Today I looked at what silver quarters were selling for. In quantities of a bag of 4,000 coins, you can get them for a mere $3.99 each. In 1964, the last year the United States Mint made quarters from 90% silver like the one on the right above, I was in Rio de Janeiro where, because of inflation, they had stopped using coins altogether. All the cash registers held nothing but paper money, since it was getting too expensive and unnecessary to use coins anymore. I could have bought a very large paper shopping bag full of Brazilian coins for US$5 (and that was high, probably because I was wearing a US Navy uniform). The coins were made of aluminum and were so lightly embossed as to be difficult to read.
Come back to present time, and look at American coins. Already the mint is spending almost 2¢ to make a penny. Compare today’s coins to those of as little as ten years ago and you’ll see that they’re very lightly stamped. Why? It’s cheaper and faster to just touch the surface of the coins with a die rather than really stamp them harder to make them seem a little more worthy (worthful?).
Why even keep making pennies? The Australians gave them up in 1991, rounding any purchase to the nearest 5¢. In New Zealand, even the 5¢ coin was discontinued in 2006. Why do we even bother with coins at all? Most people don’t like their weight and the fact that you have to dig around in a pocket or purse for them, and most coins probably get tossed into a jar at home when folks return from shopping. Instead of coins being used for change, stores could give you candy instead. Two Jelly Bellies* could fill in for a penny, a small chocolate mint makes a good dime (10¢), and quarters could be Oreo cookies. In America the 5¢ coin is made of nickel, which causes skin rashes in some people, so it should be discontinued. I’d rather have a cello-wrapped peppermint anyway.
[This is updated. Originally I had called the post “Twelve will get you one.” Wrong. Sixteen will get you one. I have always been awful at math. When I took the SAT to get into college, I fell 30 points short of a perfect score, all due to bad math.]
*A popular American brand of jelly beans.