Presidential $1 coin unveiled to mixed reviews
1st coin, with likeness of George Washington, promises to benefit consumers, collectors.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Coin enthusiasts and casual collectors lined up Thursday morning at Grand Central Terminal in New York for the first opportunity to get the $1 presidential coin - but the new coin's widespread adoption is far from guaranteed.
The coin features George Washington and will be followed this year by coins featuring John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Four new coins will be introduced each year featuring presidents in the order they served.
Edmund Moy, Director of the U.S. Mint, compared the program to the popular state quarter series initiated in January 1999. "We have 140 million collectors of the state quarter," said Moy. "The more people collect, the more they will use it."
The last scheduled coin is Gerald Ford in 2016. None of the coins will bear the image of any living former or current President. Coins of deceased former presidents won't be made until two years following the date of death.
Each president will be honored with only one coin regardless of the number of consecutive terms they served. President Grover Cleveland, who served two non-consecutive terms, however, will be featured on two coins.
The edge of the coin is etched with the words "E Pluribus Unum," "In God We Trust", the year of minting, and a letter denoting the mint that produced them.
Collectors at the Grand Central event were excited about the coin as a collectable but had doubts about its viability as a replacement for the paper dollar.
Chase Curtis picked up some coins for his son George's collection. Curtis, who had lived in Hong Kong where coins had replaced all small denomination bills, believes coins can do a much better job than paper money. "But the government would need to phase-back paper first," he said.
Others were cautious in their praise. Zak Walker of Brooklyn said the $1 Presidential coin was "very interesting and a good idea." But, he added, "I don't think it will catch on."
Neither the Sacagawea dollar coin released in 2000 nor the Susan B. Anthony dollar first minted in 1979 have enjoyed wide use in circulation.
Barry Stuppler, vice president of the American Numismatic Association, said that in order for dollar coins to be widely used they must be accepted not just by the public but by everything from vending machines to traffic meters.
"If commerce doesn't prepare for it, [the presidential dollar] will become like the Susan B. Anthony dollar," he said.
Chuck Reed, of Crane Payment Solutions, a division of Crane Merchandising Systems, the largest supplier of vending machines in the United States, says "operators have no motivation to take dollar coins [in their machines]."
Reed estimates that only 5 to 10 percent of vending machines in the country accept dollar coins.
"Until consumers get more dollar coins, there's no need for the coin set in the machine," he said.
In a CNNMoney.com online poll, however, with more than 40,000 responses, 64 percent said the new coin was a good idea.
And dollar coins are an attractive idea to the government. A 2002 Government Accounting Office report concluded that if dollar coins replaced the paper dollar, the government would save $500 million annually.
The presidential coin is the size, weight and metal composition of the Sacagawea $1 coin, costing about 20 cents each to produce and lasting 30 years of normal use, according to Moy. The paper dollar costs 4 cents to print but lasts only about 18 to 22 months, Moy said.
Other considerations for dollars with presidential images linger.
At the Grand Central event, George Washington historical interpreter, William Sommerfield, said of the coin, "I think it's a rather good likeness." But he pointed out that after the American Revolution, Washington refused calls to put his likeness on coins, arguing it would be too similar to the British coinage with the King of England.
Of the presidential coin, Sommerfield said, "we're honoring the office of the president, not necessarily the man."
Others in at the event viewed the coins as a novelty.
Tim Meyers said that because his children started collecting the state quarters, Meyers thought he'd bring home the presidential dollar coin, too.
But what about people who need to make quick transactions all day? Coffee vendor Mirwais Youresh on West 58th Street expressed doubts.
"I like this coin" he said, adding it was easier for vendors. "But consumers don't like it," said Youresh.
Youresh said when he tries to give dollar coins in change, "sometimes customers ask for paper bills instead."