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What can we do with bankers?

Mint Director Ed Moy has his work cut out for him. His mission is to promote the use of $1 coins. It is not an easy task under the best of circumstances, but just how hard it is becomes obvious when I read a story on one of my favorite Web sites,

This site keeps track of the prices of copper, zinc and nickel and the values of U.S. coinage made out of base metals.

With the nickel containing almost 7 cents’ worth of metal, it is useful to keep track of the fluctuations, so I have reason to visit the site regularly.

But there is an added appeal. The site also posts interesting stories. Yesterday one of those stories that make collectors shake their heads in disbelief was posted from the Peoria Journal Star. It reported a police investigation.

What was the crime? Passing counterfeit coins at a Macomb, Ill., restaurant.

Circulating counterfeit coins are unusual. The low values don’t offer criminals sufficient reward for the trouble of making the fakes. My interest was aroused.

Four coins were passed. Each featured a different portrait. One was George Washington, another was John Adams, a third was Thomas Jefferson and the fourth, the coin that set off the investigation shows the head of ... drum roll, please ... James Madison. This “suspicious” coin was spotted by an unnamed banker. Why, the coin is not due out until later this year. It must be fake, the banker’s reasoning went.

“The coins appeared to have come from a collector’s proof set,” the story says.

The banker and the police have all the salient facts to make a correct determination. Instead of concluding that the coins were genuine and someone simply had broken up a proof set to spend, they launch an ominous sounding counterfeit investigation.

Even if we can’t teach numismatics to bankers, perhaps they could be taught criminal psychology. That would have saved police a lot of bother. No crook is going to try to spend something of very low value that stands out from ordinary cash transactions. Making oneself conspicuous for $4 just doesn’t cut it.

My compliments, though, to the restaurant that accepted the coins. That establishment took the coins and then deposited them with its bank.

Director Moy can call it one small success in his campaign.