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Why $1 coins haven't caught on

Uncle Sam stopped the mass production of $1 Presidential coins because most people don't like to use them. Why is that?

By Karen Datko Dec 15, 2011 1:03PM

Updated April 3, 2012, at 3:50 EDT.


There was a sad day late last year for those who enjoy the heft of $1 coins in their pocket. Because there are so few of you, the government abruptly halted the mass production of $1 Presidential coins, right after the James Garfield dollar and just before the Chester A. Arthur coin.


Ending the program will save the U.S. government $50 million a year in production and storage costs, the Treasury Department said. About 1.4 billion unwanted Presidential dollar coins are taking up space in Federal Reserve vaults around the country. (New Presidential coins will be minted for sale to collectors at higher than face value.)


People are funny about money. Though it makes economic sense to replace flimsy $1 bills with sturdy coins, they want no part of it.


Americans, that is. Canadians use the $1 "loonie" coin and the $2 "toonie," and Europeans have their one and two euro coins. Yet, we resist. "I suspect the biggest limitation is that people don't like change (pun only sorta intended)," "Nickel" at wrote.


Why haven't Americans embraced the dead presidents or other $1 coins? Some possible explanations:


Dollar bills are still being produced. "The Fed policy has been to promote the dollar bill and the dollar coin, and Americans have consistently chosen the dollar bill," U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Kan., told USA Today. There is no one euro bill or Canadian $1 bill. Those folks aren't given a choice.


It would take an act of Congressto phase out $1 bills, and we all know how that goes. Congress in 2005 mandated the mass production of the Presidential coins, starting in 2007 with George Washington. (The Treasury secretary has the authority to alter that, and did.) But Congress hasn't seen the need to get rid of the dollar bill (or the much-maligned penny).


According to Politico, the Dollar Coin Alliance, representing industries that would benefit as well as other groups, isn't giving up its fight to phase out the paper dollar. Others say it's time to move on, for now.


"Elimination of the dollar bill has been a long-time goal for the vending industry, but congressional opposition was too strong. At this point, it makes little sense for the vending industry to expend any resources on this effort," VendingMarketWatch opined. Post continues below.

They weren't promoted enough, and maybe the depiction of dead presidents wasn't the best choice. Quarters featuring each state were very popular, but a coin honoring Andrew Johnson?


We don't understand the benefits. Using dollar coins instead of bills would save the government an estimated $5.6 billion over 30 years, according to a Government Accountability Office report (.pdf file). That's because coins, though more costly to produce, last longer than bills -- up to 40 years vs. an average of 18 months.


We like dollar bills. Dollar bills are light and fit nicely in a wallet. Dollar coins would necessitate a bigger change purse -- or more frequent use of credit or debit cards. A poll by Lincoln Park Strategies (.pdf file) found that 76% of Americans oppose the demise of the dollar bill.


On the other hand, the Dollar Coin Alliance maintains: "A January 2011 poll conducted by the Tarrance Group and Hart Research found that Americans favor the transition to a dollar coin by a two-to-one margin once the potential government savings are explained."


We have no idea what to do with dollar coins. Vice President Joe Biden said 40% of the Presidential coins have been returned to the Fed. That's enough to last for 10 years, given the current rate of use. Many people say they've never seen one.

I got one as a prize at the supermarket and later left it as part of a tip. I bet that waiter was thrilled.


Wrote Chelyen Davis on

In my wallet is a dollar coin. It looks like a quarter, except it's gold and has Ulysses S. Grant's face on it. I got it from an automated change machine in a Richmond parking garage, and frankly I wasn't sure anyone else would take it, because I haven't seen anyone use dollar coins.

What's your preference? Should we switch to coins and retire the dollar bill?


More on MSN Money:

Dec 15, 2011 2:23PM

This article neglected the most important issue in the paper vs coin debate:  If we phase out the dollar bill, what will we give to strippers??? 


Surely, not coins.

Dec 16, 2011 2:19PM
Dec 16, 2011 2:19PM
How on earth are you going to keep a 1$ coin from slipping out of a strippers g-string?
Dec 15, 2011 10:07PM

The point that most folks don’t take into consideration, especially in this current fiscal environment is the cost of printing dollar bills – which have a finite lifetime (as does all paper money).  While all of the news surrounding the elimination of the presidential coin program what isn’t mentioned is that we spend way too much taxpayer money EVERY year to print paper money as it wears out in a relatively short period of time.  However coins, pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, half dollars and dollars last essentially forever.  If the government really wanted to save money we would ELIMINATE paper dollar bills and make the permanent switch to dollar coins – I have little doubt that if that was accomplished there wouldn’t be dollar coins sitting around in storage. 


Save taxpayer money and eliminate paper dollar bills (and while you are at it – stop making pennies!)

Dec 16, 2011 12:04PM
If the drones in Washington can't understand the stupidity of "saving" $50 million a year by wasting $200 million to keep printing $1 bills, no wonder there's no hope of fixing really complicated problems like health care and the tax code. Except for  Russia, every other major country on the planet got rid of its low-denomination bills years ago and their citizens adapted just fine.  But here, you'd think the world will end if we get rid of the dollar bill. I guess the term "American exceptionalism" refers to being exceptionally stubborn and short-sighted.

And to reinforce other points mentioned:

> The coins are NOT confusable with quarters any more than dimes and pennies are. The color is different, the edge is different, and the relative size difference (what the brain uses, not absolute differences) between dollars and quarters is greater than that between dimes and pennies. The Canadian quarter and Loonie have exactly the same size and color ratios, and confusion has simply NOT been a problem; ditto for several euro coins.

> The assertion that 76% of people polled prefer bills is only half of the story. When the question was changed to include how much the coins would save, approval went up to over 60%.

> We've made a similar but MUCH more expensive mistake by being (again/still) the only non-metric country. That decision to protect us against the communist plot to count by tens costs about $100 billion (with a "B") each year in lost exports, conversion mistakes, etc. but once again, it's just too difficult for us Americans to do what 95% of the people on earth do all the time.

> To those worried about the placement of "In God We Trust": GET OVER IT.  No coins had the motto before 1864, and nickels didn't have it till 1938.  It wasn't on any of the bills that the Greatest Generation had in their wallets yet somehow they triumphed over those German soldiers who all went into battle wearing badges reading "Gott Mit Uns" (God is with us). It seems to me the issue is whether God is In your heart and mind, not in your change purse.
Dec 19, 2011 12:05PM
This failed before (the Susan B. Anthony dollar) and will continue to fail unless people are given no choice in the matter.  I fail to understand why the government is searching for some sort of touchy/feely acceptance of the one dollar coin. This is not focus group material. If they want it to fly, put them out there and take all of the $1 bills out of circulation and stop treating this like it's rocket surgery. Done -- BAM!
Dec 19, 2011 11:49AM

I love the dollar coins. Problem is I've only seen them once. I got some back as change one time then never again. Maybe that's why they haven't caught on!  Seriously, I've seen these new dollar coins one time! Don't want to pay for storage? Circulate!

Dec 16, 2011 1:44AM
I spent just over 6 months visiting in Australia. They have no paper dollar there. They use a one dollar and two dollar coin.I found the switch over to coins from paper easily made. They also have no one cent coins. Everything is rounded off at the register. I found no more build up of coins in my pockets at the end of the day than I do here in America. Without the penny  most days I had less. The One dollar and Two dollar coins in Australia are less in size than most coined American dollars making them use less space and carry less weight. I did not miss the paper money like I thought I would. I think we could do this in the USA but we are just set in our ways here. Until the federal gov't just does it for us we never will "Make the change!"
Dec 16, 2011 4:13PM
Bad idea! Have you ever try to put a coin down a strippers thong? They never think its as funny as you doDevil
Dec 16, 2011 3:12PM
Have spent time in Canada and Australia, the one and two dollar coins are great once you get used to them. Get rid of the one and two dollar bills and mint coins only, we save 50 million a year without cutting any programs. It seems like a no brainer to me. The penny has also out lived it's usefulness, it cost more to mint than it's face value. no pennies in Australia, the price of items on the shelf includes the tax. Nothing smaller than a five cent coin needed. Another savings to government and again without program cuts. We can no longer afford to treat one and two dollar bills, and pennies as sacred cows. The government claims it wants to operate more efficiently, congress needs to prove it! 
Dec 16, 2011 5:15PM
I think the biggest problem is strip clubs.  No guy wants to through $5 bills at strippers and I'm sure the strippers wouldn't wanted it "raining" $1 coins on them.
Dec 15, 2011 5:08PM

Dollar coins were changed to gold color and edges changed to smooth from reeded to prevent quarter confusion so any claims the "golden" dollars were being confused is a canard. Susan B Anthony dollars did have a real confusion problem but those are not circulated much anymore.


No, Congress just needs to get its gumption up and cancel the paper dollar and the penny. The latter will free up a dish in merchants' change drawers for dollar coins. If they want to appease the masses who will lament  the loss of Lincoln on a coin, they can assign him the permanent spot on the obverse when the line of presidents completes.

Dec 20, 2011 2:39PM

Our gutless Congress will NOT stop the production & use of the 1$ bill & the penny.


Until this is done the public will NOT use the 1$ coins..


 If pennies die then the old song of not having a space in the register has died.


Save money & let's be more efficient & same taxpayers $$.

Apr 17, 2012 7:31PM
Why $1 coins haven't caught on?


Simple one word answer:




When some idiot made the decision to to produce them in a size that could be confused with a quarter they were doomed.

Apr 17, 2012 7:45PM
All US $1 coins have been close to quarter size.  They feel like a quarter.  An octigon shape or a center insert that wouuld make it feel different wouuld be accepted.  The government keeps trying to shove the $1/quarter down our throat.  A marketing campain didn't work.  Wake up to reality and make it with a unique feel.
I like the idea of a Dollar Coin! They just need to find the right size! Ike's were to Big, Susan B's looked to much like quarters! and I like the Sacagawea Dollar Coins, However, They looked to much like  Chucky Cheese or Video Game Tokens! That's why I say they need to be the "RIGHT SIZE!"
Dec 19, 2011 11:27AM
Its pretty evident why we resist the dollor coins. Ever try to stuff a dollar coin in a garder or g-string at a strip club. It just doesnt work well. :)
Dec 16, 2011 3:49PM
I like the dollar coins I think they are cool.
Dec 17, 2011 7:15PM
msSusieQ: I haven't seen a dollar coin since the 80s, so they may have changed it since then.
?? The "golden dollars" were first released in 2000, with (at the time) a fair amount of hoopla. Here in the east every major bank has them. Many transit systems use them, and some give them as change from ticket machines. And the point made in so many comments here is that rejecting the new coins based on memories of the horribly-designed SBA dollar is a non sequitur .The new coins WERE modified in 2000 to address the problems you mentioned. They're gold-colored, have smooth edges, and use distinctive images. They're modelled on the Canadian Loonie which has been extremely successful(*)
The second major problem was that there was no place in a standard cash register to put them.
Again, ??  Nearly every register I've either used or seen has a 5-slot drawer.  If clerks are told to stop using the 5th slot for paper clips and gum packets there would be no problem storing $1 coins.  And the few smaller registers that only have 4 coin slots also have only 4 bill slots. Most cashiers seemed to put any 50s they got under the 10s, and any 100s under the 20s.  It's a lot easier to avoid mistakes now that bills are different colors, but accidentally slipping out a 50 when you meant to hand over a 10 was a far worse goof than mixing up a two coins - which, BTW, hardly ever happens in countries that use higher-value coins full time.

(*) But Canada was smarter than the US and simply stopped making $1 bills.
Apr 17, 2012 8:07PM
We don't like them because they are the wrong size, to easy to mistake for a quarter, make them big like they used to be, bet they do better then
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