The Much Maligned Sacajawia Dollar Coin

Until last year, people could buy dollar coins with their credit cards from the US Mint and have them delivered, with no shipping or service fees. People often used this “loophole” to rack up airline miles on their credit cards. The purpose of this crazy loss-leader by the US Mint was mostly to get people to use Sacajawia dollars!

Here’s an online forum where people are bemoaning the loss of their beloved loophole. And talking about how nobody likes the coin. For instance, “the cashier [at the supermarket] told us that nearly all of the $1 coins that make it into the cashier tills get rolled and sent back to the fed because most customers refuse them in change.” There’s a hundred more stories just like it.

Funny.

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I despise the coin because it is indistinguishable from a quarter when feeling for it in your pocket and under moderate to poor light. And the gold color fades over time, making it look even more like a quarter. Some folks have disagreed with me about the pocket test until I put them to the test. Every person changed their tune when I asked them to try the pocket test themselves.

The US Mint continues to throw good money after bad. It bothers me at how stupid their efforts are and how they are doing it “for the people”. If they could get a dollar coin to stay in circulation, the rewards would be dramatic: dramatic savings in minting costs.

A dollar bill costs about $0.10 to mint and lasts about 1 year
A dollar coin costs about $0.20 to mint and lasts about 30 years.
The US mints about 20 million $1 bills every day, costing about $2 million per day, or $730 million/year.
If we switched to a dollar coin, the US would only need to mint about 666 million $1 coins, costing about $133 thousand per day, or $48 million/year

Switching from bills to coins would save about $680 million dollars/year, every year. Not bad for fixing one stupid problem.

But more than that, it is bad design and bad design hurts my soul. I want nothing to do with it.

2 Comments

  1. Free says:

    The Sacagawea dollar coin is indeed badly designed. At the same time, several other dollar coins have been tried, and none of them has ever been popular. And no country in the world has been able to get people to accept a coin that was previously a bill, unless they withdrew the bill from circulation.

    Dollar coins have lots of advantages to the US Mint. But people would rather have something that is lighter and easier to organize in their wallets. So we either a) stop issuing dollar bills, so that people will have to use dollar coins, which will have all the enumerated advantages to the Mint, or b) stop trying to make a dollar coin popular, when it hasn’t got a chance. There really isn’t a middle ground.

  2. lee says:

    >several other dollar coins have been tried, and none of them has ever been popular

    I don’t think that’s true, but I don’t know my numismatics that well. Go ahead and prove me wrong.

    The recent dollar coins have had obvious problems, problems a 13 year old could recognize. I vividly remember the first time I saw a Susan B Anthony dollar. I was 13 years old, at Polynesian Village in Disney World. I remember my first thought, “That’s a dollar? It looks like a quarter. What if I accidentally put it in an arcade machine?” (the arcade at Polynesian Village was pretty good) I mean, really, it is the exact size, exact color, and nearly identical back side as a quarter. What were they thinking?

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    The Eisenhower dollar was pretty cool. You can’t miss it in your pocket. But the reason it didn’t do so well is pretty obvious, from Wikipedia:

    The Eisenhower dollar was the last dollar coin to contain a proportional amount of base metal to lower denominations; it has the same amount of copper-nickel as two Kennedy half dollars, four Washington quarters, or ten Roosevelt dimes. Because of this it was a heavy and somewhat inconvenient coin.

    Why carry a dollar coin when 4 quarters will weigh down your pocket just as much?

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    The US silver dollars are effing awesome. A different size, a different heft, a different sheen, a different design (well, they could have used something beside a bald eagle). And pretty as all get-out. Reading the Wikipedia entry on the Peace Dollar, it looks like noone disliked the coins. But a dollar was a lot of money in 1923 so it’s hard to compare.

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