THE realm of the coin is under a modern siege. Cashless payments put physical currency at risk; some say it's none too soon.

They gather unloved in jars and under cushions, unearthed only when laundry needs doing. They rattle in coat pickets, music to some ears and a nuisance to others. They sink into fountains and lurk in wells, a fortune in wishes but a nightmare to sort and count.

China has plans for a digital currency, and the U.S. Federal Reserve is doing ''research and experimentation.'' Facebook has a currency in the works, and Bitcoin's evangelists are still preaching.

Millions of people are skipping right over coins by paying with their phones - or, shopping on them.

''There's a battle for the future of money going on,'' said Alex Tapscott, a co-founder of the Blockchain Research Institute, a Canadian company. Governments, banks, credit card companies and online communities are among the factions trying to change the way people make payments, he said.

''As for cash,'' he added, ''an elegy is in order.''

While small businesses have had to adapt to a cashless world, many tech companies, banks and credit card companies have pushed for one, said Jay Zagorsky, a professor at the Questrom School of Business, at Boston University.

COINS will always have defenders in curators and collectors, like the 26,000 members of the American Numismatic Association.

The group's education director, Rod Gillis, hopes they never stop circulating. ''I would really hate for us to become a cashless society,'' he said. ''I would hate for us to lose our historical perspective.

He called coins representations of our history and culture at any given moment. Before the penny featured Lincoln, it showed Lady Liberty in a Native American headdress.

President Franklin D Roosevelt landed on the dime because of his efforts to stop polio through the March of Dimes charity began in the 1930s.

''The designs don't just happen out of happenstance,'' he said. ''You can learn so much about our culture from just learning about what appears on our coins.

AND coins have survived other inventions - paper bills, stick markets, E-ZPass for highway tolls -outlasting many of the monarchies, republics and empires that were made to hold together.

Their value as artifacts is ''wonderful,'' said Dr. Kenmers, an archaeologist at Goethe University Frankfurt. She called ancient coins ''historic documents.'' passed down by people across centuries and continents as they haggled, hoarded and made their way through daily life.

She said that in their design, material makeup and discovered locations, coins can reveal clues about culture, politics, religion, industry trade and household life.

''They are tangible remains of past regimes, yet also part of the daily lives of ordinary people 2,000 years ago,'' she said.

Then as now, they became part of little rituals, symbols and gestures. Fearing bad luck, some people don't pick up a penny unless it's heads up. Flipping a coin offers a question up to chance. 

For centuries, people have tossed coins into wishing wells, or now their urban equivalent, the city fountain.

In the ancient Mediterranean, people sometimes placed a coin in the mouth, on the eyes or or in the shoes of the dead, a fare for the mythological ferryman who took to the under world.

But Dr/ Kemmers said that aside from the symbolism, she was ''not that optimistic about the long-term future of coins.'' With one exception. ''Commemorative coins might be something that will last.'' 

The World Students Society thanks author Alan Yuhas.


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