The Gold and Silver Mine: U.S. lags behind Canada, Switzerland in monetary system updates

Our northern neighbor, Canada, has been in the lead with updating its monetary system, first by replacing its paper $1 and $2 bills with coins, the “Loonie” $1, which has a design of a loon on the reverse, and the “Toonie” $2 coin.

Coins last a lot longer than their paper counterparts, up to 30 years. Several years ago, Canada stopped minting 1 cent coins in the name of cost savings. All this while the United States can’t get its citizens to use the billions of $1 coins already struck for circulation that are sitting in warehouses for which the government is paying a storage fee. Talk about wasting money storing money.

Looks like the progressive Canadians may not be finished. There is preliminary talk of doing away with its 5 cent coin and replacing the $5 bill with a coin. Hope they don’t call the new $5 coin a “Foonie,” pronounced “phony”; that wouldn’t sit well with the Canadian government.

Canada replaced its paper $5 bill with one printed on a polymer composition in 2011, and results seem to be favorable, but the improvement in duration is only about two and a half times that of the paper bill.

Durability is one thing; the other is thwarting counterfeiters, although I doubt there are many counterfeit $5 bills out there. Besides, Canada has not been a target for counterfeiting. That dubious distinction goes to the United States, Great Britain, China, Mexico, the European Union and India, according to

Even more disturbing, according to that organization, regardless of the country, the most commonly counterfeited denomination in most cases is the “20.”

I’m sure many of these changes are coming about. The cost savings are substantial, but in addition to that, as the use of credit and debit cards and other alternative payment methods increases, the need for coins and currency will decline.

Canada wouldn’t be the only country currently using a high-denomination coin for circulation. Switzerland has been minting a 5 franc coin for more than 150 years. Its current rate of exchange is about equal to $5 U.S. It is about the size of an American half dollar, and freely circulates in Switzerland, mainly because the lowest-denomination bill is 10 francs. No learning curve here.

A few more words about Switzerland: First, the highest denomination note printed is a 1,000 francl, equal to about $1,000. While there is effort to have countries reduce the production of high-denomination notes — one example being the opinion that the United States should stop printing $100 bills — the Swiss government will have none of that.

From a security stand point, Swiss banknotes have 18 embedded security features. The incidence of counterfeit Swiss notes, according to the World bank, is one in 100,00 notes, whereas for the euro it is one in 20,000 notes, the U.S. dollar, one in 10,000, and Great Britain one in 3,333 notes.

A public service notice: Be sure to review your bank accounts on a regular basis, especially if you don’t get paper statements. I have had seven unauthorized debits taken from my accounts in the last several months, which I caught by checking my accounts weekly. Although the bank can get them reversed once I report them, it still takes several weeks to get the money back.

Douglas Keefe is the president of Beachcomber Coins Inc. He and his wife, Linda, operate Beachcomber Coins and Collectibles, formerly in the Shore Mall and now at 6692 Black Horse Pike in the old Wawa building just beyond the former Cardiff Circle in Egg Harbor Township. They have satellite offices in Brigantine and Absecon. Between them they have more than 70 years of experience in the coin and precious-metals business. They are members of the American Numismatic Association, the Industry Council of Tangible Assets, the Numismatic Guarantee Corp., the Certified Coin Exchange and the Professional Coin Grading Service.