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Demise of the Dollar Coin

There have been many attempts to produce a coin to replace the dollar bill. From 1971-1978, the production of Eisenhower dollar coins, those clunky Frisbees reminiscent of the American classic silver dollars produced 1794-1935. The one major difference which made these icons of coinage was of course, silver. True silver dollars were composed of ninety percent silver and ten percent copper. The pure silver content translated to the value of the coin. The same held true for American dimes, quarters and half dollars until the debasement of our coinage in 1965.

Following the Eisenhower dollar debacle, an attempt to entice the public into the use of coinage verses paper was a reduction in size and weight. In 1979, the Susan B Antony dollar made a brief appearance. Nicknamed the “witch” dollar because of the artist’s unsightly rendering of SBA, the dollar was taken from circulation in just two years. Coins were produced in 1981, but were only found in U.S. mint sets and not released for general circulation. There was one last attempt to circulate the Anthony dollar in 1999 which also failed. Part of its failure was due to the coins size, which was very close to the American quarter dollar. The public received SBA dollars in change only to be spent over and over as quarters. Thus, a very unpopular coin left a small footprint in numismatic history.

Next came the “golden” dollars, an attempt to stop the confusion between dollar coins and the quarter by adding some artificial coloring, manganese. This gave the coin the appearance of gold. Evidently people thought our government had gone back on the gold standard, bringing them into coin shops hoping to redeem their new found treasures for cash. I am afraid this is not a joke. If I had a nickel for every “gold” dollar brought to our store to sell, well, I could at least buy a descent lunch.

Then came the Presidential dollar series meant to honor deceased presidents, (you have to be dead to be on a coin). With good intent, this coin has also has met failure due to lack of public demand. Millions of these coins have been produce only to be stockpiled by the government. Finally, congress has seen the light and production is soon to be halted.

Other nations have had great success converting small denomination notes to their more durable counterparts, coins. Canada has replaced the one and two dollar bill with coins bearing the same denomination. Britain has also replaced the pound note with a pound coin. How were these countries able to successfully produce a high denomination coin? By simply removing their paper equivalents from circulation thereby, forcing people to use what works most efficiently, coinage. Currencies all over the world have had the same success and yet America stills lags behind.

The Coin Coalition is an organization supporting the elimination of pennies and dollar bills from U.S. currency. It is funded by vending machine companies, video arcade owners, and the soft drink industry, who all have an interest in eliminating maintenance costs associated with dollar bill validators. The National Bulk Vendors Association supports the Coalition. Manufacturers converted machines to accept the dollar coin at great expense, but the unwillingness of the U.S. government to phase out the dollar bill prevented the coin from becoming popular.

Save the Greenback is an organization of U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing employees and paper and ink suppliers opposed to phasing out the paper dollar. The group formed to counter the influence of the Coin Coalition.

Public opinion has tended to favor the dollar bill, although in 2000, the Government Accountability Office reported that a full implementation of the dollar coin could save $500 million a year. Remember, paper currency has a lifespan of approximately eighteen months whereas a coins lifespan is over seven years. Prevention of a dollar bill phase-out has been curtailed by special interest groups from the cotton industry which produces fabrics used in paper money to those who assemble the notes for the BEP.

A dollar coin can be successful. We only need a government willing to make decisions based on sound judgment and less on political pandering.