I have been thinking about our current coin denominations lately. We collectors know a lot, but at least in my case, I have found that I still have more to learn.
In Numismatic News last week I wrote about abolishing the half dollar and putting the design on a gold bullion coin. That inspired further thoughts about current coinage.
Everybody knows that half dollars aren’t used in vending machines. Right?
Well maybe not.
I know it. You know it. But how far does this knowledge extend?
Besides collectors, why would anybody be paying attention? They probably think the coin is not being made anymore – that is, if they have ever seen one at all.
You have to work a bit to obtain a half dollar.
I can attest to the fact that I have received them in change. I can also attest to the fact that it has been decades since that was true.
On a regular basis, I have not received half dollars since I gave up my paper route in 1969.
That’s a long time ago. It is a number of years well beyond the current median life span.
In the United States, the median age is 37.2. That means half the population is younger than 37.2 and half is older.
Only the older half of the population has any chance at all of remembering when the half dollar was a useful denomination. You have to be more like 60 to have a recollection of when the coin actually was used on a routine basis.
Even on my paper route, the half dollar had seen better days. They were not common. I was more likely to receive a Mercury dime than a half dollar.
Most people hoarded halves. If they were not hoarding halves for the silver content, they were hoarding the Kennedy half dollar, which was introduced in 1964 as a memento of our assassinated President.
The public's current lack of familiarity with the half dollar denomination grew slowly with the passage of time.
What about a lack of familiarity with our fairly new small dollar coins?
We collectors know the American public has rejected their use. We know the government stopped issuing them for circulation at the end of 2011.
But as collectors just how familiar are we ourselves with dollar coins?
I had my comeuppance at the local bank.
I was making one of my usual trips to empty a container of coins for folding money.
I had carefully set aside nine $1 Presidential and Native American coins that I had received as change in our company break room.
After the teller returned to the window after counting the rest of the coins, she saw the dollar coins. She then told me that next time I should put them in with the rest of my change. The counting machine handles them very nicely. Of course it does.
Why didn’t I know that in the first place?
Lack of familiarity. It is a good thing I didn't have more of them. Then she might have been really cross.
Buzz blogger Dave Harper has twice won the Numismatic Literary Guild Award for Best Blog and is editor of the weekly newspaper "Numismatic News."
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