a joke against inflation and women's lib.
That Susan, which it seems likely to be called in time, is just slightly larger than a quarter and indistinguishable from a quarter in color and brilliance, and like the quarter has an eagle on the reverse side. The obverse, of course, bears the formidable profile of Anthony, as well as 13 stars, the date and the LIBERTY. Though Anthony looks to the right and George Washington, on the quarter looks to the left, there is a striking likeness in their profiles, and one is not surprised that both were noted for courage, perseverance and indomitable will.
All these fascinating similarities add up, however, to the unfortunate fact that the quarter and the Susan are too much alike for the instant recognition that is necessary in the numerous small-change transactions of everyday life.
I have seen no evidence that the Susan is moving at all. Mine has been dead in the water ever since it landed in my palm. I haven't passed it on because I'm afraid of being accused of passing a phony. I did try giving it to the counterman at the liquor store one day. "This isn't a quarter," I said. "It's one of the new Susan B. Anthony dollars." He didn't say a word. Just slid my quarters across the counter into one hand and left the Susan lying there. I took it back and gave him a dollar bill.
I take it with me almost every day, but always put it in a separate pocket from my change. It will vanish for days, only to turn up in the pocket of a coat I haven't worn for a while. Sooner or later, I know, either it will be lost or I will give it to someone as a quarter.
The fact is, the Susan B. Anthony dollar is not a success, and that is a shame, not only because its use would save us money, but because it honors the memory of a woman who spent her life in harness for women's suffrage, a right so basic that without it our republic does not deserve the name. She died at the age of 86, when her heart gave out, 14 years before the 19th Amendment at last brought victory.
Anthony is said to have had a forbidding visage, with a wide mouth that turned down at the ends, which is perhaps why she posed for the dollar in profile. She never married, though whe is said to have had proposals. Single-mindedness of purpose was her most crucial trait: She scorned anything that might divert one's energies or weaken one's concentration, and was not always pleased when one of her fellow crusaders married or fell pregnant. She had neither a clever tongue nor a facile pen, and she was mocked and villified by politicians and the press, and by some women. But she fought on, not only for women but also for blacks, and a month before her death she attended her last women's rights convention and left her final message for the future: "Failure is impossible."
The least we can do for the doughty old fighter is to put her dollar in circulation. Spend all your Susans. It will make you feel good. It will be good for the economy, and it will give one of our greatest Americans her rightful place with George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt and the buffalo.