As you know, the U.S. Mint is trying to sell the public on a new series of one dollar coins. It makes sense. Although they’re more expensive to make than paper bills, they have greater longevity. However, having held these coins in my hand, I can tell you that they have exactly the same problem as the ill-fated Susan B. Anthony dollar — they’re almost exactly the same size and feel as quarters. People are not going to embrace a coin that always puts them at risk of over-paying in strict proportion to the number of quarters they intend to use in any given transaction. In another words, the new coins will be a hard sell. That’s why I can’t say I was exactly surprised to see this story:
An unknown number of new George Washington dollar coins were mistakenly struck without their edge inscriptions, including “In God We Trust,” and made it past inspectors and into circulation, the U.S. Mint said Wednesday.
The properly struck dollar coins, bearing the likeness of George Washington, are inscribed along the edge with “In God We Trust,” “E Pluribus Unum” and the year and mint mark. They went into circulation Feb. 15.
The mint struck 300 million of the coins, which are golden in color and slightly larger and thicker than a quarter.
About half were made in Philadelphia and the rest in Denver. So far the mint has only received reports of error coins coming from Philadelphia, mint spokeswoman Becky Bailey said.
Bailey said it was unknown how many coins didn’t have the inscriptions. Ron Guth, president of Professional Coin Grading Service, one of the world’s largest coin authentication companies, said he believes that at least 50,000 error coins were put in circulation.
“The first one sold for $600 before everyone knew how common they actually were,” he said. “They’re going for around $40 to $60 on eBay now, and they’ll probably settle in the $50 range.”
The last bit is important. As matters stand now, simply by getting your hands on a bunch of one dollar coins — which is easily enough done, because they’re not a restricted or illegal commodity — and checking them carefully, you can make about 50X the value of any flawed coin you find. That’s a good return on no investment whatsoever. It gives people an incentive, when they’re at the bank, to ask for coins, as opposed to bills, and ensures that more coins will swiftly enter circulation.
All of which means that, while the Philly and Denver mints may simply have made a fortuitous mistake, this could also be a very smart effort to increase the demand for the coins, and to integrate them into our economy as swiftly as possible.