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US Mint says goodbye to $1 presidential coins

The U.S. Treasury Department said that there are 1.4 billion surplus $1 Presidential coins just sitting in the Federal Reserve Brian Kersey / AP

Have you ever seen a $1 presidential coin? Neither have we. Except that one time when we received seven of them in change from a MetroCard machine in the New York City subway system and, perplexed as to where to fit such weighty coins in our dainty-sized wallet, we relegated them to the bottom of our junk drawer.

And perhaps for that very reason, Vice President Joseph Biden announced Tuesday that the U.S. Mint would halt the production of those pesky $1 coins for circulation, because they’re not exactly in demand. 

In fact, the U.S. Treasury Department said there are 1.4 billion surplus $1 presidential coins just sitting in the vaults of the Federal Reserve, and that the government would save taxpayers at least $50 million per year in production and storage costs by suspending their production.

Instead, U.S. Mint will produce a limited number of the coins, which “will be sold at a premium to collectors, so it will ensure that the coins will not be produced at a cost to taxpayers,” said Treasury spokesman Matt Anderson.

Until Tuesday's announcement, the U.S. Mint had been on track to produce 1.6 billion more of the $1 presidential coins through the year 2016, even though the 1.4 billion in surplus is enough to meet demand for more than a decade, Anderson said.

The coins were created as part of The Presidential $1 Coin Act of 2005, which sought “to revitalize the design of United States coins and return circulating coinage to its position as an object of aesthetic beauty in its own right.” The Mint began creating new $1 coins picturing deceased U.S. presidents, and kicked off the program by producing 70 to 80 million coins for each of four presidents selected each year.

But apparently, more than 40 percent of the coins have been returned to the Federal Reserve “because nobody wants to use them,” according to the Treasury.

"As will shock you all, calls for Chester A. Arthur coins are not big," said Biden, according to Reuters, referring to the 21st president, who died in 1886. "I'm not commenting on his presidency, but it just is not very high."

Anderson is not sure what kind of demand coin collectors will have for the $1 coins in comparison to the 70 to 80 million coins per president that the Mint was producing, but he estimated that the amount will be “dramatically lower.”

The announcement was part of a Cabinet meeting aimed at discussing ways to rein in wasteful government spending.