Dr. Sol Taylor

Mint to Produce Non-silver Dollars Again

2007 Obverses
The first four coins in the presidential dollar series will be issued in 2007, starting on George Washington's Feb. 15 birthday and following every three months thereafter. (Photo: U.S. Mint)

By Dr. Sol Taylor
"Making Cents"
The Signal
Saturday, December 23, 2006

or the fourth time since 1971, the U.S. Mint, with congressional approval, is launching into a program that would give Americans non-silver dollar coins as an alternative to paper dollar bills.
    The Eisenhower dollar was launched with the same kind of fanfare as the Kennedy half dollar in 1964. The mintages dropped each year thereafter, as the large coins — the same size as the old, real silver dollars — until they stopped altogether in 1978 as stockpiles gathered dust in the Treasury vaults.
    There was a brief revival in 1975 when the Bicentennial quarters, halves and Ike dollars came out with the dual date of 1776-1976. Most of these dollar coins are hoarded by people with the false hope of great appreciation in value. Today, such pieces can be bought from coin dealers at slightly more than face value. I have even used some recently in the market, to the amazement of a clerk who was too young ever to have seen such coins.
    Many people still call Ike dollars "silver dollars" when in fact they are copper-nickel. Special 40-percent-silver Ike dollars were made and sold at a premium in blue packets and are not circulating coins. No circulating silver dollars have been minted since 1935.
    In 1979, in an attempt to make the dollar coin more user friendly, the Mint came up with the Susan B. Anthony dollar, which is barely larger than a quarter. It was an instant flop. After the first year, mintages plummeted, as the demand hardly met the supply. By 1980 and 1981, only mint sets and proof coins were distributed, with the bulk of SBA dollars hidden away in Treasury vaults.
    For some unknown reason, several million more were minted in 1999. Most of them also reside in the bowels of the Treasury.
    In a third attempt to make the dollar coin a reality, the Mint came up with the Sacagawea dollar coin in a brass-colored alloy to make it less likely to be confused with the quarter. The initial issue in 2000 was hardly a success, with the majority of coins left behind as local banks ordered few or none.
    Today, hardly a cash register shows one of these coins. They were passed off on such agencies as municipal transportation agencies, post offices, post exchanges (military posts) and casinos. By 2002, it was obvious the supply far outweighed the demand. Production for circulation was halted.
    Buoyed by the "success" of the four circulating Jefferson nickel commemoratives of the Louisiana Purchase and the 1804-05 Lewis and Clark Expedition in 2004 and 2005, the Mint has hatched the latest attempt to make dollar coins readily accepted coinage in general use.
    The presidential series will be another circulating commemorative series similar to the 5-state quarters program, with a large number minted each year.
    Unlike the quarters, which are readily used in day-to-day commerce, dollar coins do not fit our daily needs. Cash registers have no special space for such coins, and few machines accept or dispense such coins.
    Also, dollar coins are not readily accepted overseas. U.S. servicemen in countries such as Germany complain that they get SBA coins at the PX and cannot spend them in local stores where the dollar bill is readily accepted, along with the euro and other foreign currencies.
    Unlike the previous two dollar coin fiascos, the new presidential dollar series will appeal to collectors who would vie for a complete set, and thus not use the coins. As for getting the coins into the cash registers, vending machines and purses, that is another matter.
    Canada is often used as an example of how they got the Loonie dollar coin to be widely used. Simple: They stopped printing one dollar (and $2) bills years ago. Their dollar is worth about two-thirds of ours, and the Loonie is used in parking meters and coin telephones, and is found in every cash register. For that matter, so is their Polar Bear $2 coin ("Toonie").
    Since the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing spends almost half its resources in printing $1 bills, it has been reluctant to drop that part of its business.
    Americans seem to prefer wads of one dollar bills to dollar coins — and, for that matter, half-dollar coins. The mint halted production of half-dollars for circulation when it stopped making circulating dollar coins.
    The first quartet of dollar coins will come out in 2007. Mintages should be in the hundreds of millions for this first group. It is likely after the first two or three years, the mintages will taper off, as too many of the coins will remain in Treasury storage.
    The new coins will feature the images of presidents in order of service, with a larger-than-usual portrait on the front and the Statue of Liberty on the back. The mottos "E Pluribus Unum" and "In God We Trust," along with the date and mintmark, will be on the edge — unlike the plain edge of the Sacagawea dollar or the reeded edge of the SBA dollar. This will break the tradition of having an eagle featured on the back of our dollar coins.
    Mint Director Edmund C. Moy said the new designs are "beautiful and so eye-catching that a lot of Americans are going to do a double-take when they get them the first time."
    He omits the fact that most likely, few banks and retail stores will ever order these coins, so most Americans will not get them in change.
    In theory, such coins have a life span of 20 years or more, while dollar bills last less than two years. These coins will cost considerably more per unit than the cost of a $1 bill. Rep. Michael Castle, R-Del., commented recently, "The dollar bill is just Americana. There is a lot of sentiment to keeping it."
    He probably will be shown to be correct.

    Dr. Sol Taylor of Sherman Oaks is president of the Society of Lincoln Cent Collectors and author of The Standard Guide to the Lincoln Cent. Click here for ordering information.