There is a book called, “Waiting for Godot.” I have never read more than the title. I probably wouldn’t understand it.
However, the title leaped into my mind as I began to write this column about waiting for the new Lincoln cents to arrive at the local bank.
Thousands of collectors and perhaps millions of people are wondering why they cannot get examples of the new 2009 cent with the log cabin reverse on it.
It is an understandable question. It would be great if there were an easy answer, but there really isn’t.
Distribution of coins is something that is like plumbing. You don’t think about it until the water is shooting the wrong way out of the kitchen faucet.
Banks have to pay to get coins and they often do so through the armored car companies. These companies distribute the denominations that are needed, but they are not terribly receptive to ordering coins by date and mint. Some banks do successfully get specific issues for their clients but that is either because the clients are very good and the cost is covered in some fashion that is acceptable to the bank. Businesses in turn are charged for the service by the banks. They naturally want the cheapest means of fulfilling their coinage needs.
Sometimes this system has been overridden, such as when the Sacagawea dollar was rolled out in 2000 or when Presidential dollars began to be shipped in small quantities last year to those who wanted them.
The Mint knew up front in both cases that there is little demand for dollar coins in the banking system and it would have to take great pains to try to make the coins more available in order to promote their use.
I will bet that never in their wildest dreams did Mint staff even consider the possibility that demand for new coins would slow so much in the early weeks of 2009 that new cents would not make it to the banks on time in the normal way.
Since 1964 the Mint has been in a close race just to keep the country supplied with cents. Until just the last few years, the country seemed to have an insatiable appetite for them. Once struck, they just went out there and disappeared.
Most years the new cent appeared at the major commercial centers of the country during the first week of January. Some years it took a little longer, but in 31 years here I don’t remember the cents ever being later than the final half of January.
Well, the world changed in September of 2008 when Lehman Brothers collapsed. Economic functions that we all take for granted seemed to seize up and stop. I guess we can add cent distribution to the list of problems that we never thought about before.
I can’t blame the Mint for not thinking of something that hasn’t happened at any time since I first became a collector at the age of eight. Last September I probably wouldn’t have thought of it either.
I might have guessed that cent demand would fall, but the sheer magnitude of the decline would have been a surprise.
New Lincolns will arrive eventually. Let me know when you spot your first new cent at email@example.com.