Since the Euro has just launched as a physical currency, I’ve looked at some of the web sites for pictures of the coins (and not finding them; neither the Guardian nor the official Euro site has photos I can find of any coin other than the 1 Euro). This got me thinking about the denominations the choose to make, and how they differ from ours in the US.

There are 1, .50, .20, .10, .05, .02, and .01 Euro coins. Based on my previous experience with European currencies, I’d guess that they’ll all actually circulate fairly regularly (in particular, you’ll get back change using all of them).

In the US, the coins that actually circulate routinely are .25, .10, .05, and .01. I can see the utility of a $1 coin (and we have three, don’t we? Old silver dollars, the Susie Buck, and the latest one? But they don’t circulate), and of a .50 coin (which we’ve had for years, but again they don’t much circulate). I wish they circulated, especially the dollar. I’m surprised they bother with the .02 Euro.

This in turn got me to thinking about whether one system is in any way “better” than the other. First, of course, ours requires fewer coin bins in a cash register drawer. This in turn means that for any given size drawer, the bins can be bigger. Also, we have to design and manufacture fewer coins. On the other hand, since our biggest coin is .25 and theirs is 1, obviously any large amount of money is fewer coins in their system.

But what about making change? Well, for one thing their system is more “regular”, with the three bottom coins matched by three more at exactly 10 times the face value. Don’t know if that actually helps people work with it. The .02 coin means fewer .01 coins handed out (and in my pocket). It makes evaluating a handful of change harder — there are more things to recognize.

There’s rather a cognitive divide somewhere around 5 (the old 5 plus-or-minus 2 thing). I think perhaps in executing change-making it’s actually relevant. I know the cash-register does all the figuring out mostly, but still, going from instructions to handing out coins is a cognitive task, and we only have 4 sizes coin to worry (the right side of the divide) whereas they have 6 (or even 7, if you include the 1).

Sorry this is such a tame rant :-). Can’t actually find strong emotions on either side (oh, I can find them out on the net, but not in me). But it’s been fun to poke this around.

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