I bought a soda in the break room before I sat down to write this column. I do not do this very often, but I had a hankering for a Coke. I had two $1 bills in my hand. Price of the drink is $1.50.
When I got to the vending machines, I noticed something new. They now have credit card readers attached to them. I can run up a few more airline miles if I want to pay for my afternoon snack with a credit card.
As far as I can tell, these are the same machines that had been here, but with a small new unit attached for reading credit cards.
What ties this to numismatics is this: why do we need to continue allowing vending machine companies to tie the Mint’s hands when it comes to new coinage compositions?
The company that supplies vending machines to my company out here in rural Wisconsin obviously went to some level of expense to retrofit existing machines. I expect the firm believes it is in its interest to change the way it accepts payment.
Changing the machines to accept coins of different compositions would also require retrofitting vending machines.
But as far as I know, the company that has now modified the machines here in this building is not loudly complaining about the expense of making this change. It simply paid the cost.
In the past decade while we have been watching the Mint look at its options regarding potential new coinage materials, a whole new generation of vending machines could have been introduced, used, depreciated and retired.
But still we wait for new coin compositions. Still the Mint loses money producing cents and nickels.
Instead of simply paying the cost of new vending machines and taking American coinage into the 21st century, we have been stalled at a point we first reached in 2006, when soaring copper and nickel prices began to render the present model obsolete.
Those who have been raising the alarm about the threat posed to personal liberty by a cashless society might consider the fact that it might arrive all the quicker because American coinage has failed to adjust to the times.
It is technology’s destiny to displace coinage sooner or later. Simply eliminating the need to move physical coins around, counting them, guarding them, dispensing them as change, will save business enormous sums of money. What we will never know is whether an active policy of evolving coin compositions and denominations might keep coinage relevant and useful longer than the present policy where everything is frozen in 2006. Everything is frozen, that is, except advancing technology.
If coins are not convenient to use any longer, the American people will give them up. If one part of cash handling is thus given up, how long before businesses ask why they need bother with any cash handling at all?
At that point, using a cashless means to buy a Coke will be the only option.
This article was originally printed in Numismatic News Express. >> Subscribe today
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