Bulky Silver Dollars Are No Match for Bills In Americans' Quest for Convenience

Marco Farley of Azusa, Calif., writes ''Whatever happened to silver dollars?'' She worked in a Salt Lake City restaurant in the 1940s where one regular patron would take only silver dollars for change. ''They were plentiful then,'' so it wasn't a problem.

THE gradual disappearance of the silver dollar has a lot to do with one thing: Americans' passion for convenience. Despite their tactile beauty, most people think dollar coins are too bulky to be jangling about in pockets or purses.

''Peace dollars,'' for instance, are likely what Ms. Farley gave her persnickety customer. Minted from 1921 to 1935 to celebrate the end of World War I, they were popular at first. But their demise began in 1928 with the debut of the modern-day bill.

Until then, bills had been much larger than today's versions - so big they were called ''horse blankets.'' But the smaller bills struck Americans' fancy. By the early 1960s, most dollar coins sat in bank vaults and coin collections, where they remain today. (A peace dollars now fetches about $10.95.)

Americans' interest wasn't piqued with the 1971-78 Eisenhower dollar coin either, but the ultimate inconvenience came with the 1979 Susan B. Anthony dollar. About the same size as a quarter, it was often mistakenly spent as one. Today, 291 million sit unused in the US Mint's vault.

But there is a slight resurgence in dollar coin use. The Baltimore, Md., subway uses Susan B's as tokens. And the Post Office says complaints have dropped since it began using them for change from stamp vending machines. Customers get a Susan B instead of four quarters.

There's even a plan in Congress to mint gold-colored dollar coins. Because bills last 18 months and coins last 30 years, supporters say the plan would save millions. But the US Mint counters that if, like silver dollars, no one uses them, what's the point?

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