Thursday, June 29, 2017

Surprising Coins -- and License Plates (?)

The sound of jingling coins in one's pocket appears to be going the way of the Klaxon horn and the voice of Hillary Clinton, as something we will probably hear a lot less of anymore.  I'm struggling with whether that's a good thing.

OK, never having to hear Hillary Clinton's voice is a great thing.  We can all settle on that.

This is a non-political piece, and occurred to me only when my best girl was going for her nail appointment a day or so back.  The place insists on the tipping being done in cash, which means you might have to have a few singles available.  Now, I do indeed occasionally use one-dollar bills (or any bills, for that matter), but only to tip the bag guy at the golf course, and I happened to be low on them when she asked me.

So I said I would go to the grocery next door and buy a bottle of coffee creamer to get a bunch of singles in change (we actually needed creamer, otherwise I would have begged them to change a ten).

Along with the singles, of course, came change.  Metal change, the kind that jingles in your pocket.  three quarters and a nickel worth.  And then I made the fatal mistake of looking at it.

I have not looked at change in I-don't-know-how-long.  I haven't used change in months.  Literally, months.  And perhaps I should have, or maybe not.  After all, the reason that we have not used change is that disruptive technology called the "debit card."  You all have one; you spend only money that actually sits in your bank, so you are not going into debt when you spend it.  You can't.

And with a pocketful of change for the first time in a year, I realized how different things were from the old days when cash was king.  Cash was good, because it was universally acceptable, and spending it represented use of money you actually had, meaning no debt.  But now the debit card has itself become so universally accepted that cash is far, far less touched for daily transactions -- particularly those involving sub-dollar amounts.

This was brought home, as I mentioned, when I actually looked at the coins and discovered that they weren't your grandfather's quarters and nickels.  In fact, they weren't your older brother's quarters and nickels, either.

The nickel had this oppositely-profiled depiction of Thomas Jefferson versus what I had become used to since, well, birth.  Yes, I know that has been the depiction on the nickel for a dozen years or so, but it just pointed out how little we look at coins anymore.

What was really surprising was the quarter.  I mean, there were three as I said, but two of them were decades old, even before those "state" quarters that at least had the same picture of the Father of our Country.  The other was -- well, it had only a slightly altered picture of George Washington on it, but the back was positively bizarre.  As it turned out, it was one of the "America the Beautiful" series that has been going on for a few years, celebrating national parks and other sights in the many states.

But as I looked closely at what was a pretty newly-struck coin, I realized that I could barely read the words on the back, and not because my contacts were out of focus.  The letters were small, and I mean "small" like the letters under the bust of Washington with the initials of the designer.  That small.

I wouldn't really care, except that if the whole purpose of the quarter series was to celebrate the sights of the country, wouldn't it have made sense to make the name of the attraction big enough so that the user of the coin would actually know what park was being depicted?  I'm only asking now, several years after the series started, because it's been that long since I handled a quarter, let alone paid attention to what was on it.

I know this is a pointless ramble, but I am going to make it even more pointless.

Looking at the silliness of the way the quarters are now designed, I was reminded of another thing that would be a pet peeve of mine, except that I'm not a cop.

Wherever you live, you are probably in a state that 50 years ago had one license plate style, with the same background color, same color lettering and numbering for everyone, and the only difference might be a slightly different numbering pattern for dealer plates, or for trucks.  That was it.

Somewhere along the line, someone got the idea that the states could soak up a lot more revenue by designing and selling scads of different vanity plate styles.  For example, when I lived in Virginia, I remember going to the DMV (you never forget going to the DMV) and seeing a display with at least 50 vanity plate styles, and with no fewer than ten that had colors of background and letters/numbers that were completely different from the normal, here-you-go Virginia plate that I ultimately got.

And I started to wonder.  Suppose you are a state trooper in, let's say, Missouri.  A car goes whizzing by, and you note down the plate number and state -- but wait a minute, what the heck state was that plate?  If there are a dozen different styles from Virginia alone, how many hundreds are in use now overall from all the other states?

Like I said, I'm not a cop, so I really shouldn't care all that much, except that not only cops have to identify cars by their license plates in emergency situations.  You and I do in, say, a hit and run case.  If the cops can't track all the plates, how do the rest of us?

That quarter I looked at briefly, well, I thought at first it was Canadian (obligatory "no offense" issued here to the land of the loonies and toonies and moose).  I really did.  In fact, that's when my mind ran off to thinking about license plates.

And then I remembered that I shouldn't worry about coins any more than I concerned myself about whose face would be on the $20 bill in 2030.  We won't use enough of either, thanks to the debit card, to care one bit.

And now, back to politics.  Or sports, or something.  Ramble, ramble, ramble.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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  1. Funny thing here on The Sandbar. All winter long we go to the ATM maybe once a month for cash. Maybe. Then May rolls along and we're going to the ATM a lot more often. It's not just because of the cash bar at MIT alumni club meetings or the yacht club Friday happy hour. It's all about the raw bar and the fried clams at Arnold's. Cash or check only, no plastic accepted.

  2. Wow ... I sure hope the fried clams are really, really worth it! OK, I'm sure they are (salivating ...).

  3. Yep them licence plates are all about money. Thank god for the coin machine in the grocery store...I get to get rid of my change. Too bad it spits out the Canadian stuff.