Dr. Sol Taylor

Our Less-Than-Common Money

By Dr. Sol Taylor
"Making Cents"
Saturday, October 27, 2007

usually carry a few $2 bills — just in case. In my recent weeklong visit to relatives in Philadelphia and south New Jersey, I offered a couple $2 bills to clerks at restaurants. In each case they held the note up to the light, folded it a couple of times, and asked the manager to verify the note. In two cases, neither clerk had seen one in more than a year and gave it the same going-over one gives to an old-style $100 bill.
    The logic — old logic, at best — is that by using these bills at naval bases and military posts across the country, local merchants know where their retail business is coming from when they tally up the number of $2 bills each day in their till.
    The number printed each year is the lowest of any denomination and is shipped to those banks closest to military bases and selected western cities. Their real use in the economy is limited and probably hardly justified.
    Along the same line, I did some surveys on banks on both coasts. No one had any rolls of half dollars. My last haul was a hoard of rolls deposited at my own bank by a customer some eight to 10 months ago.
    I visited more than a dozen banks in October and came up with a total of 22 loose half dollars — none of the 40-percent silver and none before 1971. I found a few 2001-Ds, the last issued circulation half dollar. It is evident that the half dollar is fading from general use and probably will end as a coin of the realm when Congress is alerted to the fact that even making proof and Brilliant Uncirculated specimens for Mint sets might be wasteful.
    Along the same lines, it is evident from my limited bank and store surveys that the Ike dollar has faded into history. No one has seen one in years.
    The more recent Sacagawea dollars see very limited use, and the SBA dollars even less. The mintage figures reflect the lack of demand, and most recently issued coins still reside in Treasury vaults.
    The 50-state quarters outnumbered the pre-1999 quarters in my survey, and in Philly alone, from a few rolls, I found 30 different P-mint coins. If I took the time, I probably could find all of the "state" quarters issued to date.
    In two rolls of nickels, I found none of the 2004 and 2005 Lewis and Clark and Louisiana Purchase commemoratives. Obviously they are being hoarded by the rolls, or even by the bag, as evidenced by the ads in the numismatic press.
    At my sister's home, they emptied a jar of quarters they had accumulated, and guess what? There were two SBA dollars in the jar. Thinking they were quarters, my sister, who is 80, could easily have spent them as quarters. I am sure many other people passed these coins off as quarters. Maybe they should have been made square, or much thicker, like the British pound coin.
    Anyway, Congress hasn't figured out that we prefer paper dollars and aren't ready for dollar coins like Canada or Australia.
    The cent is destined for a makeover soon, as it now costs more than one cent to make one-cent coins. The alternatives are: Eliminate the cent, make smaller cents, or make cents of aluminum or other cheaper alloys.
    It is obvious that some major overhaul is needed to make our money more user-friendly like the euro system, and to bring our money system into the 21st century. Until then, we'll make coins no one uses, and make coins that people mistake for other coins, and make coins that cost more than face value.

    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.