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Bush-Gore coin strikes a nerve

Joke coins rarely attract much interest, but in a year in which coin collecting again became an enthusiastic and widespread activity, the two-headed presidential decider coin brought a big laugh.

That coin, struck by the Washington Mint, showed Vice President Al Gore on one side and Gov. George W. Bush on the other. No guessing which was originally meant as the obverse or reverse, but the novelty of the election's long uncertainty gave credibility to a coin that might have been dismissed altogether. Satiric coins are part of a long legacy, particularly in U.S. history. Coins have been issued privately by angry merchants, critics of U.S. coinage policies, of the Treasury's support of gold or silver or to decry depressions and recessions.

The Washington Mint, whose address is a postal box, and which has no link to any governmental agency, has long produced odd replicas of popular U.S. coinage or big chunks of silver with sentimental portraits. This time, it struck a chord with the public. The Bush-Gore coin is almost an anti-inaugural medal. It is produced in pure silver and sells for $29.95 with a $4.50 shipping charge. Call (800) 558-6468.

In another year, the coin would have generated only a snicker.

Coin interest is up

This year, collectors have been waiting breathlessly for the next new state quarter, and have seized on the Sacagawea dollar as a talking point. It seems everybody is aware of coins and their historical appeal.

When the American Numismatic Association held its convention in August in Philadelphia, it saw its attendance records broken by big numbers. There were lines of visitors waiting to pick up badges giving them admission to the bourse floor in the Convention Center and the Treasury's billion-dollar exhibit.

Despite producing huge numbers of quarters, the U.S. Mint finds itself under attack because too few of the state quarters seem to be in circulation. They are all in collections started in 1999 and in the collectors' cards held by youngsters.

The new gold-colored dollars are having trouble showing up in circulation, but vending machines continue to give them out in change, and banks keep supplies on hand for anyone who asks. The contrast between the doldrums of only a few years ago is inspiring to the Mint, dealers and to youngsters oversaturated with Pokemon cards.

The Mint, meanwhile, is poised to issue the New York quarters Jan. 2 with subsequent coins honoring North Carolina, Rhode Island, Vermont and Kentucky, and to strike more dollars with the date of the first year of the new millennium, 2001.

The Mint is feeding a passionate appetite.