Buddy, can you spare a dollar?
January 6, 2009 6:04 AM   Subscribe

The historic inauguration of President-Elect Barack Obama is two weeks away, and vendors are making a mint selling memorabilia. But be warned: the commemorative coins you see being advertised are not official. A relatively new $1 coin series does feature US presidents in chronological order (previously), but getting Americans to use $1 coins hasn't been easy. Remember Susan B. Anthony, Columbus and Sacagawea? Native American $1 coins will be offered in tandem with the presidential series; if they continue to be issued, Obama's official $1 coin should be available in 2017.
posted by woodway (50 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
Unless you know something I don't, Obama won't have a coin in '17. I'm pretty sure the U.S. Mint requires Presidents to be dead for a couple of years before they'll put them on legal tender.

Also, there's an unrelated Snopes about the Presidential $1 coin series.
posted by gnomeloaf at 6:24 AM on January 6, 2009


Thanks, gnomeloaf. Goes to show that I'm not much of a numismatist; I'm more tempted by the zaniness of commemorative Obama shoes.
posted by woodway at 6:39 AM on January 6, 2009


The new US president coins really look cheesy.

In fact, all our coins have looked like subway tokens since they started decreasing the level of relief.
posted by pjdoland at 6:41 AM on January 6, 2009


I got a bunch of $1 coins for Christmas. I'd love for them to be in circulation, but I'm not letting mine go until I'm sure I'm going to see them coming back to me. <- part of the problem
posted by DU at 6:49 AM on January 6, 2009


Step 1: Put gold dollar coins in a leather pouch.
Step 2: Spend them at various places, making an ostentatious show of the act.
Step 3: You are from history!
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:52 AM on January 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


Hurrah! According to the Mint, this year is the year of that dark horse of Nashville, the Napoleon of the Stump, James K. Polk! (In honor of which, watch these munchkins pogo ...)
posted by octobersurprise at 6:54 AM on January 6, 2009


The "Golden Dollar" as well as the Susan B. Anthony were abject failures primarily because the one dollar bill was not concurrently withdrawn from circulation. Other countries around the world didn't make this mistake. A somewhat dated, though more extensive explanation is found here.
posted by Tube at 6:55 AM on January 6, 2009


The US Mint continues to have a really, really hard time selling Americans on the idea of a $1 coin. Personally, I think it's a great idea in concept, but in reality, there are two major issues that the Mint has never come to terms with:

1) Vending machines don't take the damn coins. If we can't use them to buy a bottle of Coke, we're going to stick with the wrinkled, dog-eared dollar bill that has to be fed in multiple times before the machine accepts it.*

2) They keep issuing paper dollars.

Until both of these things change there's no reason for us to stop using the paper bills, even though we're about the only major country that still uses paper for small denominations.

*This point I find to be pretty damn funny, considering the long, detailed explanation of the 2000 gold Sacagawea coins. I recall a lengthy section on the Mint site explaining how careful they were to ensure the new gold coins had the same electrical properties as the Susan B Anthony dollars, so that vending machines would accept them without modification. Great. The only vending machines I've ever seen that use dollar coins are the stamp booklet machines at the post office.

Also, pjdoland: Your wish is the Mint's command. (Not that it will ever see actual circulation...)
posted by caution live frogs at 6:58 AM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


There are enough commemorative shoes to become the Imelda Marcos of novelty footware. I'll stick with my oranges.

I like to think of the commemorative Presidential coins as a study in hair styles. Harrison: unkempt emo kid president; Tyler: crazy grandpa style; Polk: Don Juan of presidential hairstyles; Taylor: discheveled and not to be trusted with your hair brush. And the first ladies were fond of ringlets.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:00 AM on January 6, 2009


Sorry Tube, need to remember the "preview" button... and DU, I've had the same $1 coin in my pocket for 8 years now, so I'm part of the problem too! Mint site said it would hold up to 30 years of "simulated pocket wear", so I decided to do the real-world test. Yes, I am a dork.
posted by caution live frogs at 7:01 AM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Vending machines don't take the damn coins. If we can't use them to buy a bottle of Coke, we're going to stick with the wrinkled, dog-eared dollar bill that has to be fed in multiple times before the machine accepts it.

I used to park in a lot where you shoved $3 into a slot that fit bills (folded) and coins. The slot is big enough for a quarter, but not big enough for a dollar coin. I got very horked off the morning I discovered this (and had to park elsewhere that day).
posted by Lucinda at 7:23 AM on January 6, 2009


The continued abject failure of the U.S. Mint, in the realm of dollar coins, makes me think they don't want them to succeed and their failure is intentional. I mean, I laugh at conspiracy theorists more than most sane people, but it's starting to get ridiculous.
posted by aramaic at 7:28 AM on January 6, 2009


Rolling in the dollar coin is useless without modifying the current coin lineup.

We need to get rid of pennies, nickels, dimes and dollar bills. The relentless march of inflation has made any denomination smaller than a quarter pretty much useless. They cost too much to make, they cost too much to sort, store and ship.

Quarter, Half Dollar, Dollar and Two Dollar coins would be much more practical, and wouldn't require re-working the change bins in registers. A $2.50 Starbucks coffee would be two coins instead of two bills and two coins. A fifty-cent newspaper would be one coin, only since we don't need to use base-100 to subdivide the dollar, we'd simply say it was a half-dollar.

We have the dollar coin already - now kill the penny. In a few years, roll in the half dollar, and nix the dime. Then get rid of the nickel with a two dollar coin.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:31 AM on January 6, 2009


Here's a funny coin story (though utterly non-Obama-related).

When we first arrived in Grenada for the invasion in late '83, we had exactly one movie (Flashdance), so we had to turn to other means of entertainment. The main one was gambling with Grenadian currency. I'm not personally a big gambler, but I got sucked into a poker game one night anyway...and won *everything*. Every Grenadian coin anybody at our site possessed, I ended up with all of it.

Well, time passed, and eventually I returned first to Fort Bragg, then to Fort Huachuca (Arizona). One day I was sitting around, broke as soldiers commonly are, and I picked up my big sack of Grenadian coins and noticed that Grenadian quarters seemed to be exactly the same size/weight as our own. Since I was hungry, I put one in a vending machine...and it worked!

For two weeks I munched on vending machine food, then I noticed that if I inserted a Grenadian quarter (worth about 9 cents US at the time) and pressed coin return, I got two real dimes and a real nickel in change. One night I was again broke, and again hungry, so I went to the vending machines and turned Grenadian quarters into $2 worth of US dimes and nickels. Then I called Dominos and asked them what I could get for two bucks. The dude said, "Well...we can give you a medium pizza with no toppings or cheese...like a big round soft cracker." That sounded great to me (seeing as the alternative was either starving or more vending machine crap), so I told him to bring it on! The Dominos guy showed up at the barracks and dropped me off a big ol' soft cracker, and I paid him with the dimes and nickels and happily ate my warm dough.

Maybe I should gamble more -- I was apparently pretty good at it!
posted by jamstigator at 7:38 AM on January 6, 2009 [10 favorites]


Fun fact, Sacagawea dollars are everywhere in Ecuador. They use the US Dollar as their official currency, and I guess they're more long lasting than bills.

Seriously, why hasn't the US population embraced the coins? Is it just stubbornness, akin to your refusal to use the metric system? Coins are awesome, although every time Canada starts talking about a $5 coin I groan a little.
posted by yellowbinder at 7:40 AM on January 6, 2009


1) Vending machines don't take the damn coins. If we can't use them to buy a bottle of Coke, we're going to stick with the wrinkled, dog-eared dollar bill that has to be fed in multiple times before the machine accepts it.*

I don't think that's a big problem, as most Canadian vending machines take both $1 and $2 coins.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 7:52 AM on January 6, 2009


Seriously, why hasn't the US population embraced the coins?

The reason I don't like them is that they're heavy - I find that whenever I'm in Canada or Europe my wallet is heavier and bulkier because of them, which is kind of a pain. But there's also the vending machine issue - until all (or at least most) US vending machines take dollar coins, I'm not interested (sure, Canadians are doing it, which makes me wonder: how long have you guys had $1 and $2 coins, and if they are recent developments, how long did it take for vending machines to catch up?).

Alternately: because you can't put a dollar coin in a stripper's g-string (I am disappointed to realize that I'm not the only one to think of this).
posted by naoko at 8:05 AM on January 6, 2009


We've had the loonie since '87, and the toonie (although I've always thought it should be the twonie) since '96. Being born in '82, I can't remember feeding dollar bills into vending machines, but I don't recall any long period of transition after the toonie was released. I'm sure there are far, far more vending machines in the US though.

The only problem I can remember with the toonie is that when they where first released, they had a habit of falling apart (if you've never seen one, they're actually two pieces of metal, a small goldy centre with a silvery ring around it), but only if you hit them with a hammer or something.
posted by yellowbinder at 8:10 AM on January 6, 2009


I don't think that's a big problem

It's not a technical problem, it's a business/logistics problem. You could make a vending machine that accepted used VW buses as currency, if you wanted to. As for the scale of the problem, consider that in 1992 there were approximately 5-6 million machines in the US. That's a lot of mechanisms to replace, although some will have already been updated.

...it would be interesting to know how much a currency-handling unit costs, and how long it takes for full replacement in the field.
posted by aramaic at 8:15 AM on January 6, 2009


I have a running theory that American Currency is being made to look uglier and uglier each year with the hopes that people will want to get rid of the bills as soon as possible, thus stimulating the economy.


There is, however, a downside to this plan. Make the money too ugly and people will recoil in horror and refuse to make any transactions at all. Stores will gladly lend you the lighter fluid and matches needed to rid the world of the horrible, horrible, images. This is why the secret cabal of Space Masons that runs England is keeping the Queen alive with Atlantian technology. They're hoping Charles will be killed off in some unfortunate way before his gruesome visage ruins the U.K's economy forever.
posted by The Whelk at 8:26 AM on January 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


It's not a technical problem, it's a business/logistics problem.

Exactly. It's not that they can't, it's that they don't want to, because (gasp) it might cost them some money at the start.

As long as dollar bills exist, there's no reason for them to even try -- they can use the (lousy) American bill acceptor to get the $1 bill in.

Why US bill acceptors suck. Europe had a harder problem -- notes of differing values were of differing sizes. So, they had to come up with a transport able to handle them, which involves moving the note both in and sideways. To make it work consistently, they had to build them well.

So, they work. The US, with identical sized notes, can make *you* try to do the horizontal alignment. Once that's done, all they have to do is wheel the note in, but jamming was common when notes were rejected. The right answer is a better mechanism. The cheap answer is a lousy one that only takes notes in good shape.

Thus, our lousy vending machines. Interestingly enough, you can find the Euro-style note acceptors in transit fare machines in the US. Why? Because the guys building them are the same ones building the ones in Europe, and they're not going to stock two parts. The CTA in Chicago uses them, the ones on the Metrolink in St. Louis work well as well.

I will point out the fact that every coin slot on the London Underground has the paint above it scratched off. Apparently, there's a belief that if you rub the edge of a rejected £1 coin on metal, it'll work when you try it again.
posted by eriko at 8:32 AM on January 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


National Automatic Merchandising Association issued a statement about dollar coins on 9 Dec 08:
Not only would dollar coins be good for the taxpayer, they would also be good for the vending industry and the millions of Americans who buy from vending machines every day. Coins work virtually 100% of the time, while many thousands of vending machine sales are thwarted every day by low quality $1 bills. Up to half of vending machine operators’ service calls are due to jammed bill acceptors. Dollar coins would reduce service calls. And dollar coins are much cheaper to dispense in change than dollar bills.
The statement also cites figures from the US Mint's 2007 Annual Report saying that a penny costs 1.67 cents to make, nickels cost 9.53 cents each, resulting in a loss of $98 million per year. Dollar coins = 16 cents to produce.
posted by woodway at 8:33 AM on January 6, 2009


I can't wait until they try to remove the penny -- the tinfoil-hat brigades will go completely bananas. Hell, I wouldn't be surprised if someone ends up getting killed.
posted by aramaic at 8:40 AM on January 6, 2009


I like the colour coins.
posted by Artw at 8:45 AM on January 6, 2009


We didn't have £1 coins when I was growing up. According to my nieces though, being given one when you're a kid feels like you've been handed some piece of treasure that was lifted from the ground where x marks the spot.

Someone needs to conduct a study of the costs of altering vending machines versus the costs of bribing your kids. You may be pleasantly surprised.
posted by vbfg at 8:46 AM on January 6, 2009


Seriously, why hasn't the US population embraced the coins? Is it just stubbornness, akin to your refusal to use the metric system?

Have you seen their electoral system?
posted by Artw at 8:46 AM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Don't start, Artw, the US has enough problems with our coloured coins.
posted by yellowbinder at 8:47 AM on January 6, 2009


It's okay, the Obama ones on TV are look like they were made with a colour printer and some stickyback paper, not your fancy canadian "nanotechnology".
posted by Artw at 9:01 AM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Seriously, why hasn't the US population embraced the coins? Is it just stubbornness, akin to your refusal to use the metric system? Coins are awesome, although every time Canada starts talking about a $5 coin I groan a little.

I remember the one time I went to Canada and had drinks at a bar. The bartender kept on giving us back coins so we figured she was taking the tip out of what we gave her, which was weird. So we don't leave her any tips. Coincidentally, we can't get a third round. My charming friend goes over and talks to her and gets to the root of the problem. Gives her a bunch of coins (which we NOW know are dollars) and tells her he's not with us, then she gives him a shot of something strong, white and milky. We all have to leave, but he gets a smile.
posted by jwakawaka at 9:26 AM on January 6, 2009


Seriously, why hasn't the US population embraced the coins?

I'd be happy to use dollar coins if I ever received them as change in any transaction, anywhere. As it is, I'd have to go to a bank or something and ask for a big stack of them, just to get ahold of some.

Which is really just a symptom of the chicken-and-egg problem described above.
posted by gurple at 9:26 AM on January 6, 2009


The only problem I can remember with the toonie is that when they where first released, they had a habit of falling apart

hehe ... and thus I can specifically remember the first 'twoonie' (god I hate that word) I ever did see : Walking into my 8th grade french class and one of my classmates has a shiny new coin on the ground and is repeatedly picking up his desk and smashing the leg down on it. For awhile there was a rumour that if you brought in one of the coins that had fallen apart, the bank would give you $50 courtesy of the government.

I never did find out if that was true but it sure sounded like an urban myth, even to my young ears.
posted by mannequito at 9:34 AM on January 6, 2009


Seriously, why hasn't the US population embraced the coins?

I blame the Stonecutters.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:35 AM on January 6, 2009


Seriously, why hasn't the US population embraced the coins?

I've tried, I really have. They're useful in SF for feeding parking meters as an alternative to having 24 quarters in your pocket for two hours parking. The problem with the Sacajawea dollar, and the Susan B Anthony before it, is they're nearly the same size as the quarter.

Everytime I have a pocket full of dollar coins I invariably spend a few as quarters. Expensive mistake. I'm not an idiot with coinage, either, I've had no trouble with Canadian or European coins. The US dollar is poorly designed.
posted by Nelson at 9:43 AM on January 6, 2009


I have a running theory that American Currency is being made to look uglier and uglier each year

I say the Mint's slogan should be "we took the world's ugliest money and made it even uglier."

I'm looking at a new-style $10 bill. The 10s on the four corners of the front are two different typefaces and three different styles. Three of the 10s on the back corners are yet another style, and then there's the easy-to-forge corner in the lower right. There's a giant closeup of the Statue of Liberty's torch on the front left, and a smaller closeup from a different angle at right center. Most of the paper is yellowed but there's a weird white oval on the right side of the front looks even weirder on the back.

At least the old notes had symmetry, restraint, and a consistent visual design.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:41 AM on January 6, 2009


Seriously, why hasn't the US population embraced the coins?

What's to embrace? Dealing with the @#$!#@% high-value coins is one of the few annoyances about being in Canada for more than a few days.

Dollar bills: Essentially weightless. In my wallet. The only hassle about receiving them as change is remembering to not put the wallet away until I get them.

Dollar coins: Heavy. In my pocket. It feels weird if there are more than a few coins in there with my cell and thumbdrive. They jangle. They occasionally poke me, if my pocket is heavy with coin. They scratch my cell. They shift my thumbdrive around, and then it pokes me.

Paying for stuff with dollar bills: Open wallet, pay. Put bills back. At end of day, put the resulting small number of coins in bucket of coins; when that's full take it to the Coin Dingus (2--3 times/year).

Paying for stuff with loonies and toonies: Same thing, but fuckloads more change, and you can't reasonably just chuck all the change into a coin bucket because there's real money in there, not just who-gives-a-fuck amounts.

I am sure coins last longer. I do not give the slightest fuck how long coins and bills last. It is no inconvenience to me if bills only last a year or month or whatever in circulation, and the costs associated with the short life of bills are utterly inconsequential.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:01 AM on January 6, 2009


I keep hearing that I'm resistant to using dollar coins but all I'm resistant to is having to go to the damn bank to get my dollar supply. I pretty much never receive the things in ordinary circulation.
posted by nanojath at 11:04 AM on January 6, 2009


Or, let me rephrase.

You're presumably from somewhere with (equivalents of) dollar and $2 coins. So your habits are built around that -- I'd bet that maybe you carry a change purse, or that for your coins are for normal little things and bills in the wallet get brought out only for relatively larger purchaes (ie, lunch). So when you are in a place where people reach for their wallets and get bills out for what seem to you to be inconsequential purchases -- a stick of gum, a weekday newspaper, a soda -- it seems weird and stupid, because those people have different customs and habits from yours. Look at those idiots, doing things differently from my homeland! Ha! Also, I am annoyed because my longstanding habits fail me here!

I'm from the US, where except for vending machines, all purchases are done with bills. Then I get my product and some, basically, garbage -- a receipt I don't care about, and some coins. I shove the coins in my pocket and forget about them until I take my pants off, then I pitch them in a commemorative goblet from my father's cadet squadron at USAFA. Coins are bits of almost-garbage you let accumulate in a container until it's worth dealing with. This is normal to me, it takes me no thought at all. When I go to Canada and have to think about coins, and where my change is an actual amount of money and not just almost-garbage, and where I run out of bills real fast, it's annoying and stupid to me because their customs are different from mine. Look at those morons with pockets full of change! They've got their own customs!
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:11 AM on January 6, 2009 [3 favorites]


My wallet has a coin pouch built in, as does almost every other wallet I've ever seen. Coins go in, when they get too heavy they come out. If you stick to loonies and toonies, you can build up something like 20 bucks in coins before they get noticeably heavy.

Sure it's custom, but a fairly recent one.

Of course, I use debit for practically everything these days. Except when making a small purchase (usually under $5, if it's not over that stores tend to stick you with a surcharge). Then the coins come in handy.
posted by yellowbinder at 11:22 AM on January 6, 2009


Also, large denomination coins feel like free money, just like when you roll up your quarters or dump them into one of the machines in the grocery store. Your mind is conditioned to think of coins as insignificant, so you forget about the loonies and toonies you get as change. Then you look in your wallet, count them up, and feel unexpectedly rich.
posted by yellowbinder at 11:25 AM on January 6, 2009


My wallet has a coin pouch built in, as does almost every other wallet I've ever seen.

Whereas I have never had a wallet with a coin pouch. I don't think I've ever noticed a man's wallet with a coin pouch in the US, though of course women's wallets routinely have them.

Then the coins come in handy.

I just don't understand how reaching into your wallet and pulling out a toonie is "handier" than reaching into your wallet and pulling out a couple of singles. It's nice that it saves the government some piffling amount of money, but I don't see anything in it for me.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:41 AM on January 6, 2009


US Wallets come without anywhere to put coins, so they just sit in your pocket, then fall out when you sit down, and then your wife shouts at you because the baby could eat one and catch coin-itus or choke and die. That is my general experience with American coinage.

Conversly if you just put dollar bills in your pocket without the wallet they turn into an unusable wadded mass, which will spray all your coinage everywhere when you pull it out of your pocket.

I think i might have to invest in a proper wallet next time I'm in the UK, though IIRC dollars are a bit shorter and wider than pounds and so the size is all wrong.
posted by Artw at 12:00 PM on January 6, 2009


I just don't understand how reaching into your wallet and pulling out a toonie is "handier" than reaching into your wallet and pulling out a couple of singles.

Well, for one all the notes are identical until you actually pull them out and look at the face. Also if you've gone and shoved the ones in your pocket to for the aboved mentioned unusable mass then straightening them out to put them in your wallet is a pain in the ass.
posted by Artw at 12:01 PM on January 6, 2009


Interesting. Do women carry more coins than men? Although I guess a lot of men keep their wallets in their back pockets, and I will concede that it is uncomfortable to sit on a pile of change.
posted by yellowbinder at 12:05 PM on January 6, 2009


Do the new coins tarnish as badly as the old Sackies? They looked like crap after no time at all.
posted by smackfu at 1:30 PM on January 6, 2009


Obama's official $1 coin should be available in 2017.

Hopefully it won't though: presidents must be dead for two years before being included (no living people on money.) I hope Obama lives to be 56.
posted by ALongDecember at 2:48 PM on January 6, 2009


For collectors everywhere; the newest series of presidential coins. Get a marvelous shiny copper Lincoln coin, a beautiful coin with Jefferson on one side and his beloved home, Monticello, on the other, and a small but intricate F.D.R. coin, all for the low low price of $20! Act now and we'll include, at no extra charge, an even larger coin commemorating the Father of Our Country, George Washington.
posted by twoleftfeet at 10:44 PM on January 6, 2009


I was surprised to see that the 50 cent piece is still listed on the Mint's list of items currently in circulation. I haven't seen one since I was a kid.

And for those San Franciscans saying they never see $1 coins, I see that you are clearly not buying Caltrain tickets from the machine at the platform. I got $14 in Sacagawea and Susan B Anthony coins there once by accident.
posted by cali at 11:15 PM on January 6, 2009


Change we can believe in
posted by woodway at 2:46 AM on January 7, 2009


I was surprised to see that the 50 cent piece is still listed on the Mint's list of items currently in circulation. I haven't seen one since I was a kid.

If you bet $15 on a hand in Blackjack, and get a Blackjack, they pay you 3:2 odds so you get a $20 chip, 2 $1 chips, and a 50 cent coin.

Other than that, no.
posted by smackfu at 6:24 AM on January 7, 2009


Thanks, ALongDecember: gnomeloaf caught that mistake, too. I should have picked up on the posthumous prerequisite from the release schedule but I lived in the UK until recently, where Elizabeth II graces British currency, including the nifty new coin series; the British Museum has mounted an exhibition showing how her depiction has changed as she has grown older. You can even request a £5 coin with Prince Charles on it. Perhaps there will be an official Obama coin one day. Maybe Congress could rename National Airport again. In any case, I absolutely wish the President Elect a long, happy life.
posted by woodway at 1:03 PM on January 8, 2009


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