The dollar coin program has always been beset with drama. Well, the best that numismatists can come up with for drama, aside from the occasional pants-soiling misstamp or the centennial major coin heist that shows up in the News You Can Chuckle Silently About column in the paper. The first modern dollar coin featured a prominently bald Dwight Eisenhower, with a rather unimaginative stamp of the moon with a liberty bell superimposed on it, apparently signifying the role of liberty our founding fathers fought a died for along with the boondoggle NASA vacuuming valuable greenbacks to let a man trot about on the moon like a show dog instead of the production of bullets to shoot commies with in southeast Asia.
This Eisenhower dollar was huge, and anything more than a token supply (har!) of them sagging in your front pocket pegged you as either a professor or a pervert or, statistically most likely, both. It rarely saw circulation except in casinos, where they were used primarily as a means with which to weight down bodies in the East River.
Decades later, under the tutelage of Jimmy Carter, the Susan B. Anthony dollar was introduced. Like the election of Carter, Anthony was chosen by a specialized group of professionals who sought to associate their cause with the absolutely least appealing individual that could possibly be imagined. Granted, Tommy Jefferson and George Washington weren’t exactly runners-up in the Mr. Potomac contest, but the profile chosen to represent poor Miss Anthony made one wonder why the bald eagle was declared endangered. And some decried the choice of Anthony to represent the women’s right movement, when there were many, many more plausible candidates that encouraged more women to join the feminist movement, like Margaret Singer and Sean Connery.
The coin failed to catch on, however. One of the largest peculiarities of the entire dollar coin debate is to discover that there is actually an entity called the “vending machine and car wash lobby.” And it was precisely this comical concept that fought for the adoption of the dollar coin, since it made the manufacture of machines much, much cheaper. (As anyone who has attempted to purchase a week-old pack of stale Ding Dongs at the gas station vending machine with a greasy, ragged dollar from last year’s Labor Day bender with the long-forgotten number of that blonde chick with the ample bosom whose tube top wanting of material proudly proclaimed her allegiance to a specific women’s apparel corporation scribbled on it can attest, expensive does not necessary equal success.) The Anthony dollar, alas, was very similar in shape, size, material and color to the already-popular quarter, and so was widely dismissed by the public, who soon replaced the dollar’s main supporter, Carter, with another of a much different shape, size, and material (though, as always, the same color).
Despite the Anthony dollar’s lack of popularity, the United States Mint found itself caught off guard late in the mid-2000’s when it found it actually had a shortage. The dollar coin, while well out of circulation, still found a use in post office vending machines, the ever-perennial casino and, one presumes, the victims of inflation in schoolyard odds-and-evens tournaments. Despite the fact that another dollar coin was commissioned, they were left with the solution of minting more useless Anthony dollars after having the plates sit dormant for around fifteen years. Much, again, like Jimmy Carter. (Don’t worry. That’s never getting old.)
The next attempt at a dollar coin, the Sacagawea, was a similar disaster, though to not quite the same degree. The congressional oversight committee declared that while they would commission a new coin, it still had to be the same general size and shape of the Anthony dollar, which made no sense since all of the vending machines still needed to be converted over and therefore the biggest drawback to the Anthony dollar was kept in place. At the very least, though, the committee had at least seen fit to declare that it would be a different color, a questionably useful trait to add when you’re fishing for it in your front pocket.
Except even THAT got buggered up. The gold color, of course, was purely for show, much like the dollar coin committee, since the coin itself is a rather standard alloy of mostly copper and zinc. After only a few months in regular circulation, the gold coloring started to flake off of the coin. Since the cost savings of a coin are the fact that it lasts longer than a dollar bill, the one differentiating advantage of the coin, of course, was lost.
To restart the introduction of dollar coins into the currency once again, the mint is initiating a Presidential Dollar program modeled after the surprisingly successful State Quarters program. Four times a year, a new president’s countenance will grace another issuance. Ultimately, the success of the dollar coin will be determined by the removal of the paper bill in circulation. Much like how Canada handled it (Canada, of course, being in the forefront of the currency sciences). There are certain questions yet to be answered—How bad will they have to crop poor William Howard Taft? Will the Nixon coin have two faces? Will the Bill Clinton coin be used to make decisions, much in the same manner that he did? (The Clinton coin, by the way, will be minted approximately 2017. This joke, though, was minted circa 1993)—one question does have an answer: As long as strippers exist, so will the dollar bill. I’ve heard, anyway.