Over the past six week, I have been on an educational journey. As a numismatist, I have always had a love for dollar coins. I think most collectors feel the same way, particularly about some of the older dollar coins that the United States has had over the past 150-plus years. My educational journey has been all about learning all I can about those historical dollars as well as the modern dollar coins we have today. All of this has led me to the conclusion that it is time for there to be a circulating dollar coin in America. That is not an easy task and it will, being completely frank, take some forced behavior changes by all Americans. But it could be done with 2022 and the next few years are the best window of opportunity I think for there to be a long lasting dollar coin in the pocket of Americans.
Size Matters When it Comes to a Dollar Coin
If you have been a long time reader of USCoinNews, you have likely seen or read the handful of articles I’ve written about dollar coins. I’ve written about the Eisenhower Dollar, the Susan B. Anthony Dollar, the Native American Dollar, and the American Innovation Dollar series. I’ve not written about the Presidential Dollar’s history… at least not yet. That’s a work in progress. I’m going to ask you set aside the American Innovation Dollar because, unlike the rest of the coins I listed, that coin was never intended for circulation. It was always destined to be a “numismatic only” coin from the Mint.
In researching for the Coin History articles I’ve written on these dollars and the further education I’ve been doing this year, I’ve come to one conclusion: Size matters.
To quote one of my favorite bands, Rammstein, from one of their very adult titled songs…
Size does matter, after all….Rammstein
All of the dollar coins that have entered circulation have died a death because of their size. Of course there were other reasons but this is one of the common threads through all of the lives of these coins. For the Eisenhower dollar, it was simply too big. For the Susan B. Anthony, it was too small and was essentially the same size as the Quarter. For the Native American and Presidential dollars, despite their gold color and smooth edges, they were still too close to the size of a Quarter. Compounding the problem for those latter two coins was the general lackluster acceptance of them by the general public because they could be lackluster about them. More on this later.
If a new dollar coin is to be introduced into circulation, it has to be a size that is easily identifiable both in size, color and feel. I would propose that a coin that is either gold or two-tone (see the Euro or British Pound as an example) with a smooth edge that is between the size of the Quarter and Half Dollar. At that size, it would fit into virtually all coin holders and purses, would not be overly heavy, and could quickly be identified by feel. The new coin could be made similar to the Lincoln Cent with a zinc core wrapped in a bi-metal finish. This would save costs in production but would also save on weight, another big complaint of the larger historical dollar coins.
Force The Issue: Pull The Dollar Bill From Circulation
Now here is where sticks and stones get thrown at me but I’m going to say it anyway. In order for the dollar coin to really work – really work – the dollar bill has to go away. I know and appreciate that this is almost as sacrilegious as suggesting that chili should have beans and apple pie can be bought in the frozen section of the grocery store. I get it, I really do.
By-the-way, beans in chili is totally acceptable in my book and Marie Callender’s Dutch Apple Pie can do in a pinch.
But I digress.
We as humans are conditioned to keep doing the same thing over and over. That includes the bills that we carry in our wallets and handbags. In order for a dollar coin to truly be accepted, the behavior has to be changed and in this case, it will a matter of eliminating the option of bypassing the new coin and carrying a bill. This idea is not new. The United Kingdom did it with the Pound coin and Canada did it as well when they introduced its dollar coin. The process itself is simple: For every coin entered into circulation, you pull a dollar. Within a year, all bills will be gone and at that point, the Department of The Treasury can make the dollar bill non-legal tender.
I would contend that with the Susan B Anthony and Sacagawea/Native American dollar coins, the fact that the option to not carry the coin was an option led to their limited success in the general market.
This is a tough ask, I get it. It is also something that would require legislation as part of the authorization of a new dollar coin. Yes people would be angry and upset. Yes people would protest and say they will not use the coin. In 6-9 months, that will go away. By 12-15 months, we won’t really think about it any more. That is exactly the pattern of events and public opinion that happened in the U.K. and in Canada.
Part of the challenge here too is the general “value” of the dollar bill globally. Most people in the world can spot a United States Dollar bill at first glance as it is, in its own right, a powerful symbol of the country. That will also take time to overcome but it can be done.
What About Vending Machines?
The issue of vending machines and entering a new coin into circulation is both a challenge and a not-so-big of a deal in my opinion. Vending machine manufactures would, should a new dollar coin be introduced, have to update their machines with new mechanisms to accept the coin. That is costly and one of the key reasons I suspect that their lobby would be opposed to a new dollar coin. This concern is, on the surface, justified as it would put these companies out likely millions of dollars.
The reality is however that the vast majority of vending machines today accept tap-to-pay (Apple Pay or Google Pay) and credit cards. In my life B.C. (Before COVID) I traveled about 50% of the year for business. I can’t recall a single vending machine in a hotel, airport, or convention venue that did not accept credit cards. That industry long ago began sorting out credit card payments, seeing it as a way of eliminating the need for change and a barrier from someone making a purchase. It worked and can work for them again. Simply don’t update the machines.
If the vending machine manufactures did not update their machines to accept the new coin, I don’t see that as a deal killer for it. The reality is, many of them were not updated to accept the Susan B Anthony so there is a precedent for this behavior. What I would suggest however is that lottery ticket vending machines and public transportation systems be updated to accept the new coin.
What’s it Going to Take?
In order for there to be a new dollar coin, it will require legislation. This isn’t easy and the side of the road of coin legislation is littered with the carcasses of dead dollar coins. Add to that fact that the Mint is producing a dollar coin, the Native American Dollar, and you are going to be even further hard pressed.
In my opinion, there are two options. First, and the easier of the two, is to add legislation where the Native American Dollar in its current form is released into circulation. While this doesn’t solve the size problem I mentioned above, it is a money saving effort as the Mint already had production for this coin going. The legislation required would be to authorize it for circulation (although that may not be necessary as it is technically listed as a circulating coin by the Department of the Treasury) and for the elimination of the dollar bill. That’s the tricky bit.
The other option is to go full send on what I’ve proposed above: A completely new dollar coin in size and color (bi-color) and the elimination of the dollar bill. This one, I think, would be much harder but I also think it would present the best opportunity for success.
In either case though, the key to it is the removal of the dollar bill and forcing the move to a dollar coin.
Agree or Disagree?
The beauty of opinion pieces are that they are my opinion. You may not like them. You may love them. They are my opinions. I’d like to hear yours though. Leave a comment below on what you think and if you agree or disagree (abusive comments will be removed regardless if they are towards me or other commenters. Be an adult folks….).