NEW YORK - The newest $1 coin, bearing the likeness of George Washington, was rolled out Thursday, with the U.S. Mint hoping Americans will want to buy George.
Commuters bustled past the unveiling at a Grand Central Terminal event replete with marching music and a George Washington re-enactor. Crowds of collectors and the curious lined up in the station's cavernous, chandelier-adorned Vanderbilt Hall to exchange their paper Georges for metallic ones.
"I think it's cool because we get to see a coin with the first president on it," said 7-year-old Jack Garbus, an avid coin collector and second-grader from Valhalla, N.Y., who was taking advantage of a school snow delay to be at the event.
The new coin is going into circulation around the country just in time for next week's celebration of the first president's birthday.
"This is quite interesting because currency was not standardized before the Constitution," said the white-pony-tailed re-enactor at Grand Central, who insisted on identifying himself only as George Washington and wore a black 18th-century business suit with long coat, short pants and black stockings.
"George" - or should that be "Mister President"? - wondered aloud whether he should be pictured on money at all, since that was a practice of the king of England.
The Mint is making sure the coins, which are golden in color and slightly larger and thicker than a quarter, will be widely available.
The Federal Reserve, the Mint's distribution agent, has placed orders for 300 million of the Washington coins. Many have already been delivered to commercial banks under orders not to begin circulating them until Thursday.
The design on the coin will change every three months, featuring a new president in the order in which they served. In that way, the Mint hopes to attract a following similar to the more than 125 million collectors who are participating in the 50-state quarter program.
Coin experts, however, questioned whether the rotating designs will be enough to allow the new presidential $1 coin to succeed where the Susan B. Anthony dollar, introduced in 1979, and the Sacagawea dollar, introduced in 2000, failed.
"I don't know of any country that has successfully introduced the equivalent of a dollar coin without getting rid of the corresponding paper unit," said Douglas Mudd, author of a new book on the history of money, "All the Money in the World."
Mint Director Edmund C. Moy said Congress made the decision to keep the dollar bill as part of new dollar coin legislation in 2005.
After Washington, the presidents honored this year will be John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. The program is scheduled to run into 2016. A president must have been dead at least two years to appear on a coin.