DCA News & Resources

$1 coins can save U.S. money, ex-Georgia rep says

By Gordon Jackson

Morris News Service
Monday, May 17, 2010 5:42 AM

Terry Dickson/ Morris News Service

Lawyer and former state Rep. Charlie Smith is on a personal campaign to replace the $1 bill with coins. He figures he’s already put 10,000 in circulation and is still paying for everything he can with the gold-colored coins.

ST. MARYS, Ga. – Charlie Smith isn’t a person who nickels and dimes his friends, but when it comes to dollars, that’s another issue.

The St. Marys lawyer and former state representative is urging everyone he knows to stop using $1 bills and start using the $1 coin that has been in circulation since 2000.

Smith estimates he has circulated 10,000 of the coins since he started his campaign this year.

He drops them in the collection plate at church. He buys meals with the coins. He recently spent 300 of them at the Kentucky Derby. He even pays his water bill with them.

Smith will encourage civic leaders to follow his example Monday when he speaks to the St. Marys Kiwanis Club.

“It’s failed, pretty much,” he said of the government’s attempts to get the public to accept the coin. “Most people aren’t aware they exist.

Smith insists he isn’t doing this for notoriety or publicity. He estimates the federal government could save $500 million a year if dollar bills were replaced with coins.

The gold-colored coins made of an alloy of copper, nickel, zinc and magnesium cost the U.S. Mint about 12 cents apiece to make, but they are durable enough to last 30 to 50 years.

The mint prints about 4 billion $1 bills each year, and they have a life span of about 19 months, Smith said.

“I’m going to ask them to try it out to help the national debt,” he said. “What if Camden County led the nation using these? What if national media picked this up?”

Smith said the U.S. Mint will mail the coins at no cost to consumers if they purchase at least 250 of them. He sells them for cash at face value to help get the coins in circulation.

Smith said some people don’t like the coins because they believe it’s too easy to mistake them for quarters. But it’s easy to tell the difference, even in the dark, because quarters have milled edges that are easy to feel and the $1 coins, which are larger, only have a slight indentation on the edges where “In God We Trust” is inscribed.

“A blind person could tell the difference, easily,” Smith said.

Others argue the coins wear out pockets, and vending machines won’t take them. But Smith said his pockets don’t show any more wear and tear than normal, and the vast majority of vending machines accept $1 coins.

“The vending companies spent $100 million to convert their machines,” Smith said. “It would save the vending companies money.”

Congress considered eliminating $1 bills, but Smith said two influential U.S. senators – the late Ted Kennedy and Trent Lott – successfully launched a bi-partisan effort to kill the proposal.

Kennedy did it to help a company that makes paper for $1 bills, and Lott wanted to help a company that supplies cotton to make the money, Smith said.

“It’s a battle in Congress between mining and vending versus paper and cotton,” he said. “Special interests can always win out.”

One person who has bought into Smith’s campaign is Dave Peterson, a St. Marys building inspector.

Peterson said he buys $25 rolls at cost from Smith and spends them everywhere he goes.

But not everyone is eager to accept the coins, Peterson said. In many instances, store employees will refuse to accept the coins or check first with the store manager.

“I tell them it’s legal tender of the United States of America,” he said. “I think the person operating the cash register doesn’t know what to do with them. People don’t use these things. Most end up in piggy banks.”

Both Smith and Peterson said they have never been given one of the coins for change at a store.

“Even when you go to the banks, you have to ask for them,” Peterson said. “It’s psychological, I guess.”

Peterson said it’s a waste of money to print a $1 bill and he’ll continue to use the coins whenever possible.

“I think you need a campaign like this,” he said. “It’s going to take a change in people’s attitudes. I’m glad Charlie’s doing this.”

gordon.jackson@jacksonville.com, (912) 729-3672