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Money We Don't Need
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A LEGISLATURE SHOWS CONGRESS HOW
A LEGISLATURE SHOWS CONGRESS HOW
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First it was the U.S. Mint and now it's some members of Congress who want to sell us on yet another $1 coin that we don't need, and that almost no one wants to spend.

You might remember the Susan B. Anthony coin that flopped so resoundingly after it was introduced in 1979, the same fate that was met by the Sacagawea or Golden Dollar coin introduced in 2000 despite the Mint's contention that it would draw the broad public favor denied the earlier $1 coin. . Well, the Golden Dollar is pretty: a shiny bright blend of brass and copper, with a handsome likeness on the front of Sacagawea, the Shoshone woman who helped guide Lewis and Clark in their exploration of the West. Quite a contrast to the dull silver coin bearing the stern visage of suffragist Anthony.

Substituting the new Golden Dollar coin for dollar bills, Mint directors were quick to point out, would save the Treasury lots of bucks. For though at 4 cents a coin it costs one-third more to produce than a paper dollar, the metal variety has a life expectancy of more than 30 years. Bills normally wear out in nine to 14 months.

But pretty and economical are hardly enough reason to justify use of $1 coins. That was more than enough for vending machine and telephone companies, laundromat operators and transit agencies. They naturally saw the Golden Dollar as a way to save some of the money they have to spend on processing small coins and rumpled dollar bills.

It was not enough reason for most other Americans. But even though polls showed that more than three-quarters of the citizenry opposed shifting from paper to metal, the Mint plunged on. It pumped out hundreds of millions of the Golden Dollars and spent more than $40 million on ads touting use of the $1 coin.

People did initially snap up the coins at a rapid pace. But they were collecting them, not spending them. As of now, the Mint estimates that 600 million of the coins are held by collectors, double the number currently in circulation. The mint has another 260 million or so in inventory that no one wants.

The Mint apparently has learned its lesson, but Republican Rep. Mike Castel of Delaware and Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York and others in Congress have introduced a bill that would put yet another $1 coin in circulation as a replacement for the Golden Dollar. The front would carry rotating likenesses of presidents, the back an image of the Statue of Liberty.

Castel, Maloney and the others are pressing ahead despite the warning of Mint Director Henrietta Holsman Fore that their proposed new coin would be no more popular than the previous $1 coins the Mint had wanted.

"A design change will make the coin more attractive to collectors," Fore told a recent congressional hearing, "but likely will have no appreciable effect on how many are used in retail transactions."

I assume you're among the vast majority of Americans who apparently prefer spending paper dollars. But if you're not, I should show you my sagging pockets, worn threadbare by summers spent touring countries with metal currency.

You know how many dollar bills you usually carry? How many pieces of that light, easily stored currency? Imagine that many $1 coins jangling in your pocket or purse. It would be a heavy and noisy load to be sure, the heavy and noisy coins not easy to distinguish, furthermore, from other heavy, noisy coins.

That's how it is in Australia and Canada, where metal dollars are the norm, and in Britain, where the one-pound coin is common. And that is how those who would foist another $1 coin on us want it to be in this country. Thankfully, though, it seems clear that the American public is not about to dump the hallowed $1 bill for an un-American alternative.

Copyright Dick Meister