The battle of bills and coins continues. In Britain the Conservative government is embarked on a crusade to cease printing one- pound notes and replace them with the one-pound coins it has been circulating for more than a year. There's plenty of logic and perhaps even some conservatism behind the government's proposal. The government would save money, some $3.7 million yearly, because coins are cheaper to make than bills. And with the inflation of the past decade or two, a one-pound note (now worth $1.25) won't buy much by itself any more. The pound has become small change, and small change logically should be coins. Ask any tourist in Italy whose wallet is wadded full of 500 lira notes (worth about 52 cents).

But in Britain the opposition is furious. ALaborite berates the chancellor of the exchequer for replacing "a much-loved note with a despised coin." A Tory disparages the one-pound coin as "a horrid little button." We're not surprised. As they did with the welfare state, so the British are doing with bills and coins -- making explicitly and in full light of day changes that Americans attempt to make piecemeal and surreptitiously. And while the welfare state seems to have taken on both sides of the Atlantic, the revolutionary change from bill to coin has not.

For if the planners at the Treasury Department had had their way, the one-dollar bill would be obsolescent today. In 1976 the government started printing $2 bills, and in 1979 it minted 670 million Susan B. Anthony dollars. The same arguments for each were trotted out: the government would save upward of $50 million, $1 doesn't buy what a 50- cent piece used to, dollar bills only last about 18 months, you need coins more than bills in a society full of vending machines charging 55 cents for a soft drink, and so forth.

To utterly no avail. You have about as much luck passing a $2 bill these days as a $3, and the 670 million "Susies," which looked and felt a lot like a quarter, are still sitting in banks' tills unused. Changes in money take a long time to accept. We wouldn't bet a plugged Susan B. Anthony on the chancellor of the exchequer's chances.