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Not yet time to throw coins away

What is the future of coins?

Will we soon be without them?

An impatient reader reverses the questions to ask why we still make so many.

Consider a recent email sent to me by Dom Cicio.

“Just read your article August ‘Mint production down’ (NN Oct. 13, 2017). You state the average monthly U.S. Mint production still stands at over 1.2 billion coins. Where are all these coins? They certainly are not in circulation. I cannot believe that the Mint is producing billions of coins. Especially billions of cents.

“Call me doubting Dom but something does not make sense. To begin with not as many people use cash as people did years ago. And we know people are not collecting coins like people did years ago. There cannot be the need for coins as there was years ago. Can there be?

“True the modern coins rust and rot quickly but we are still talking MULTI- BILLIONS of coins. I just don’t see that many coins being in circulation. When I do get change it is generally not newer dates. I would like to know the thoughts of others on this subject.”

Naturally, I will publish his letter in an upcoming issue of Numismatic News.

But I am impatient, too. I started looking things up

The process of getting rid of coins is moving along.

We just have not yet made the leap from where we conceive that we can do without coins to a reality where that is the case.

Just tell the unfortunate hurricane victims in Puerto Rico who are without power to pay their bills electronically. They can’t.

Cash is king there at the moment. But the stature of cash generally and coins specifically is diminishing.

The Mint’s output of coinage peaked in the year 2000.

In round numbers, the output was 25 billion coins.

This year, the Mint’s output in round numbers will be 14 billion.

Coin output has dropped by nearly half.

What has happened to the size of the economy?

In 2000, it was $10 trillion. This year, it is $19 trillion. That’s nearly double.

So to make this as easy as possible, the economy doubling and coin output dropping by half means new coin output is just one-quarter as important as it was in 2000.

That’s quite a demotion for coins.

True, 14 billion coins is a large number. But the downtrend is clear.

We can speculate about when the last coin will be struck and the last coin will be spent in a real economic transaction.

No one can know for sure when it will be, but that day is coming.

On our way to the future, we will have to figure out how to conduct transactions without coins and without power.

Buzz blogger Dave Harper won the Numismatic Literary Guild Award for Best Blog for the third time in 2017 . He is editor of the weekly newspaper “Numismatic News.”

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2 Responses to Not yet time to throw coins away

  1. Vachon says:

    I would like to know why people tolerate the production of coins with no purchasing power? Talk from old-time collectors shows how coins were once useful in the economy but (and especially) since the 1970s, their purchasing power has eroded considerably but this erosion has not let to the production of coins (and cessation of corresponding paper money) that do have purchasing power.

    ATMs usually only dispense in $20 increments suggesting the $20 bill is the $1 bill of today’s economy so why not $10, $5, and $2 coins? Not sure what they would/could be made of, but at least they could buy things. Why produce anything less than a quarter-dollar at today’s prices? That’s what I find weird. Like, shouldn’t the cent have ended when vending machines stopped taking them at the latest?

    And don’t get me wrong, I’d rather see purchasing power restored to our existing monetary system over time than to abandon low-denominations wholesale if only because cents and nickels are the only old coins remaining in circulation for new collectors to find.

  2. Vachon says:

    Mr. Harper,

    Thank you for publishing my comments here (and from two other of your blog posts) in Numismatic News’s November 7, 2017 issue as an opinion piece. It was a delightful surprise both to have read them in newsprint (I thought that guy sounded familiar!) and to have had them considered worthy of publication in the first place. It made my day.

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