A few days back I decided to read The Durango Herald the old-fashioned way – a paper copy. I went to a newsstand and on there was a message on the box: “Use Any Coins Except Pennies.” So, I pulled out a gold dollar (exact change), only to find out that dollar coins apparently are not coins because the machine didn’t accept them. Help me, Action Line! Is this coin discrimination? Signed, S.B. Anthony
Your story offers a shocking revelation.
Not the part about newsstands rejecting dollar coins. It was the fact that you had a dollar coin in your pocket.
Modern dollar coins have been spectacularly unpopular with the American public.
Remember the chunky Eisenhower dollars of the disco era? They provided extra ballast for purses and bell-bottom slacks.
Roughly the size of a manhole cover and weighing the same, the dollar’s use was limited to casinos and grandparents who gave “silver” dollars to the grandkids at Christmas.
Then in 1979, the U.S. Mint made a well-intentioned blunder.
It made a great choice in placing women’s suffrage leader Susan B. Anthony on the new dollar coin. But then comes the D’oh! dough moment.
The dollar was almost the same size and metallic composition as a quarter.
Thus, it was specious specie – to coin a phrase.
Fast forward to 2000, when the Sacagawea dollar made its debut. The coin was clad in bronze and manganese so it would look “gold,” helping to distinguish itself from a quarter.
Still the public balked and continues to do so, opting for paper dollars.
Interesting enough, using metallic discs would save taxpayers some serious coin.
The Dollar Coin Alliance, a group advocating to ditch the $1 greenback, cites 10 reports over the past quarter century showing billions in savings by going to a dollar coin.
Canada successfully transitioned to a dollar coin back in 1987. It’s called the “loonie,” referring to the bird on the coin’s reverse side. The two-dollar Canadian coin is called the “toonie.”
Action Line thought this might be helpful to those feeling the need to move to Canada, a migratory urge that swells up every four years during the presidential elections.
In any case, most American people don’t want dollar coins, and the typical merchant doesn’t offer them as change.
Durango’s Erika Pray, however, isn’t most people – and her business, Wildcat Canyon Liquors, isn’t your typical establishment.
There’s no money discrimination at her store on U.S. Highway 160 just west of town. That’s because Erika loves odd coinage and currency.
When you make a cash purchase, not only will you get a nice discount, but your change will contain an appropriate number of two-dollar bills, golden dollar coins and maybe a 50-cent piece.
“Most people say, ‘how cool’ but a few say ‘what the hell is this?’” Erika said with laugh.
She’s been dispensing fringe mintage for well over a decade after returning from the Continent.
“When I was in Europe, they used all sorts of coins. It was so convenient.”
But don’t think Erika is a fan of all coins. Pennies are her nemesis.
“I hate them. I huck them over my shoulder if they show up at the store,” she said.
Not that you need pennies at Wildcat Canyon Liquors. Erika prices her wares to the quarter.
And speaking of quarters, Action Line did some testing and quarters worked just fine in the newspaper box, as did dimes and nickels or any combination thereof.
Just not pennies, 50-cent pieces or dollar coins.
Who knew that newsstand numismatics are so nuanced?
Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or mail them to Action Line, The Durango Herald, 1275 Main Ave., Durango, CO 81301. You can ask for anonymity if you have a special jar for any “wheat pennies” you find in your pocket change.