WASHINGTON – The second dollar coin in the new presidential series goes into circulation around the country on Thursday with the U.S. Mint hoping it can turn 18th century statesman John Adams into a 21st century marketing phenomenon.
After two famous flops in Susan B. Anthony and Sacagawea, the U.S. Mint believes it now has the right strategy for success. But there are still plenty of naysayers around who believe a dollar coin will never gain wide acceptance unless the government gets rid of the dollar bill.
The Mint's new formula has borrowed from the 50-state quarter program, the most popular coin program in history, which has lured millions of Americans into becoming coin collectors.
Like the quarters, the dollar coins will feature constantly changing designs — four new presidents each year in the order they served in office.
The hope is that the novelty of introducing a new design every three months will get people to start collecting the coins and then, as they get familiar with them, to start putting them to use in vending machines and other places where a dollar coin would be more convenient than using four quarters.
The series got started in February with the introduction of the first coin in the series — a shiny gold-colored George Washington, slightly larger than a quarter.
Millions of John Adams coins — also a golden color — have been shipped to banks around the country, where they will be put into circulation on Thursday. The coins can also be purchased directly on the Mint's web site. Mint officials believe they have resolved some of the distribution glitches discovered in the rollout of the Washington coin.
"People who want the coin are going to be able to get the coin," Mint Director Edmund C. Moy said in an interview with The Associated Press. "As volume increases, we will work out the minor kinks."
Banks have been able to order the Adams coin, the first to feature the nation's second president, for the past two weeks. So far the Federal Reserve, which distributes the coins for the Mint, has requested production of 191 million Adams coins. That is down from the Fed's order of 304 million Washington dollars but well within Mint projections.
Based on the mid-point of Mint projections, demand for the Jefferson and Madison dollars could total 400 million coins. That would mean that the first year's issue of presidential dollars would amount to around 900 million coins. That compares to 700 million Sacagawea dollars produced in the first 15 months after that coin was introduced in 2000.
What the Mint is trying to avoid is the huge drop-off in demand that occurred with both the Sacagawea and the Susan B. Anthony, introduced in 1979. Moy said he was encouraged by the interest being shown by collectors, an indication that the Mint's stategy of changing designs is working.
He noted that a survey taken last November when the designs for the first four coins were unveiled showed that only 15 percent of Americans knew about the new dollar coin, which was authorized by Congress in 2005. However, more recent surveys showed that the number of Americans who know about the coin has risen to around 60 percent.
Hoping to build on that growing awareness, Moy said the Mint is trying to reach out to businesses who could benefit from greater use of the coins such as fast food restaurants, vending machine companies, automated car washes and the operators of city parking meters.
Moy said while this is a niche market, it is a fairly large niche. Americans spent $16 billion last year just to feed parking meters.
Coin collectors report high demand for the new coins, in part because of an inadvertent production mistake which the Mint believes it has now corrected. To allow for a larger image of Washington and the other presidents, the Mint moved some of the lettering including "In God We Trust" to the edge of the coins.
However, several thousand coins — dealers estimate 50,000 or more error coins — were put into circulation without the edge lettering. Dubbed "Godless coins," they have been selling for between $100 and $300, according to Jeff C. Garrett, president of the Professional Numismatists Guild and head of the Mid-American Rare Coin Galleries in Lexington, Ky.
"There was a gold rush looking for Washington coins with a plain edge," he said.
Garrett said he still doubts the presidential dollar will make much headway getting into general circulation until the United States follows the example of countries such as Canada, Australia and England in eliminating their single-denomination currency when they introduced an equivalent coin.
"The Treasury Department is still printing more than 15 million one-dollar bills every day, so there's no compelling reason for the public to use the dollar coins in commerce," Garrett said.
But Moy rejects that argument. "Our economy is democratic capitalism at its best and people are used to choice," he said. "There is room for both a dollar coin and a dollar bill."
Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del. and the principal House sponsor of the presidential dollar legislation, said he isn't surprised that the coin isn't starting to show up yet in change drawers around the nation.
"We are not going to get rid of the dollar bill. I don't think there is public support for that," he said. "But the number of coins being minted shows we are having a great deal of success on the collectors' side."