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The End (Again) Of The Dollar Coin

Once again, the U.S. Mint’s experiment with a Dollar Coin is ending in failure:

The U.S. government, its vaults stuffed with 1.4 billion one-dollar coins bearing the likenesses of dead presidents, has had enough of them. It is going to curtail production.

“Nobody wants them,” Vice President Joe Biden said Tuesday. That is for sure: The Mint says there are enough $1 coins sitting in Federal Reserve vaults to meet demand for a decade, and the inventory was on track to hit two billion by 2016.

More than 40 percent of the coins that are minted are returned to the government unwanted, the Treasury said. The rest apparently sit in vending machines — one of the few places they are widely used — or in the drawers of coin collectors.

What the coins don’t do is get around much. In fact, the Mint has never had much luck with dollar coins. The Susan B. Anthony dollar (1979-1981, revived for one year in 1999) never caught on; some people said it was too close in size to the quarter. Neither did the Sacagawea Golden Dollars (2000-2008) or its successor, the Native American $1 Coin, which has the same front but a different back.

But that didn’t discourage Congress. In 2005, it mandated that the Mint make $1 coins with the likenesses of the presidents, four each year between 2007 to 2016. So far, the Mint is up to James Garfield, the 20th president. Next up: Chester A. Arthur.

“And as it will shock you all, the call for Chester A. Arthur coins is not there,” Biden said at a Cabinet-level meeting of a White House campaign to cut government waste.

Arthur fans needn’t fret. The Mint will keep producing the presidential $1 coins on schedule, but will only make enough to meet collector demand and no longer attempt to circulate them. By law, 20 percent of all dollar coins produced have to be Native American coins, so production of them will be reduced too.

The move, the Treasury said, will save taxpayers $50 million a year — or about 15 minutes worth of the federal deficit.

The decision is a milestone of sorts in a long-running battle between those think it is wasteful to keep printing dollar bills that wear out and have to be replaced frequently, and those who hate the $1 coin and see it as the real waste of money because Americans don’t like them.

As others have noted before, the idea of a Dollar Coin is never going to work as long as the Dollar Bill remains in circulation. When Canada and the United Kingdom replaced their One Dollar and One Pound notes with coins, they also began a program of phasing out the paper currency version by destroying them as they made their way into the banking system and replacing them with an equivalent amount of dollar coins. Unless and until we do that here, there will never be a U.S. Dollar Coin.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. James Joyner says:

    And doing that is the obvious move. The dollar bill is a really silly piece of currency, in that it’s expensive to produce and circulate and useful only for such things as tipping the valet.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  2. Admittedly I have bizzare tastes, but I’m looking forward to the Calvin Coolidge dollar coin, so I hope the program lasts at least that long.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  3. It does look like the program will continue on a smaller basis. Instead of minting large numbers of coins, they will only be producing enough to satisfy collector demand. So yea, you should be able to get that Coolidge coin. Personally, I’m waiting for the Nixon coin. It will be the only coin in history that will steal itself.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  4. James,

    There have been efforts to do that in the past. It turns out, though, that the company that produces the special paper the Treasury Dept uses for currency happens to be located in Massachusetts. So, guess which Congressional and Senate delegation has objected most vociferously to ending the Dollar Bill?

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  5. @Doug Mataconis:

    I’m not a collector, I just really like Calvin Coolidge.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  6. JKB says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Personally, I’m waiting for the Nixon coin. It will be the only coin in history that will steal itself.

    You are forgetting the Obama dollar. By the time it comes out, perhaps it won’t steal itself but it will be a hot item for misappropriation by solar and biofuel advocates.

    The Massachusetts connected paper producer has an impact but the larger disincentive is the cost of transporting the coins to banks and businesses. Armored cars aren’t cheap. And the banks and businesses are expected to eat the cost, which they aren’t going to do until there are no more dollar bills. Although, it is interesting that Kennedy/Kerry forced the Mint to cancel advertisement of the coins in Boston due to their paper making cronies.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  7. Ernieyeball says:

    @Doug Mataconis: “I’m waiting for the Nixon coin. It will be the only coin in history that will steal itself.”

    Please note I am not GA, but I am LOL!!!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  8. smintheus says:

    Hand the dollar coins out to the poor and see how quickly they get into circulation.

    But I guess the gov’t can only give out huge sums like that to those who wrecked the economy, not those who are suffering most from it.

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  9. Vast Variety says:

    Personally I’m waiting for the day they stop making currency all together and just tie it all to biometrics.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  10. RGardner says:

    What would be the impact of the elimination of the dollar bill on strippers’ tips? Would the $2 bill become the new bill of choice, or the $5 bill? Impact on income? The research opportunities are significant.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  11. Liberty60 says:

    @RGardner:
    I heard tell of stories of exotic dancers who had men press coins to their sweaty bodies.

    Or maybe it was just my imagination.

    Either way, I say make with the coins and phase out the paper!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  12. @RGardner:

    This calls for a Congressional Committee investigation!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  13. john personna says:

    Again, doing the dollar and penny change at the same time seems a no-brainer.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  14. John,

    I tend to agree. At the moment, though, the only thing Congress can seem to agree on is naming Post Offices that are probably going to be closed in a few years.

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  15. mantis says:

    How to be funny:

    Doug Mataconis: Personally, I’m waiting for the Nixon coin. It will be the only coin in history that will steal itself.

    How to be unfunny:

    JKB: You are forgetting the Obama dollar. By the time it comes out, perhaps it won’t steal itself but it will be a hot item for misappropriation by solar and biofuel advocates.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  16. Ernieyeball says:

    “Nixon on the dollar, Rumsfeld on the quarter and Cheney on the dime.
    They will set yer wages and prices any old time!”

    http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/how-dick-cheney-donald-rumsfeld-helped-richard-nixon-implement-the-worst-idea-ever/

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  17. Ernieyeball says:

    Then there is this:
    http://www.ecrater.com/p/8540834/nixon-poster-three-dollar-bill

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  18. Herb says:

    Hmm….while I can see the dollar bill being a big culprit, insofar as cashiers handing out change in bills rather than coins is the “problem,” I also think the lack of useful places to put these coins is a contributing factor. I’m talking vending machines, parking meters, laundromats, etc. For many of these machines, the highest denomination they will accept is a quarter.

    The laundromat down the street? I use their large machines all the time. It costs $4.50…and whenever I do laundry, I stand there feeding it an avalanche of quarters. It’s a new machine, too! I’d love to give it four Sacajawas and two Washingtons, but…..I can’t. 18 quarters it is.

    Since most coin-operated machines don’t take them and that’s almost the only context in which coins are used (aside from change-giving) then it’s no surprise the dollar coin didn’t take off. It’s essentially useless.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  19. Kayla says:

    Where do all you people live at that has all the out dated machines. The college I went to had the snack machines, drink machines and sandwich machines take and dispense dollar coins. My work place have the same machines as well and in this day in time the snack machines prices runs anywhere from 70 cents to $1.50 for a snack, the sandwich machine most sandwiches is $2.50, little bowl of oatmeal 99 cents, tuna sandwich $2.00. I rather carry $1. coins then a bunch of quarters. Your paper dollar bill has to be near perfect for the stupid machine to take it. God forbid if you get a raggedy dollar that the machine refuse to take.

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  20. Vlad the Impala says:

    Too bad, I enjoyed finding these. I especially enjoyed getting $3.50 in change one with a $2 bill, a 50 cent piece and a Rutherford B. Hayes dollar. Good fun.

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