Tossing and Tortured 'Till Dawn

I come back to you now, at the turn of the tide.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Pocketful of George:

I have about $30 in US change in my pocket, and it's not very heavy or unwieldy. Yeah, I've just picked up a roll of the first of the new "US Presidents" dollar coins from the bank, which hold 25 of the not-really-properly-named "golden dollars." They're pictured below, alongside one of the abortive Sacajawea golden dollars, and a quarter for size reference. The dollars are a little bigger.

I've been a proponent of the United States joining the rest of the first world and using dollar-value coinage, but we've been pretty stuck in our ways about it. The main thing it's going to take is a change in mindset: for my entire life, "change" has been a Bad Thing, the annoying little bits of metal that are barely worth keeping around. Paper money is "real money." Why bother with a dollar coin? We've tried this before, but an attempt at a modern dollar coin has been met with the same resounding apathy that the Metric system has -- the overal result has been more complication, and LESS efficiency. Come on, I can buy a quart of milk (32 fl. oz), but a liter (~33.8 fl oz.) of soda? Just how much does a kilogram weigh? I don't know, but my aspirin tablet is 200 milligrams.

Right, well, inflation has gotten the best of all of us, and have you tried to use a parking meter lately with coinage? In downtown portland, you can get 5 hours for $6.25, or twenty-five quarters. You could just put a five-spot in there, except, of course, you can't. There's no bill acceptor at all.** Laundry faces a similar double-fistful-of-quarters predicament, as do vending machines. Who hasn't played the "take my goddamn dollar, you piece of crap" game with a bill acceptor? Is this somebody's sick joke?

So, seriously, folks, accept the dollar coin. It's economically efficient, too. According to the good folks at the mint, dollar bills have an average lifespan of about a year and a half. A quick glance at the coinage in my pocket reveals a penny from 1983 and a quarter from 1974, among others. Pretty much every day, I get coins older than I am. Printing, recycling, and distributing all of those ones really does cost the government money, and, at some level, that means it costs you and I and joe taxpayer. Use dollar coins? More money for the war in iraq schools and roads!
If you don't care at all about the aesthetic properties of your coinage -- everybody say, "numismatics!" -- then read no further.

Onto the coin: George, himself looks pretty good on there. Shiny new from the mint, the gold-colored brass top layer looks gold-colored, and the years of his reign Presidency are listed on the bottom of the coin's obverse. I'm a little disappointed about the reverse, however -- it's a solid numismatic design of the Statue of Liberty, projecting through an external ring that reads "United States of America." It also says "$1" in large, clearly legible type. So, now, are we illiterate as well as incapable of math?

Have a look at a quarter -- even the new, 50-state ones. It's "A quarter," not a "25-cent-piece," and the text reads, "quarter dollar." The Sacajawea and Susan B Anthony dollars, as well as older "silver" dollars, all read "One Dollar." I can't think of any US coin that has had a symbol / numeral description of value. It just doesn't feel right.

The coin gets an overall cleaner, modern look from a lack of fine printing on the reverse. Instead, "2007 P," "In God We Trust," and "E Pluribus Unum," are printed onto the edge of the coin. I'm a bit concerned about how this will hold up over those aforementioned 30-plus years. Go find a quarter from the '70's, and look at its edge. You'll see the shiny nickel-heavy cladding has started to rub off from the copper core, leaving a darker ribbon in the middle. If the President dollars do this, the edge lettering will look pretty bad in a few years. But, brass is pretty tough, and it's still mostly a coppery-gold color, so hopefully the effect is marginalized.

Finally, where's the eagle? US coins over a quarter, since like FOREVER, have had a person on the obverse, and an eagle on the reverse. Up until the 50-state program, quarters did, the long-archaic-but-still-minted 50 cent piece does, as well as the Sacajawea dollar and, my personal favorite, the eagle over the moon on the Eisenhower dollar. (It must've been someone else's favorite as well, for this same image appears on the reverse of the Susan B. Anthony dollar). The 50-staters I can forgive, since it is the reverse that is commemorative, and there've been a number of commemorative coins dispensing with the eagle for a time. But the presidential dollars simply put the president on the obverse, where there has been a president on all of our coins for quite some time anyway. And, hey, now we can all know what Grover Cleveland LOOKED like. But I still want my eagle.


**I think that's because the small solar cells that power them couldn't handle the motors and sensors required to manage bills, but I'm not sure. Maybe it also has to do with collection -- right now, the parking guy just sticks a canvas bag in there, punches in his code or key or whatever, and out spit the coinage. Perhaps it'd be more complicated and theft-prone to take bills. Anyone? How does this work in other cities?


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