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Viewpoint: Change never came to U.S. money

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. This erosion has not led 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 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.

I would still argue that there are no coins to be found from circulation because, aside from the rarest errors found only recently by cent collectors that have populations of less than five or even only one, there are no clad coins that have any numismatic premium in circulated grades.

And even with silver issues, one typically has to go prior to 1941 before finding coins with value in excess of their silver content in circulated grades.

It’s even hard to learn grading using circulated moderns because, despite their age, cents show little wear after 1940; nickels, after 1970; dimes, after 1980; and quarters, after 1990. The oldest state quarters are nearly 20 years old now, halfway through the typically cited 40-year circulation life, and yet 1999 issues still typically show little to no wear. The bounty of moderns makes certain aspects of collecting easy while making others quite difficult.

It’s a shame our (paper) money still uses the same portraiture and vignette line-up. I suppose the United States missed a grand opportunity to fully redesign all its currency for the Bicentennial. Even if it only went halfway by changing the vignettes on the reverse to reflect major moments in U.S. history (like the flag-raising on Iwo Jima), or national pride (like the Moon landing), that would’ve been nice. Is there anyone left alive with a living memory of currency using different portraits/vignettes? It’s sad that such resistance to change (the same with our coin designs) has set so firmly into our national consciousness.

This “Viewpoint” was written by “Vachon” and posted as commentary on the website.

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