The Mint knew it had a challenge on its hands when Congress mandated that the government agency create a dollar coin program similar to the state quarters in which the Mint would introduce four $1 coins each year depicting the presidents in the order in which they served. The program is set to run at least through 2016 and will include only presidents who have died.
Unlike quarters, dollar coins face stiff competition from dollar bills. Sixty-five percent of those polled this month said they prefer bills to coins. Studies, including those from the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, have found that consumers will embrace dollar coins only if dollar bills are pulled from circulation.
The dollar coins have generated interest among collectors. Several production glitches, including one in which workers forgot to put the lettering on the edges, have added to collectors' excitement as hobbyists sought to collect the error coins. Edge lettering is appearing on coins for the first time since 1932.
Moy says that improvements in the production process mean that virtually no errors will appear in the coin by the end of the year.
According to the USA TODAY/Gallup survey, 24% of Americans either are collecting the presidential dollar coins or plan to start a collection. Thirty-seven percent say they are collecting the state quarters.
Moving beyond collectors
Frankie Pooser, 59, a retiree in Fort Myers, Fla., has bought two 25-coin rolls each of the Washington and Adams coins at his local bank. A longtime coin collector, he is keeping most of the dollar coins and plans to pass them along to his six grandchildren one day.
"Some of the designs are really nice," he says.
He has tried to spend the dollar coins, but has just about given up. Many cashiers assume they are quarters and tell Pooser he owes more money. Others just ask him what they are, leading Pooser to explain to cashiers what the dollar coins are and how much they are worth.
"I don't like using them. I'm just saving them for collecting," he says.
It's that attitude that the Mint is trying to change.
"We want people to use these," director Moy says. "Originally, collectors got really excited about this, and they helped pull these coins through the economy. But ultimately, it's Americans seeing its use in everyday commerce that's really going to boost the coin."
Greater use of dollar coins instead of bills in everyday transactions would save the government hundreds of millions of dollars each year. Coins last about 30 years, more than 16 times longer than dollar bills.
The Federal Reserve estimated in 1995 that replacing dollar bills with coins would save $500 million a year. The savings would likely be much bigger today, because there are far more $1 bills in circulation than when the Fed made its estimate more than a decade ago.
William Buckingham, 46, of Delta, Pa., says he'd be willing to use dollar coins, but he still hasn't received any as change. In fact, in order to get a few to send to friends in England and Ireland he had to go to the bank and order them and then wait a few weeks for them to come in.
"Until you get people to accept using the new coin, I think people are always going to gravitate to the dollar bill," says Buckingham, a utility technician at a power station. "Money all spends the same. Give me a paper dollar, give me a coin dollar. If it's in a form of a coin or form of a bill, I'll use it."
Contributing: Barbara Hansen