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Americans Could Be Seeing More Change in Their Change - 2002-09-15

Americans could be seeing some change in their change. It isn't often that the U.S. Mint decides to redesign a coin. But officials are considering design changes for four of the eight coins that circulate in America's money supply. The idea is a response to the success of the Mint's "State Quarters Program," which was launched in 1999. At that time, the Mint permanently retired the design for the quarter that was first adopted in 1932 and started issuing a series of designs, each one representing a different American state. VOA's Maura Farrelly reports that coin collectors are excited about the possibility of more changes.

The U.S. Mint is releasing the state quarters at a rate of five designs per year. Delaware's quarter was the first, since that state was the first to ratify the U.S. Constitution. Hawaii, as the 50th state, will see its quarter enter the money supply in October of 2008.

Stephen Bobbitt is with the American Numismatic Association, the world's largest educational resource for coin collectors. He estimates 139 million Americans are collecting the state quarters, and says they're doing it, because they finally have something new to look at, after decades of nothing but the same old coins. "They like the idea that suddenly they can stop and look at their money, and say, 'Well, what does this look like again? What is this state saying about us?' You know, 'What is Indiana saying? What is Louisiana saying? What is Delaware saying?' I mean, each one of these states gets an opportunity," he says.

Instead of a highly stylized bald eagle on the reverse of their quarters, Americans can now find three British ships, sailing toward the James River, on their way to found the colony of Virginia in 1607. They can also find one of the Thoroughbred Horse Farms the state of Kentucky is famous for, or one of the peaches that are a staple of agriculture in the state of Georgia. Stephen Bobbitt says these are the sorts of images that should be on all of America's coinssome of which haven't been redesigned in more than sixty years.

"Coins are America's calling card. They're a nation's calling card, and our calling card is in need of some revision. And we need to present a new history, what America is today. Not only what America was in the past, which we have with the presidents. But what America is today, and can be in the future," says Mr. Bobbitt

Officials at the U.S. Mint agree. An internal task force is recommending that the penny, nickel, dime, and half-dollar be redesigned before the end of the decade. One suggestion is that the coins could feature animals that are indigenous to the United States, the way some Canadian coins do.

Another suggestion is that America could honor its explorers and inventors, or even its Nobel prize winners by putting their faces on its currency. It's a practice that's fairly common around the world, but one that has never been adopted here.

Jim Allen, a graduate student from Washington, DC, says he likes the idea. "Yeah, that'd be great," he says. "I think that'd be great. I mean, it not only becomes the president on the front, it becomes a history lesson on the back. So I think that would be fine. You know, Lewis and Clark, the Louisiana Purchase, you know, all those kinds of things would be great as far as something on, you know, patriotic and historical, and very pertinent to the country."

But Mr. Allen's companion, Gene Dalgado, doesn't agree, especially when it comes to the Lincoln penny. He says he has a fondness for the president who led the United States during its Civil War in the 1860s. And in general, he just doesn't think any changes are necessary. "I guess our lives are changing so much, with technology, and you know, we're always pressed for time, and, you know, it might be nice to have a few things that don't change too much," he says. "And there's so many higher priority items that this country has to deal with, than to change something that is working just fine."

Gene Dalgado and Jim Allen aren't collecting the redesigned quarters, but they both say they know people who are. Officials with the U.S. Mint say in the first year the State Quarters Program was launched, $4 billion quarters, or twice as many as usual had to be minted, because so many people were collecting the coins and effectively taking them out of circulation. The U.S. Treasury makes a 20 cent profit on every 25 cent piece it sells to an American bank, and officials believe that by 2008, the State Quarters Program will have made the federal government a profit of more than $6 billion dollars.

But making that kind of money off some of the other coins in America's money supply may prove to be difficult. Last July, Congressional Representatives from Virginia pushed legislation through the House that could protect the current design of the Jefferson nickel. President Thomas Jefferson was a native of Virginia, and lawmakers from that state want to ensure that he and Monticello, his famous Virginia home, remain on America's 5-cent piece.