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Jeffrey Shaffer Headshot

Some Change Requires Deep Pockets

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This is an open letter to all the great folks at the US Mint. What I'm about to say won't be music to your ears, but hear me out. I'm a big fan of metallic money, been collecting all my life, so please don't dismiss me as some disgruntled nattering numismatist of negativism.

Here's my worry: the new Andrew Jackson dollar coin may not be a winner. I personally love the coin, okay? I live in one of the cities where it's getting a test run, publicity here has been extensive, and each time I visit my bank I ask the tellers for a stack so I can send them into circulation.

But I've got to be honest -- I'm not seeing an army of supporters rallying for our seventh president up and down Main Street. There's no overt hostility so far. In fact, many of the cashiers who receive my Jackson coins make enthusiastic comments such as, "Hey, these are fun!"

I happily agree, but the same thing happened years ago when I was passing around the Sacagawea dollars. The novelty wears off quickly, and my sense of the moment is that once these new dollars are spent, few if any are handed back in change to customers following behind me.

I realize the government will save tons of money if we phased out dollar bills because coins have a longer life span. But that fact doesn't carry a lot of weight with people making everyday transactions at news stands, cafes, and convenience stores. What they notice is the weight in their pockets and purses.

The real problem with money these days is buying power. It's been declining for decades. When I was a kid in the early 1960's you could get four comic books and two candy bars for 80 cents. Right now at my local supermarket two packs of M&Ms and a copy of People add up to $6.99.

I'd like to conduct a poll in major cities, actually stop people on the street and have them count their cash, to find out how many one-dollar bills an average American is carrying around. My guess would be somewhere between three and seven. They come in handy for those candy and magazine buys.

If the feds really want everyone to retire all those one-dollar greenbacks and start carrying an equal number of dollar coins every day, somebody at the Treasury Department may want to design a special tote bag or other fashion accessory to accommodate the new trend.

A better strategy for this campaign might be to focus on a narrow slice of the population and make a long term effort. My demographic is no good because so many of my peers have spent a lifetime using paper for their one-dollar needs.

Even tougher is the current generation of 18 to 30 year-olds. A whole lot of them disdain cash and use debit or credit cards for everyday transactions.

The best target is probably the preschool crowd. Get the coin into their lives early and make them love it. One way of doing this would be to cancel all TV coin advertising, convert the savings into Jacksons, then sign a marketing agreement with Fisher-Price, Hasbro, or Mattel.

Have the toy experts design toddler-size latte stands, lunch counters and other commercial playtime scenarios and include a few dollar coins with each product. Kids who grow up using them as play items might be less reluctant to carry them around as adults. Yes, this experiment would take years to evaluate, but the coins are durable so it might pay off in the long term.

In the meantime, I'll keep passing them out on my own at every opportunity. I'm going to feel pretty bad if Old Hickory's final battle turns out to be a total loss.