The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 24, Number 49, December 5, 2021, Article 31


Coin shortages are still a thing. Here's an article about the tussle over quarters in Seattle. -Editor

Lunar Laundry change machine In the Before Times, Thorsen's Lunar Laundry, a coin-only laundromat in the Ballard neighborhood, was what's known as quarter positive: Customers brought in so many of their own coins that Thorsen made twice monthly coin deposits at her bank.

But soon after pandemic restrictions hit last year, Thorsen noticed customers relying more often on her change machine. Then noncustomers — apartment tenants and even some small-business owners — began coming in and surreptitiously draining her change machine.

As Lunar went quarter negative, Thorsen went to her bank to replenish her coin supply. But the bank was so short on change, she could only buy a few $10, 40-quarter rolls, and most often there were none at all. Where the heck are they going? says Thorsen, who now spends considerable time moving her shrinking supply of quarters from her washers and dryers back to her change machine. It's not like they disappeared.

It's something I have to think about all the time, says Queen Anne resident Dan White, whose apartment has a coin-operated laundry. Early in the pandemic, White had to frantically group-text friends to secure enough quarters for a weekend's wash.

Another time, after White scored a precious stack from the change machine in a downtown bar, he was followed out and lectured by an employee. He was like, ‘I'll let it slide this time but you can never do that again,' White says.

White is more systematic these days, periodically hitting a handful of businesses to get his rolls for the month. But the routine is time-consuming, with a furtiveness that often feels weirdly like I was doing like a drug deal or something, he says. People that aren't using quarters for a laundry machine have no idea that this is even happening.

Indeed, the Great Quarter Shortage has exposed another social and economic divide as a subset of consumers and businesses must scramble to replace what COVID has made scarce. The result is a kind of two-bit black market, rife with clever workarounds and conspiracy theories, and no small amount of social friction.

It's really difficult, says Denise Eam, owner of PT Laundry in Kent, about having to ask noncustomers not to use her change machine. Sometimes people are really nice and say ‘sorry' [but] some of them are so nasty.

They're worth more than 25 cents right now, that's for sure, adds Alex Singleterry. He runs a network of 83 arcade games at his Ballard tavern, the Ice Box Arcade, and elsewhere in the Seattle area and loses so many quarters to noncustomers that he routinely has to send out an employee to search for more. We had to go to three banks today to get stocked up on coins for the weekend, he said Friday.

Solving the quarter crisis has become a top priority of the Federal Reserve, where a specially empaneled U.S. Coin Task Force is working to persuade Americans to spend those quarters and other coins back into circulation.

Yet despite an exceedingly earnest Get Coin Moving campaign, with public service announcements, a social media hashtag and a YouTube video, the task force reckons that a too-large chunk of the $48.5 billion worth of coins in circulation is still sitting dormant inside America's 128 million households.

Out on the streets of the coin-operated world, that imbalance has manifested as a kind of coinage roller coaster, with jubilant periods when banks and stores seemingly have rolls aplenty, followed by renewed tightening and anxiety.

Quarter-negative businesses, meanwhile, often have nurtured alliances with coin-positive peers, such as carwashes and vending machine operators. Wallace, the laundry association president, says some business owners have exploited the shortage's regional differences by driving hours away to buy quarters from colleagues.

To read the complete article, see:
Quarter shortage creates two-bit black market in coin-operated Seattle (

Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

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