Over the past few weeks I’ve stopped and started this article several times, not exactly sure how I wanted to write it. I firmly believe that, as a Numismatist, it is our job to educate people not only about the hobby of coin collecting, but about our coinage history in the United States (or insert your country here). Whether it be a podcast, webcast, or simply spending time at a coin show or with a long time collector, part of the beauty of this hobby is learning more about it and these round(ish) objects we carry in our pockets or put into flips and sleeves.
This past weekend, it was made painfully obvious that my responsibility to educate about our coinage is more important than ever. And it happened at a local coffee shop.
Over the past several years, I have made a habit of carrying dollar coins with me. Most of the time these have been Presidential Dollars or Native American Dollars but from time-to-time, I dip into a pile of Eisenhower “Ike” Dollars that I have laying around. To be fair, I do this partly to get them back out in circulation with the hope that the person taking the Ike dollar will be prompted into starting their own small collection. It also gives me an opportunity, even if it is a brief 10-15 seconds, to tell that person about the coin if they ask about it. It’s a win-win.
Saturday however, was not a win-win. I went to my local coffee shop and ordered a latte and paid for it… well, attempted to pay for it, with four Ike Dollars. The young man behind the counter, I’m guessing he was in his early to mid-20’s, looked at the coins, looked at me, and then handed them back to me.
“Sorry, we don’t accept foreign coins.” He said.
Now usually, when I get a bit of pushback on an Ike Dollar, it is not that dramatic. Usually I get asked, “What is this?” and once I explain it to the person, they accept them and often times I get a “Cool” or “Never seen one before” response. Not this time.
I explained to the cashier that these were dollar coins from the 1970s and they were from the United States and still accepted as legal tender. He looked at me blankly and just shook his head.
“Dude, other countries call their money dollars so just because it says dollar on it doesn’t mean it is American.” He replied.
Sidebar – I live in a ski village so referring to anyone, male or female, as “dude” is perfectly acceptable. It was not meant as a disrespectful comment to me.
To be fair, he had a point and well done on him for knowing that other countries do have the denomination “dollar” in their coinage.
I then explained to him that the person on the front of the coin was a former President, Dwight Eisenhower. Still, shakes of the head. By this time, a couple of people had queued up behind me so I was going to stop the discussion and pull out my debit card and just pay for my latte. That’s when the manager came over to the register to look at the coins.
“Dude, we can take those.” He said emphatically. “They are just old dollar coins.” Sheepishly, the cashier took the coins, gave me my change (which happen to have a 2019-W Quarter!) and off I went.
There are a lot of ways we can look at that interaction. First, and the cop-out way, is to say it was a young person who doesn’t know anything. That’s not true in this case. He knew that other countries used dollars so he knew something about foreign currency, even if he didn’t about our own. The second way, the way I prefer, is to look at it as an education opportunity. While he did not believe me at the time, in 15 seconds I was able to explain to him that this was a dollar coin, from the United States, from the 1970s, and it had one of our former Presidents on the face. It wasn’t a huge education opportunity, but one that presented itself and I took it.
To my fellow Numismatist reading this, I encourage you to find opportunities to educate those around us about our coinage. Yes it can be frustrating at times but the more we, those who love the hobby and our coinage a little more than the normal person, share about our coins the more we are rounding out our communities. It is a small thing and only takes a few seconds at most.
Who knows? You may even get to stop and share a coffee with someone who has a sudden spark of interest in coins and collecting. That, my friends, would make it all the times you had interactions like mine on Saturday worthwhile.
Oh, and by-the-way, I paid for a Snickers at my local gas station about three hours later with an Ike dollar and the cashier enthusiastically took them, immediately asking his manager if he could exchange dollar bills for the coins as I walked out. Mission accomplished.