WASHINGTON (AP) - The golden Sacagawea dollar coin was supposed to be jingling in pockets across the country by now. Instead, the U.S. Mint is cutting back on production because people just aren't interested.
For now, the Mint won't make any more new dollar coins for banks, retailers and others to use to make change.
But it will produce some coins for collectors.
Since their much ballyhooed debut just more than two years ago, the golden-colored dollar coins have struggled to catch on and become a staple in cash registers, change purses and pockets. But the sour U.S. economy, which ended up slipping into recession in March, really knocked demand for the coins. In fact, demand for all other U.S. coins is down, experts say.
The Mint ended fiscal year 2001 with about 324 million Sacagawea dollar coins in storage, according to a report by the Treasury Department's Inspector General.
The Mint planned to produce 40 million Sacagawea dollar coins in the second quarter of this fiscal year, something the Inspector General office's didn't think was warranted, the report said. As a result, the Mint recently stopped making new Sacagaweas for circulation, meaning they would be used by banks and businesses in commerce. It plans to suspend production through the rest of this year.
But at least 10 million Sacagaweas will be made this year for numismatic sales, such as coin sets, often purchased by collectors, said Mint spokesman Michael White. Mint facilities in both Philadelphia and Denver will make those dollar coins.
"It's not unusual to adjust production through the year," White said.
The dollar coins feature the image of the Shoshone Indian, Sacagawea, who accompanied explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to the Pacific Ocean in 1805. The coins referred to as either Sacagaweas or Golden Dollars because of their striking golden color.
The inspector general's report pointed out that the Mint still has plenty of Sacagawea dollar coins on hand should there be a pickup in demand for them.
"We estimated that the Mint had approximately 3.6 years inventory of golden dollars in storage or about 88 times more than the Mint's target level," the report said.
The report said that shipments of the Sacagawea coins to Federal Reserve, supplier of cash to banks, fell from a high of about 1 billion coins in fiscal year 2000 to less than 90 million in fiscal 2001.
Less than 31 million coins were shipped to the Fed during the first quarter of this fiscal year, the report said. The Mint didn't plan to ship any coins to Federal Reserve banks during the second and third quarters.
Early next year, the Mint, working closely with the Fed banks, will check out demand for the golden dollars and decide whether or not it should resume production coins intended for public circulation.
After the coins came out in January 2000, the Mint ran a multimillion advertising blitz in which a hip George Washington urged people to use them. But banks say there hasn't been much demand for the coins by retailers and retailers say there hasn't been much demand from customers.
Still, the Sacagaweas coins have been in more demand than their predecessor, the Susan B. Anthony coin, White said. Susan Bs show up in pocket change every now and then, though the Mint no longer makes the coins.
The Sacagaweas coins do get used to buy snacks from vending machines, to tip people, and in cases where they are accepted, to feed parking meters, pay tolls and bus fares. And, people like to buy them for gifts.
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