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The E-Sylum:  Volume 9, Number 9, February 26, 2006, Article 24

U.S. COIN DENOMINATIONS AND RELATIVE SIZES

Regarding last week's item about the "people-friendliness" of
current U.S. coin designs (which spell out the denomination
rather than using numerals), Howard Spindel writes: "The same
Kim Salil Gokhale identified in the newspaper article "has
applied to the University of Florida's Department of Clinical
and Health Psychology to study for a doctorate in
psychoneuroimmunology."

Is it really asking a lot for a potential doctorate student
to understand enough English to read a few coins?

Our bills are clearly marked.  The potential loss of money for
someone who refuses to learn our coinage prior to using it is
very small - under a dollar.  Furthermore, none of us read our
coins each time.  We identify them by size and color.  Even
illiterate people can use coins after a one-time explanation."

[Howard's point is well taken and perhaps proven by the fact
that the topic hadn't come up long before now.  Yet it is a
valid observation and something to consider for future coin
designs.  Earlier articles have referenced defacto international
standards for expressing denominations on banknotes; is there
any such emerging standard for coinage?  And what about the
related topic of the physical size of coins?

U.S. coinage is hidebound by tradition and the political clout
of the vending machine industry.  Have you ever tried to explain
to a child why the smallest coin (the dime) is worth ten times
as much as the smallest denomination (the cent)?   While sorting
through a jug of coins with my seven year old son last weekend,
we came across a silver 1957 dime.  I was seven years old myself
when silver last circulated freely, and remember my grandmother
showing me a new clad coin and explaining that coins would no
longer be minted in silver.  With coinage made of base metals,
intrinsic value is no longer a determinant of size, but here we
are over 40 years later still producing coins of the same relative
size (and in the case of the cent and dime, the same design as well).

I have little hope or expectation that anything but the designs
will change any time soon, but I wonder if my son will have the
same trouble explaining relative coin sizes to his own children
(if coins even exist outside of museums and collections by then...)
-Editor]

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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