WASHINGTON – George Washington's birthday celebration will have a golden tinge this year. Millions of new gold-colored dollar coins bearing the first president's likeness are being introduced in time for the festivities.
The question is whether people will reject them as they did the two previous $1 coins.
U.S. Mint officials are hoping they have overcome the problems that doomed the Susan B. Anthony and Sacagawea dollars. Coin experts are skeptical.
The new $1 coins, the first in a series featuring four presidents a year, were to go into circulation on Thursday, just before next week's President's Day celebrations.
To promote the introduction, Mint officials planned to be in Grand Central Terminal in New York City to sell the new dollars to commuters.
Learning from past mistakes, the Mint is making sure the coins will be widely available so people will not be disappointed when they show up at banks looking for the coins.
So far the Federal Reserve, the Mint's distribution agent, has placed orders for 300 million of the Washington coins. Many have already been delivered to commercial banks under orders not to begin selling them to customers until Thursday.
"For the vast majority of Americans, they will be able to get the new dollar coin on the day that we issue it," Mint Director Edmund C. Moy said in an interview with The Associated Press.
In another switch from the previous dollar coins, this one will see design changes every three months. Washington will be followed this year by Presidents John Adams, Thoid that Great Britain, Australia and Canada all scrapped their lowest paper currency unit in favor of coins and eventually won public acceptance.
"If the new one-dollar coins are going to win, then one-dollar bills will have to lose," said Jeff C. Garrett, president of the Professional Numismatists Guild.
A recent AP-Ipsos poll found that the public by a sizable majority (74 percent to 24 percent) rejected replacing the dollar bill with a dollar coin. But about half in the survey (48 percent) said they would be in favor of a dollar coin being used in addition to the $1 bill.
Officials say there is no intention of eliminating the $1 billion, but they do believe the time is right for greater use of a $1 coin, in part because inflation has raised the cost of many items dispensed by vending machines.
"I think people will be very surprised at how successful this coin is going to be," Moy said.