TOPICS > Economy

U.S. Mint Prints Gold-colored Dollar Coins

February 16, 2007 at 6:45 PM EDT

RAY SUAREZ: Americans got a shiny new addition to their pocket change this week: the presidential dollar coin, featuring the nation’s first president, George Washington. The U.S. Mint will issue four of these gold-colored coins a year, in the order that the presidents served.

On the head side, you’ll find, literally, presidential heads. John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison will also be released this year. Each coin will be minted only once during a 10-week period.

On the tail side, each coin features the Statue of Liberty. And the edges are inscribed with the year of minting, “E Pluribus Unum,” “In God We Trust,” and the mint mark showing where it was struck.

But selling the American public on the idea of using, not just collecting dollar coins, hasn’t been easy. The U.S. Mint has released three other dollar coins since 1971: the President Dwight Eisenhower dollar; the Susan B. Anthony dollar; and in 2000, the Sacagawea dollar, all of which failed to gain wide circulation.

And a recent Associated Press poll found three-fourths of Americans want to keep the paper dollar, and they were evenly split on the idea of having both a paper bill and a dollar coin.

Joining me now is the director of the U.S. Mint, Edmund Moy. And, Mr. Moy, why, after our recent history with this, introduce a new dollar coin?

EDMUND MOY, U.S. Mint Director: The timing is really good. Inflation has taken its toll. A quarter doesn’t buy as much any more. We were just up in New York. A quarter buys 7.5 cents on a parking meter. Dollar coins are becoming more practical.

RAY SUAREZ: But if they are side-by-side with the equally valued currency, aren’t we pretty conservative about money? Are we going to accept a new coin?

EDMUND MOY: All of our surveys and internal market research has shown that Americans have gotten much more interested in using the dollar coin. The survey that has been discussed, over half of all Americans, which is between 140 million and 150 million Americans, are interested in using this.

RAY SUAREZ: When you finally sat down to design the thing, and I mean you and all the other people in this business, did you go to school on what works and what doesn’t work? Did you talk to vendors, transit systems, and say, “Well, what do you need a dollar coin to do?”

EDMUND MOY: Absolutely, and all of the above. And one of the lessons that we’ve learned, for example, is from the 50-state quarter program that Americans like a rotating series of designs. They like checking their change on a periodic basis to see what that new design is, and the presidential dollar coin program was based on that, where we do four presidents a year.

RAY SUAREZ: Did you try to understand why earlier releases didn’t work and try to avoid some of the design problems with those?

EDMUND MOY: Sure. Susan B. Anthony, for example, had a silver cast to it, which made it very hard to distinguish itself from a quarter. What we’ve learned from the Sacagawea, that was very positively received, was its golden alloy that we used. So when you look at your change, you can easily identify that that’s a dollar coin.

RAY SUAREZ: So what did you do this time to sort of bring in the best elements and still make a coin that we can afford to make and widely distribute?

EDMUND MOY: Yes, what we did this time on the coin was to keep that golden color. Congress wanted us to take the models of the country, “E Pluribum Unum” and “In God We Trust,” and highlight them, by putting them on the edge of the coin.

That does two things. One, it gets Americans looking at the coinage a little more and say, “Where are those mottos?” and we place them with that. But, also, if you grab the coins out of your pocket and you have a column of them, you can easily distinguish from the side that you got a dollar coin.

The other thing that we did was the series and having that rotating series of designs. When people look at their coins more, they use them more.

RAY SUAREZ: So William Henry Harrison, who was president for a month, is going to have about the same amount of play as Franklin Roosevelt, who was president for 14 years?

EDMUND MOY: That’s right. And one of the wonderful pieces about American coinage is that it also represents history and it’s an education opportunity. Fifty state quarters got my nieces and nephews interested in state geography. We hope that these presidential dollars get kids interested in not only collecting them, but understanding and learning about those presidents.

RAY SUAREZ: When the Congress and the Mint commits itself to a series like this that will stretch over the next dozen or so years, is there any revisiting? Will you go back and see, “Well, is the polish, the finish working right? Are these coins wearing well? Are they aging well?”

EDMUND MOY: Yes, the point that you made as we began is we’re constantly learning. And if we weren’t, we wouldn’t be doing our job. And so our obligation to Congress is to continue to give them feedback on, you know, how the coins are doing and what we can do to improve. But it does take an act of Congress to change the way that we’re doing things.

RAY SUAREZ: Are we ever going to embrace a dollar coin if we still have a paper dollar?

EDMUND MOY: I don’t know what the answer to that question is, but I do know that the purpose of our program is not to supplant the dollar bill, but instead to offer an option to Americans, so that they have a choice, so they can use the currency that’s most convenient for them for each transaction.

RAY SUAREZ: Director Moy, thanks for being with us.

EDMUND MOY: Good to be with you, Ray.