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Clippings: Coinage ready for a big comeback

My parents dubbed me “the little miser” when I was a child growing up during the 1960s — not because I didn’t like to share, but because I was constantly clutching my piggy bank. And because we were of modest means, there wasn’t much folding money in my bank, just a handful of coins to rattle around.
Fast forward around 40 years and its clear that coins, in the words of the late comedian Rodney Dangerfield, “get no respect, I tell ya.” Many people are arguing that pennies aren’t worth the metal they’re printed on. It’s getting so that people won’t stop to pick up a nickel, let alone a penny.
But coins might soon be making a comeback.
In a modest effort to balance the federal budget, congressional auditors are suggesting the country could save $4.4 billion during the next 30 years if the treasury phased out $1 bills and replaced them with coins — provided they are made with some of the cheaper metals like steel and zinc. The logic is that the more durable coins would stay in circulation a lot longer than the fragile paper bills, which the federal government has to replace every four or five years. Europe and Canada have already made the transition to coins for lower denominations of their currencies without disaster (though the European economy bears watching). The Canadians even have a cute name for their dollar coin — the “Looney,” for the image or the loon on the face of the coin.
The prospect of a new dollar coin in the United States tends to stir mixed emotions, as the feds have had a sketchy track record on that score.
Our ancestors of course took a shine to the gold and silver dollars because of the precious metals involved. But the release of the Susan B. Anthony dollar (1979) and the Sacagawea (2000) have gone over with a thud. While the images of these two iconic women are handsomely embossed on manganese-brass, the coins haven’t garnered mass appeal. Reaching into your pocket, there is little to differentiate them from a quarter. You rarely get a Susan B. Anthony or Sacagawea in change, and if you do, you more than likely look askew at the cashier. I have seen people reject such coins from cashiers and instead ask for folding money. As a result, the Susan B. Anthony and Sacagawea are often relegated to their own lonely compartments in stores’ cash drawers.
I say, when it comes to the next dollar coin, we should “go big or go home” like we did during the 1970s.
The Eisenhower dollar — now that’s a real dollar coin. Produced from 1971 to 1978, the Ike dollars are almost as big as manhole covers. The only negative was that the Ike dollars would eventually take their toll on your clothes. They literally burned a hole in your pocket. But there was no confusing them with quarters at the local Laundromat. Unfortunately, the Ike dollars only caught on at casinos and proved too weighty for the average American to take hold in general circulation.
Of course, the fate of currency in general seems very much up in the air.
Most people (myself included) tend to use their bank debit cards for a lot of transactions, even, as I learned waiting in line at the grocery store the other day, for purchases as small as a pack of gum.
And if we fall off the dreaded “fiscal cliff” into a financial abyss, currency could become a moot point. We’ll return to the bartering system where the exchange of goods and services will again become the way of life.
But I say, bring on the dollar coins — so long as they are unique in size and look. We can reinforce our pockets. You’ll know when someone is trying to sneak up behind you. You’ll be able to tip people again with coins and not feel cheap doing it. The tooth fairy will once again deliver a heavier payload.
And it will restore the jingle in my old piggy bank.

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