Let’s do a hands-on experiment.
Reach into your pocket, pull out your wallet, and take $1 out. Now take a look at it. What is great and uniquely American about the $1 you have in your hand?
I’ll give you a hint.
It’s not the handsome picture of President Washington.
And it’s not the weird pyramid with the floating eye, either.
No. What makes the American $1 note great is the fact it is a banknote and not a coin.
This may seem inconsequential at first. But the fact that American dollars are banknotes means they fit nicely into your wallet or pocket and have a tendency to stay there. Loonies, Pound Sterling or Euro coins, as anyone who has traveled abroad knows all too well, are not only much heavier to carry around, but also seem to slip out of your pocket whenever you sit down.
The results of this can be devastating. No one likes losing a pocket full of spare change to be sure. But in America—where the largest circulated coin is 25 cents—sensible currency design helps to mitigate spare change losses.* You’re only liable to lose a local phone call’s worth of change when you leave a friend’s couch or the backseat of a cab.
But in Europe, losses suffered from leaky pockets can be devastating. An act as simple as buying a coke with a 10€ note is likely to end up costing you the full 10€ before the night is out: 1€ for the coke, and 9€ worth of 1, 2, and 5€ coins that will invariably fall out of your pocket and be lost over the course of the evening.
The problem is even worse in the UK, where a higher-value currency combined with smaller and heavier coins means that sitting down on a couch can easily cost you the equivalent of $10-20 American.
The amount of money lost from pockets in the backseats of cabs, under restaurant tables, and in the crevasses of couches across Europe is particularly high thanks to punitive credit card rules that promote the use of cash and poorly designed banknotes that make it difficult to find correct change in a pinch.
So next time you’re doing the laundry and find a crumpled-up dollar bill in your pocket, take a moment to thank great men and women at the U.S. Bureau of Printing and Engraving whose sensible currency design ensures that the dollar bill remains yours—no matter how many couches you sit on.
God Bless America!
*No, the Sacagawea Dollar doesn’t count. The U.S. Mint tried circulating it in 2000-2001, but Americans reasonably rejected the thing. Since then, Wikipedia reports, it has only been minted in small numbers for collectors.
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