US Coins

Fast-forward 50 years: What will our money look like

2012 marks the 89th year the American Numismatic Association has led a week-long national salute to the hobby of coin collecting.

Plans for celebrating National Coin Week April 15 through 21 include a number of activities at ANA’s Edward C. Rochette Money Museum within the association’s Colorado Springs, Colo., headquarters, games and giveaways for collectors and coin clubs nationwide, plus exhibit and show activities sponsored by local, state and regional coin clubs.

In keeping with this year’s theme, “Change in Money: Cowries to Credit Cards,” ANA is reaching out to the nation’s classroom teachers, offering free lesson plans. One of the suggested activities focuses on how money has changed over the years and the innovations that have allowed those changes to occur. The ANA is sponsoring a special contest for students, inviting them to design an example of what they envision money will look like 50 years hence. To jump-start the students’ thinking the ANA offered three examples:

? A rechargeable microchip embedded in one’s skin that could act as a virtual bank account.

? A ring on one’s finger that could be scanned for payment.

? A “flash light” capable of producing a beam that would scan and record purchases of an item, akin to having one’s own private cash register.

With recent reports of smart phones on the horizon capable of replacing both cash and credit/cards for transactions, the ANA’s suggestions seem fathomable within a time frame much smaller than five decades.

In the rules issued for the contest, the ANA seemed to reach back across two centuries by requiring that the student submissions (in the form of a model or drawing) include on them the legends and mottoes that appear on current coins: LIBERTY, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, IN GOD WE TRUST, as well as the denomination.

Perhaps legends could be microprinted on a chip or a ring, but somehow embedding them in a light beam would be quite a feat indeed. No doubt in the near future legends and denominations may be incorporated in icons used for apps on smart phones and tablets. But what about further into the future?

This exercise brings up a facet of money’s future little discussed in the march toward electronic cash: Will it be either practical or desirable to expect digital money to play the role of its ancestors in conveying the ideals and values of a nation or issuing authority?

For more than 2,000 years, coins — in addition to facilitating commerce — have been vehicles for conveying messages as well as artistic expression. They have historically served as tangible manifestations of the government in power. Yet, in the next 50 years those traditions and roles will likely disappear as the public demands less costly and more convenient forms of money be at the ready 24/7 anywhere on Earth or even beyond the bounds of Earth, on other planets.

Imagine the student who wins ANA’s 2012 grand prize of an uncut sheet of 16 $1 Federal Reserve notes explaining to friends and family 50 years from now how he or she won these “relics” of the past. Hopefully there will be books (albeit in digital form) for them to research how the notes and coins of 2012 were used, what they would purchase, and what the images and symbols on them meant to the nation and people who carried them in their wallets and purses. ¦

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