THE PROPONENTS call it "currency reform," and what that would mandate -- a new $1 coin and an end to the $1 bill -- should have had coin collectors across the country cheering.
But in Washington, the recent call for a new $1 coin bearing a likeness of Christopher Columbus to replace the disastrous Susan B. Anthony dollar has drawn moans.
For one thing, say opponents, the movement for change comes from legislators from copper-producing states, whose miners would benefit from a new copper-based coin. Its backers include vending-machine interests who would like nothing more than the convenience of easily boosting prices with a new $1 coin.
But the American public, notes Curtis A. Prins, staff director of the House Consumer Affairs and Coinage Subcommittee, is quite literally attached to its money.
"If you talk about taking the dollar bill out of circulation, you are going to see the American public rise up," he says. "We have not received a single letter from any plain, ordinary American who wants a change from the way things are."
When the Coin Coalition, as the group pressing for the Columbus coin calls itself, raised its banner last month, it acknowleged this lack of interest: "Although there is no organized opposition to currency reform, there is substantial public inertia," a statement read. But, "just as with Uniform Product Codes and the recent extension of Daylight Savings Time, a major educational campaign is required to demonstrate that currency reform will help fight inflation and reduce government spending."
Mint Director Donna Pope has declined through a spokeswoman to endorse the proposal, saying only that it remains "under study" by officials there. But as most collectors know, the Treasury has been reluctant to push new coins.
The smart money, then, says that unless the Coin Coalition can mobilize strong congressional support, the Columbus dollar may be as dead as the Anthony dollar.
In a move to express its support for the European Community, Belgium has minted its first gold coin since 1914. Both the gold coin and a silver one are being issued in "European currency units," or ECUs.
The gold coin weighs 17.27 grams, is 90 percent gold and carries a face value of 50 ECUs. The silver coin weighs 22.85 grams, is 83 percent silver and has a 5 ECU value. One side carries a likeness of Charles the Fifth, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, who was selected because his empire covered much of the same territory as the European Community. The reverse displays the denomination and the year of mintage, and is surrounded by 12 stars representing the EC member nations.
The two coins in proof condition are being sold in the U.S. for $395, according to Manfra, Tordella & Brookes Inc. of New York, agents for the Belgian government.
At the rate the U.S. Postal Service has been issuing new stamps, many collectors have been complaining that the government is pricing young collectors out of the market.
My calculation puts the price of 1987's stamps at $25.76, which seems decidedly in the middle of the range of prices being charged by some of the most popular stamp countries. It's even cheaper for collectors who buy the Postal Service's 1987 package of 44 commemoratives. The set sells for $12.95, but it includes only one of the 50 popular wildlife stamps and lacks the new regular issues, such as the $5 Bret Harte stamp.
By comparison, consider the prices for 1986 stamps charged by the 10 countries offered by Fleetwood Cover Co. of Cheyenne, Wyo.
The 1986 prices ranged from $12 for China's stamps to $155 for Hungary's in special sets that lack the usual perforations. Many of the sets offered by Fleetwood, however, were in the $20 to $35 range. For example: Brazil $24.50, Israel $30 and Sweden $32.
That makes the U.S. pretty typical of the competition and much cheaper than many best-selling nations, such as France ($60), New Zealand ($39) and Australia ($38).
Bill McAllister is a member of The Post's national staff.