STAMPED on the front on the new $1 presidential coin, George Washington appears to be grimacing, as if his famously uncomfortable dentures still are bothering him, 200-odd years later.
Whether G.W.'s slightly scowling visage will impact popularity of the latest gold-toned offering from the U.S. Mint is unknown, but the American people haven't been exactly hospitable to $1 coins in recent history.
Witness the massive indifference accorded the unlamented Susan B. Anthony silver dollar of 1979 and the similar dearth of enthusiasm that greeted the more attractive, dark-gold Sacagawea piece in 2000.
One way to battle such malaise, the Mint figures, is to flood the market, which is why they've banged out 300 million initial copies of George, appropriately the first in a decade-long series of four a year that will eventually include all the dead presidents.
A better way to ensure that the coins enjoy wide circulation, rather than languish in collectors' albums, will be to make sure they work in vending machines. As a Blade reporter found, most Toledo banks already are well-supplied, indicating they will pop up in pocket change soon.
The public, as studies have shown, is loath to give up the $1 bill, which also features a portrait of the Father of Our Country, albeit with a less-stern expression.
The same is true of the traditional penny, nickel, dime, and quarter, which, until the advent in 1999 of the 50-state quarter series, hadn't undergone significant changes in eons.
When it comes to their money, Americans in general seem to be a decidedly conservative lot.
Collectors are another matter entirely, and the Mint is hoping they will sign up enthusiastically to buy specially struck proof sets. They're already available from the agency's Web site, www.usmint.gov - at $14.95 for four Washingtons.
School children who have studied the presidents know that John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison will complete the 2007 series.
Personally, we cannot wait to see how the public reacts to those bearing the relative presidential unknowns, like William Henry Harrison, who caught pneumonia giving his inaugural address and lasted only 31 days in office.
And how about one of the never-elected chief executives, like Millard Fillmore, who inhabited the White House from 1850 to 1853? He deserves to be remembered, although we're not sure for what.
Perhaps the issuance of the presidential coins will promote greater interest in American history, which doesn't get enough attention in our schools. If so, the dead presidents in our pockets will have served their country once more.
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