The US Presidential Coin Series

Posted by Allison on 4 April 2009, 10:13

If you know anything at all about American currency, you'll probably have heard that the Americans are not the most ardent fans of the dollar coin.  Why this is the case is not quite clear – some think it's because ten dollars worth of coins in your pocket is a lot more awkward and heavy to carry than ten one dollar bills.

The introduction of the dollar coin was also done differently in America than it was when the pound coin was introduced in Britain.  Over here, the pound coin was introduced and the pound note was immediately withdrawn, so Britons had no choice but to accept it.

This isn't the case in America though.  They have done it differently so that both the dollar bill and the dollar coin are still in circulation.  What this means is that Americans still have something of a choice in what they use – which has led the United States Mint to take drastic steps to make sure the dollar coin becomes more popular with Americans in general.

That's why the Presidential Coin Series was introduced, and while it started last year in 2007 there has undoubtedly been more information about it this year as the next set of coins are released.

So what is the idea behind these coins?

Basically four separate dollar coins will be released every year, so it will be one every three months.  Each one will feature one US President from the beginning of their history in the 1700s right up to Gerald Ford's presidency in the late seventies.

More recent presidents may also be included beyond that, but it is expected that the only presidents to be featured will be those who are no longer alive.  Mind you with the rate that the coins are being released Gerald Ford's image won't be seen on a dollar coin until 2016 anyway, so those American's who want to collect all the coins will have a way to go before they get anywhere near the current set of planned releases.

But are they making any difference to public opinion about the much despised dollar coin?  After all that is the main reason for doing all this in the first place.

To try and get at the answer, we should look at how these coins can be used.  They have been released into general circulation so people should become familiar with them, the idea being that this will encourage them to look out for the dollars to see the different issues each bearing a different US president from the past.

But it is also assumed that many people – not just coin collectors – will want to get hold of and keep one of each of the coins as and when they are released.  But it seems hard to believe that this will encourage people to like and start using the dollar coin more and more as a result.

The big question is why the US government doesn't just decide to get rid of the one dollar bill altogether, just as the British government did when it took the unpopular decision to take our beloved pound note away from us.  We hated it at the time but now we have simply got used to the pound coin, purely because we had to.  So why doesn't the US government go the same way?

It does seem to be an odd situation when you really think about it.  The powers that be know that the dollar bill is highly preferable to the dollar coin as far as the American public is concerned.  But the government would much rather have the coin than the bill – and surprise surprise, the reason for this is money itself.  It costs far more to make bills than it does coins, and even though the paper money is actually made from cotton threads it doesn't last anywhere near as long as the coins do.

If you think that the Presidential coins are the first time that the US government has decided to raise the profile of their much derided dollar coin you would be wrong.  They've tried it on other occasions as well – and each one has failed dreadfully.  As the old saying goes, you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink – and the American government certainly can't make their people love the dollar coin if they don't want to.

So will this long series of releases be the trigger that finally makes a difference?  It will be interesting to see whether or not the dollar bill is still around when we get to the year 2016, but many suspect it still will be.

In reality, unless the US Mint recalls all the dollar bills and withdraws them from being legal tender, thereby forcing everyone to revert to the coins, it doesn't seem very likely that people will decide to go over to the coin through personal choice.  In America, as in many other countries, people tend to be very protective of the currency they use every day and they don't like too much change – in all meanings of the sentence!

With all that said though, the new Presidential dollar coins do look impressive.  No doubt they will find their way into many personal collections rather than into tills and pockets in general, but the designs are great to look at.  Each President is depicted as a head and shoulders portrait in the centre of the coin, with their name running around the top edge and what number president they were along with the years they held the office running along the bottom edge of the coin.  The opposite side features the iconic image of the Statue of Liberty.

So for example, the most recent release at the time of writing was the coin to commemorate the Presidency of James Monroe, the fifth President of the United States who served between 1817 and 1825.  This went into circulation in February 2008.

The other aspect of this overall release that is a little puzzling is the fact that each one is only available for a few weeks.  If the US government was really serious about getting as many of these coins into the pockets and purses of Americans everywhere, surely they would release more of them to try and raise their profile a bit more?

Whatever the reasons are behind the timing and availability of each coin, one thing is certain.  The dollar bill isn't going anywhere anytime soon.  In reality it would actually be a major job (with an equally major expense) to try and get rid of it, because apparently American vending machines aren't designed to take dollar coins.  The government might push for this to change if they did think seriously about withdrawing that dollar bill, and it would certainly be interesting to see what the results of that would be.

So for the next eight years at least, we can look forward to seeing what each former President who is no longer with us will look like immortalised on the back of a dollar coin.  It's certainly an honour – but one suspects they will be restricted to coin collections rather than anything else.