Are we any closer to changes in the cent and nickel than we were in 2006 when it became uneconomic to produce the two denominations?
Under “Reforms” on Page 124 of the Treasury section of the 2015 fiscal year budget it says, “Provides for a comprehensive review of U.S. currency production and use, including developing alternative options for the penny and the nickel.”
Is that language just blather to cover another two-year interval of more testing by the Mint, or is it an indication that things are about to get serious?
It is hard to say because even serious intentions can get derailed in Washington, D.C., as opposition arises or other priorities rush to the forefront.
But what would a change look like?
There is little likelihood that the cent composition will change, but the denomination could simply go away as it did in Canada two years ago.
Canada’s consumer habits and merchant needs are similar to those of the United States.
There was no general upset there when the cent disappeared.
Life went on.
But it has been unproductive to point to Canada as an example because inertia in the United States has led to a decisive break between the coinage systems of the two countries.
In 1987 a dollar coin was introduced and the dollar note retired in Canada.
In 1996 a $2 coin was introduced and the $2 bill retired.
Nickel-plated steel became the norm for higher denominations such as the equivalent to our quarter in 2001.
The United States has made a game effort of three different dollar coins since 1979, but the note was never abolished so the two current dollar coins are simply offered to collectors.
A $2 coin would simply be an oddity in the United States. Americans never warmed to the denomination as other countries like Canada and the Eurozone did.
Some form of steel for the higher denominations might still come to the United States. Stay tuned.
Even though we do not respect the cent, most people still want to preserve it as an icon of bygone days.
I was in a checkout line over the weekend and a fellow ahead of me dropped a dime.
The other people in line were none too pleased when the clerk helped him search the floor for it.
I can only imagine what the reaction would have been to a search for a dropped cent.
How can two such similar coinage systems end up so different in a little over a generation?
How can people individually show such contempt for small change in checkout lines yet rally behind the coins when the discussion turns to whether they have outlived their usefulness?
These questions are what make considerations of our coinage future so interesting.
Buzz blogger Dave Harper is winner of the 2014 Numismatic Literary Guild Award for Best Blog and is editor of the weekly newspaper "Numismatic News."