Will Jefferson dollar buck the trend?

The U.S. Mint launched the Thomas Jefferson dollar Wednesday, the third coin in the presidential dollar series, with a splashy event at the Jefferson Memorial including Jefferson look-alikes, quizzes and a coin exchange.

But does anyone care?

It's been six months since the first presidential dollar coin, George Washington, entered circulation. But so far, just 26% of Americans have seen the gold-colored coins, according to a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll of 1,012 adults conducted Aug. 3-5.

"I actually don't know when they are going to be available, or if they are available," says Lyndsey Callan, 26, of Mishawaka, Ind. "Maybe I'm just not looking in the right places."

Federal Reserve banks, which buy coins from the Mint based on demand from banks that serve consumers and businesses, have bought fewer coins with each president. Fed banks ordered approximately 303 million George Washington $1 coins and 200 million John Adams $1 coins, the second in the series, according to the Fed. The initial order for the Jefferson coins is 170 million.

Jo Fortunato, 75, of Pearl River, N.Y., got the Washington dollar coins for her five grandchildren at a local bank when they first came out.

"I gave them away and forgot about them. I haven't heard anything about them since," says the retired school secretary. "I just assumed it didn't work."

Mint Director Edmund Moy says the initial reaction to the coin has been "encouraging," noting that hundreds of millions of coins have entered the economy in a few months. But, "There are also some things that we need to work on."

One of the biggest problems has been that some customers have reported that their banks don't have the coins when they ask for them, an issue the Mint is addressing, he says. The Mint is also working with retailers to get them to use the coins more. Coins are also available at the Mint's website.

Coins face challenges

But Moy says that if 26% of those polled say they have seen the coins, that means that they must be receiving them not just from banks but also from retailers.

"That's a real positive sign that they're beginning to filter into everyday use of the economy," he says.

And he also says the Mint's research has shown that most Americans are at least familiar with the coin, something that has happened despite very little advertising or marketing from the government.

The government spent more than $67 million to promote the Sacagawea coin, the $1 coin that preceded the presidents, from 1998 to 2001. The promotion included a national advertising campaign and a float in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Faced with little demand, the Mint stopped producing the Sacagaweas in 2002, except for collectors.

This time, Congress allotted $5 million over the first year to promote the presidential dollar coins. The Mint has engaged in a more grass-roots campaign with no advertising. Instead, it is trying to build interest in the coins with events like the one held Wednesday in the nation's capital.

Moy says the Mint has gotten the go-ahead from Congress to spend money on a national advertising campaign that will begin in three to six months.

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