Friday, February 23, 2007

So what can you get for a buck these days?

Place: Huddle House
Lunch: Two eggs (over easy), bacon, toast, bowl of chili, water

The new Presidential coin series launched Monday. The US mint is releasing a series of dollar coins at the rate of four per year featuring all our dead presidents on them in sequential order up to where one of the presidents is still living. Meaning, unless Carter kicks the bucket before 2016, Reagan won't get one. The idea, of course, is to try and stimulate interest in dollar coins and get us to actually use them.

The plan is based on the wildly successful state quarter series. (You may or may not have also noticed the Westward Journey nickel series, which was super neato, but only lasted three coins.)

The dollar coin has had a cursed recent past in the United States. The Susan B Anthony wasn't different enough from a quarter to pass muster. The Sacagawea dollar hasn't helped to spark interest either, even when they got Wal-Mart to push them initially.

Coins are more durable and last longer, saving production costs, thus the reason for the push. Getting rid of the paper dollar apparently isn't an option, probably for fear of backlash come voting time.

This hasn't been a problem in Canada for two reasons...One, they DID quit making paper dollars. Two...Their dollar coin has a way cool nickname. Who WOULDN'T want a pocketful of Loonies.

In an effort to capitalize on hype, the Mint took an unusual step in making the coins available...Banks have been able to order and stockpile the coins for two weeks previous to the official launch. That way, eager consumers would be able to get them immediately.

Except, of course, on launch day. That's Presidents' Day, and the banks aren't open. This is probably a fitting omen. But the next day...Really! You can get them! Everywhere. Every bit as common as cat hair.

Admit've been keeping state quarters. One or two (one of each mint branding) of each state at least. I have a Big Boy piggy bank full of the things. Last year, since the series has moved into western states that are of much more significance to me, I decided to buy an annual silver proof set from the US Mint so I could have some nice shiny ones. For under $40, I got two plastic cases displaying silver proof versions of all five 2006 quarters, plus each of the other coins minted in 2006 (penny, nickel, dime, half dollar...yes they still make those too...Sacagawea dollar), each stamped with the San Francisco Mint "S", boxed up with a cheesy little glossy matchbook cover-like certificate of authenticity.

They were STUNNING.

I couldn't stop looking at the stupid things.

So I also ordered the 2005 set while it was available (which had the side effect of giving me a complete Westward Journey nickel set), and will probably order future sets too.

Anyhoo, I decided that being the shiny new coin collector that I am, I should help out the Mint and start circulating the dollar coins. It's the LEAST I could do for my country, right? So on Wednesday, two days after the official launch, I strode into my bank, head soaring like a proud American, and asked for a roll.

"We don't have them. Maybe tomorrow."

He looked really annoyed that I even asked. He probably said "Loser" under his breath as I left.

Then I decided to call another branch ahead of going. A recording answers and invites me to leave a message. NOBODY HUMAN ANSWERS THE PHONE EVER! I suppose I can't complain because I do the exact same thing at my house.

Later in the day on my way home, I happened by another branch and stopped in. Smiling Banking Teller said "I sure do!" I walked out with a shiny new roll (25 coins) of George Washingtons. A friend of mine called me and told me he'd picked up eight rolls (200 coins).

My immediate impression: They remind me of video arcade tokens. They're really shiny new but I imagine they tarnish the way the Sacagaweas do (I believe they're identical in composition). The words they stamped on the side of the coins are almost unreadable for me, which means they WILL be unreadable for most. They are slightly bigger than a quarter...enough so that I could easily tell the difference when reaching in my coin pocket. The etchings of the words also helped there.

I imagine a lot of people will question if they're real money.

So how do people react? Well...

Frowning Counter Girl at Dunkin' Donuts: I handed her two dollars and she stared at them in her hand, looking really confused. Then she turned them over. Then she turned them over again. Then she stared some more. For a good minute. Then she looked at me and said "These are a dollar." Yes. She's catching on. Then she spent a considerable amount of time trying to decide where to store them in the cash register.

(By the way, if you haven't tried Dunkin's new white hot chocolate...mmmmmm. Heaven in a cup.)

Customer Service Counter Girl at Dominick's: "Oooh! Purdy!"

Smiling Counter Guy at a completely different Dunkin' Donuts: "I thought they decided not to make these."

Counter Guy at Short Stop: "...Out of two bucks. Thanks!" He was the one cashier who didn't even blink when I handed them to him. Literally everybody else has at least stopped for a second to understand what I'm handing them.

There were a couple of places where I completely forgot I had them when I could have used them. I found that to be kind of annoying.

I don't find them to be that much of a burden to carry around. And the novelty is kind of fun.

I recommend dropping by your bank and picking up a roll. It's basically no cost amusement, if nothing else.