WASHINGTON, DC — If George Washington and Abe Lincoln can’t persuade Americans to use $1 coins for everyday transactions, maybe Mother Earth can. The U.S. Mint is planning a four-month ad campaign, backed by a $12 million budget, that depicts coins as an environmentally conscious alternative to banknotes and urges citizens to “do their part” to help the planet by using $1 coins.
The campaign runs through November in Austin, TX, Grand Rapids, MI, Portland, OR, and Charlotte, NC. It will take place through TV, radio, print and Internet ads. Messages will spotlight $1 coins’ 18-year lifespan, compared with two years for $1 bills, as well as their recycling potential and taxpayer savings.
If the pilot campaign results in more $1 coins entering circulation in the target regions, the Mint said it might launch the campaign nationally. The current $1 coin series featuring U.S. presidents rolled out in February 2007. Previously failed attempts at $1 coins include the Susan B. Anthony in 1979 and the Sacagawea in 2000.
In surveys, U.S. consumers consistently say they find $1 coins too easy to confuse with quarters, despite their smooth edges, gold color and other distinctive features. They also perceive $1 dollar coins as “heavy” and inconvenient to carry in pockets and purses, compared with paper currency.
Other Western nations that have adopted similar coinage – such as the British pound and the Canadian $1 and $2 coins – ensured success by withdrawing the paper equivalents, essentially forcing citizens to accept and use the coins. But in the U.S., $1 banknotes have remained in circulation and forced $1 coins to compete with them. Results have been predictable, and almost entirely negative.
The Susan B. Anthony and Sacagawea $1 coins were considered outright failures – 92.7 million uncirculated Sacagawea coins are sitting in Mint vaults, gathering dust. The Presidential coin series has been somewhat popular with collectors, although orders for future introductions are declining sharply. The Andrew Jackson $1 coin received half as many orders as the George Washington design did.
Meanwhile, circulation of the presidential coins in the general currency mix, while marginally better than that of Suzy and Sac, has not lived up to the government’s hopes.
Withdrawing the $1 bill from circulation would save taxpayers some $18 million a year, the Mint estimates, but also would require an Act of Congress that is considered unlikely. Senators and representatives face lobbying from the U.S. textile industry in favor of paper currency that is unmatched by efforts favoring $1 coins.
The Mint says it plans to issue four new presidential $1 coins each year through 2016 or longer, depending on circumstances. The law says presidents honored by these coins must have been dead for two years before a coin may be issued.