Thursday, December 15, 2011

Dollar Coin Dies Unloved, Again, Some More

First, let's note the official end of the war in Iraq today. Thanks to everyone who served over there.

That established, back during my trip to Hawaii last year, I... well, let's be honest about it, I spouted off something in a hurry about the dollar coin because it was either that or go a week and a half without an update.

Back at that point, the program of Presidential dollar coins- like the state quarters, but for Presidents- had gotten up to Abraham Lincoln.

The program has now been scrapped, as every dollar-coin program has before it, due to lack of interest. (And Wikipedia is showing this as at least the 11th attempt.) How often have you actually seen one of them in circulation? Exactly. 1.4 billion unused and unwanted dollar coins are currently taking up space in the mint. Coins for remaining Presidents will be made only on request, for collectors.

Aside from general lack of interest, though, and the dollar coin's history of failure, you could see this coming from a mile away anyway. Look at where the series stands now. It's not Abe Lincoln. It's the point between James Garfield and Chester A. Arthur. As Vice President Joe Biden sums it up, "And as it will shock you all, the call for Chester A. Arthur coins is not there."

Presidential coinage sounds fine when you're talking about the Washingtons and the Lincolns and the Roosevelts and the Jeffersons. The thing is, though, most of those top-tier Presidents already have coins of their own, coins that actually get used. You want a Washington coin? Break a dollar and you'll get four of them, while in the process giving up a bill that also has Washington on it. You want a Lincoln coin? Check the take-a-penny-leave-a-penny jar.

Nobody asked for commemorations of James Garfield and Chester A. Arthur. A fair amount of Americans can't even name them.

The state-quarter program, aside from the fact that it used quarters, worked because states are easy. Everyone wants their own state, and while you're waiting, you might as well go get all the others too. Or wait for them to come to you in your change. Plus the extra bit of speculation about what each state put on their quarter didn't hurt either. You don't have any of that with Presidents. You have to actively go out and look for the coin, there's no speculation about what's going to be on the coin, and there's no local pride driving you. There's no single President that's, for the purposes of collection, "yours", unless maybe one came from your hometown or your home state has only sent one person to the White House.

And then there's the matter of the Presidents themselves. The program died in the middle of a rough patch of obscure, unloved Presidents that came after Lincoln. If you're going chronologically- and they were- you don't get to pick the order of release to keep the interest up. Between Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, you have, in order, Andrew Johnson, Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, Garfield, Arthur, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, Cleveland again, and William McKinley. As the cancellation showed, nobody cared.

And not only that. Not only do you have obscure Presidents, you have infamous ones as well. Between Teddy Roosevelt and the next really good name, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, there's a five-President stretch that goes William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Harbert Hoover. Warren Harding was possibly the most corrupt President in history, Coolidge is blamed by some historians for causing the Great Depression, Hoover is blamed by everyone else. Do any of them really seem like someone you'd want to reward with a coin? I hope not.

And not only that. As you get into more recent Presidents- say, everyone after FDR- you get into the problem of partisanship and personal memory. Coin collecting's supposed to be this fun, benign thing. Do we really need the reaction that is inevitably going to pop up when it gets to be John F. Kennedy's turn (even though he was on a half-dollar coin himself), or Richard Nixon's turn, or Jimmy Carter's turn, or Ronald Reagan's turn, or Bill Clinton's turn, or Bush 43's turn, or Obama's turn? Do we really need that? Half the country would collect any given coin, the other half would throw it at the first half.

Well, okay. 'Half' is wildly overstating things. This is a dollar coin we're talking about, after all.

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