Rep. Michael Castle, R-Del., proposed a gold-colored dollar coin with the image of the Statue of Liberty. Opponents of that idea favor an image of a real American woman. KARIN COOPER ASSOCIATED PRESS

Issue of dollar image coins a major debate

By Dave Skidmore
WASHINGTON -- Lady Liberty, or a real woman: Who should go on the front of a new dollar coin?

That's the question confronting lawmakers as legislation providing a replacement for the Susan B. Anthony dollar coin gains momentum in Congress.

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Alfonse D'Amato, R-N.Y., wants the coin to depict the Statue of Liberty, located in New York harbor.

"It would represent a powerful and wonderful tribute to freedom and the women of America," he said.

But two of the Senate's nine women -- Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Carol Moseley-Braun, D-Ill. -- said yesterday they want a real woman on the coin, not just sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi's 151-foot representation of the abstract concept of liberty.

"We need a real role model for our young people, both boys and girls," Boxer said.

Their ally is Sen. Lauch Faircloth, R-N.C., one of the Senate's most conservative members.

"If we take the Susan B. Anthony dollar out of circulation, no U.S. currency will bear the likeness of a woman," he said. "I think this would be a terrible ... slight to the women of the United States."

No one's arguing, though, for keeping the Anthony dollar, minted from 1979 to 1981. Americans rejected it because it looked and felt too much like a quarter.

A replacement is needed because use of the Anthony dollar in U.S. Postal Service machines and by big-city transit authorities has reduced the government's stockpile to about a 2-year's supply. That's how long the U.S. Mint needs to design and test a new coin.

After a spirited exchange between D'Amato and Boxer, the committee left the design decision to the Treasury secretary. By voice vote, it unanimously approved a gold-colored dollar coin, with an edge different from the quarter's -- smooth, for instance, rather than ridged. The panel attached the provisions to a bill authorizing production, from 1999 through 2008, of quarters commemorating the 50 states.

The full House already has approved the quarter bill and the dollar provisions have been introduced as separate legislation by Rep. Michael Castle, R-Del., chairman of the House Banking monetary subcommittee. House and Senate banking aides were optimistic Congress would authorize both new dollars and new quarters before recessing early next month.

The dollar legislation permits paper dollars to continue circulating, avoiding a dispute that has blocked an Anthony replacement in the past. If it heats up, however, the design debate could delay the new coin.

Boxer, Moseley-Braun and Faircloth are writing an amendment for the Senate floor requiring that the new dollar coin depict a woman of historical significance.

They aren't specifying which woman, but their aides have talked about a statue of Anthony and two other 19th-century suffragists, Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

The 13-ton marble suffragists statue, known as the Portrait Monument, is itself quite controversial. Lawmakers argued bitterly for four years before moving the statue in May to the Capitol Rotunda from a less visible place in the building.

Donn Pearlman, legislative liaison for the Professional Numismatists Guild, a non-profit organization of rare-coin and paper-money experts, said the dollar design debate is healthy.

"But we shouldn't fall into the same trap we fell into with the Susan B. Anthony dollar," he said. "It became a political football."

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The New Dollar