New $1 Coin Adds to $700 Million Boondoggle

James Buchanan coin
James Buchanan coin

To little or no fanfare, the U.S. Mint is releasing the 15th presidential dollar for circulation on Thursday, in what is becoming a $700 million a year boondoggle.

Four times a year, the government introduces a new $1 coin, pretty much knowing that aside from the odd collectors, most of the coins will stack up in the U.S. Federal Reserve and in selected sock drawers across the country.

The stockpiles began to grow in 2007 when a law took effect creating a new series of $1 coins commemorating U.S. presidents, starting with George Washington. The problem is Americans don't use the coins, preferring the $1 bill. Millions are being spent to encourage the use of the $1 coins, to no avail. Americans just don't want a pocketful of coins.

"We have tried every major idea that we can come up with, with limited success," U.S. Mint Director Edmund Moy said to a congressional panel last month. "Americans are creatures of habit. They are very used to using the bill. They're not used to using coins in regular retail transactions."

The Public Ignores Growing Stockpile

In the meantime, the government continues spending money to promote the coins, shipping them, storing them and protecting the growing stockpile. Retailers, collectors and the general public continue to pretty much ignore them.

Hopes are even lower for the new coin that comes out Thursday, featuring James Buchanan, whose decided incompetence is attributed to leading the country into civil war. In Buchanan's official White House biography, it says "Buchanan grasped inadequately the political realities of the time."

At coin shops around the country, there's a resounding silence about the release.

"I rather doubt we will have anyone waiting in line for it," says Chad Burgardt, an avid collector and employee at the 42-year old Tebo Coin shop in Colorado. "To say there is very little excitement is an understatement."

Commemorative Quarters Still a Hit

Burgardt says there continues to be excitement around the 25-cent releases featuring the states. He also agrees with Moy from the U.S. Mint that unless there is a concerted effort to start phasing out greenbacks, the $1 coins will never take off.

Elsewhere, including Europe and Canada, there is no equivalent to the $1 bill. The euro's smallest denomination in paper form is the $5 bill.

What about the final $1 coin coming out later this year, featuring Abraham Lincoln? The 16th president is securely embedded in U.S. history as skillfully guiding the country through the civil war before being assassinated in 1865.

"Maybe there will be more excitement, but like the others, the coins will likely end up in sock drawers," Burgardt says.