November 21, 2006

I'd buy that for a dollar!

Recently, the U.S. Mint announced that, despite the failure of the Susan B. Anthony dollar coin and the Sacajawea dollar coin, they are going to try again ... this time with a "presidents" dollar coin.
The quarter-sized, brassy-tinted coin will bear the face of a president - a different one every three months. The presidents will be shown in chronological order, with each appearing only once (except for Grover "I have big bones" Cleveland - the only president to be elected to non-consecutive terms). A president must be dead for at least two years to be depicted, which means (with Clinton and Dubya all in fairly youthful circumstances and vigorous health) that the mint has around 19 years worth of pugs to plug their slug.
Of course, the new coin won't last that long. I doubt that Thomas Jefferson will make it onto a goldbuck. Because the Mint simply refuses to learn from its failures ... but on the whole, that might say something good about the state of our nation.
Do they honestly believe the Sacajawea and Anthony dollars failed because of the PICTURE? Do they think that the cheesy "gold" coloration of the Sacky fooled anyone? Do they think that making yet another coin that is virtually indistinguishable from the quarter is going to make people use the dang thing?
My old professor of things Byzantine spent a large amount of time on the history of coinage. As the Empire began to fade after only a millennia or so, the "solidus" - the Roman gold "dollar" - that had been literally the "gold standard" throughout the known world, began to be altered. They (Mint officials and thieves) dished it, cupped it, abased the gold with alloy, fiddled with the size ... all in an attempt to "stretch" the metals in the coins. Rather quickly, merchants and even citizens began hording "real" solidii, or even buying the raw gold, because the coins being issued by the Empire were of questionable value.
Even in more modern times, there are precedents. I am sure you can recall the old movie cliche' of a shady customer biting a proferred coin? That's because, when the coins had actual intrinsic value, they were subject to clipping (trimming bits off the edges) and counterfeiting (often with painted slugs of base metal).
So over the past couple of decades, the U.S. Mint has (they believe) weaned us away from coins with intrinsic value. About the only coin worth close to its face value is the penny - the others are all alloys of base metal with no nickle or silver in them. And they would "retire" that one-cent icon as "too costly."
The failure of the cheaply made and cheap-feeling Sacajawea and Anthony dollars was largely an indicator of the perhaps subconscious need for the public to feel "value" in a dollar. A "dollar" that is tactilely indistinguishable from lesser coins is doomed to fail.
And that may be a positive thing ... for the sake of the American Empire, at least the illusion of a dependable coinage must be maintained.
I'll take paper or plastic bucks, but keep the fake-gold tokens for Chuck E. Cheese.


muninn said...

Sounds like a great idea to me. I'll start using them when they come out with the Jeffreson Davis edition.

Basil said...

A debased currency for a debased culture. It fits.