Itís been a while since putting a single coin in a vending machine would buy you something of value. But two coins (usually quarters) can still get you plenty of worthwhile things. Consider this newspaper as a prime example.
But with the cost of transportation rising geometrically, itís taking a few more coins to acquire many items. Your favorite vending machines are probably asking 75 cents or more for products like a bag of peanuts, a Diet Dr Pepper or a package of crackers ó stale or otherwise. A friend used to call postdated products ďaged.Ē I think he has a real future in marketing.
Given the fact that dollar bills arenít worth what they used to be, Americansí refusal to embrace the various incarnations of dollar coins can only be blamed on our resistance to change (no pun intended). I mean, it seems the only use most people have for a dollar bill in the 21st century is feeding it to vending machines for a soft drink or leaving it on restaurant tables as a measly tip.
Perhaps we still consider ďfolding moneyĒ to be the big stuff, and pocket change to be, well, pocket change. By gathering up all those $1 bills and rolling them together, we can fool ourselves into thinking weíve really got a wad of cash to flash around. To be truthful, we donít, but perception is everything in todayís society. A dollar is a dollar, but four quarters are just pocket change.
I first learned about the history of dollar coins when the Susan B. Anthony dollar came out, but I never got with the program as far as using them for purchases. Youíd get that sudden look of disdain from the cashier, as if she was thinking ďthis guyís trying to pass some Canadan coins here.Ē That would mean Iíd have to take the time to explain that this is really ďone of thoseĒ coins ó legal tender, donít you know ó and that would mean the cashier would have to offer a tortured explanation why she ever doubted you. And that would mean the people waiting in line started to regard you with the same disfavor as they would someone who produced 75 coupons.
Last year, the U.S. government blessed us with a new dollar coin. Itís sure to be a hit with collectors, but while Iíve not specifically asked for one at the bank, Iíve yet to see one in general circulation.
Come to think of it, Iíve not seen any of those Susan B. Anthony dollars recently, either. According to the Web site of the U.S. Mint, itís not because theyíre being removed from use ó at least, not by the government. The United States Dollar Coin Act of 1997 mandated that both the Susan B. Anthony dollar coin and the more recent Sacagawea Golden Dollar co-circulate with the dollar bill. That doesnít mean that citizens arenít putting them aside whenever they find them, though. Come to think of it, I believe Iíve got two or three Susan B. Anthonys in my desk drawer right now.
But letís get back to the Nationís Presidents dollar coins. Taking a cue from the statehood quarters, the United States Mint is issuing $1 coins featuring the images of our presidents in the order that they served, at the rate of four per year. Presidents Monroe, Adams, Jackson and Van Buren are being honored this year. Although the size, weight and metal composition of the new Presidential $1 coins are identical to that of the Sacagawea dollar, the presidential series coins have several unique features that make this coin distinctive, but Iíll spare you those details.
Thatís a lot of prelude to get to my point, though, which is this: It seems the folks who decide when dollar bills ó of any denomination ó need to be retired have relaxed their standards. Iím getting bills in change, even bills from bank tellers, that will barely sneak through the vending machines. Iíve heard that the dollar has been taking a beating on the international market, but some of this currency actually looks like itís really been in a fight.
But what a rare delight it is to receive crisp, brand new bills. That makes it seem like the dollar is still worth a dollar, and that working to earn one is still worth the effort. I was elated ó elated, I tell you ó when I presented a 20 for a $6 purchase the other day, and the cashier tore open a stack of brand new George Washingtons and counted four of them out for me. Then, she chose to dip into the drawer to find a 10 that looked like someone had used it to wipe the kitchen sink.
I have a safe place where I store many of those fresh new bills I get. I doesnít happen often, so I figure I need to hang on to them. You never know when the vending machines will stage a revolt, and decide to refuse the moist towelettes that pass as currency these days.
Gene Deason is editor of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Friday. He may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.