U.S. Mint Experimenting With New Metals to Make Coins Cheaper
PHILADELPHIA (TheBlaze/AP) — When it comes to making coins, the Mint isn’t getting its two cents worth. In some cases, it doesn’t even get half of that.
A penny costs more than two cents and a nickel costs more than 11 cents to make and distribute. The quandary is how to make coins more cheaply without sparing our change’s quality and durability, or altering its size and appearance.
A 400-page report presented last week to Congress outlines nearly two years of trials conducted at the Mint in Philadelphia, where a variety of metal recipes were put through their paces in the massive facility’s high-speed coin-making machinery.
Evaluations of 29 different alloys concluded that none met the ideal list of attributes. The Treasury Department concluded that additional study was needed before it could endorse any changes.
“We want to let the data take us where it takes us,” Dick Peterson, the Mint’s acting director, said Wednesday. More test runs with different alloys are likely in the coming year, he said.
The government has been looking for ways to shave the millions it spends every year to make bills and coins. Congressional auditors recently suggested doing away with dollar bills entirely and replacing them with dollar coins, which they concluded could save taxpayers some $4.4 billion over three decades.
To test possible new metal combinations, the U.S. Mint struck penny-, nickel-, and quarter-sized coins with “nonsense dies” — images that don’t exist on legal tender (a bonneted Martha Washington is a favorite subject) but are similar in depth and design to real currency.
Test stampings were examined for color, finish, resistance to wear and corrosion, hardness and magnetic properties. That last item might be the trickiest, as coin-operated equipment such as vending machines and parking meters detect counterfeits not just by size and weight but by each coin’s specific magnetic signature.
Except for pennies, all current U.S. circulating coins have the electromagnetic properties of copper, the report said.
A slight reduction in the nickel content of our quarters, dimes, and nickels would bring some cost savings while keeping the magnetic characteristics the same. Making more substantial changes, like switching to steel or other alloys with different magnetic properties, could mean big savings to the government but at a big cost to coin-op businesses, Peterson said.
The vending industry estimates it would cost between $700 million and $3.5 billion to recalibrate machines to recognize coins with an additional magnetic signature. The Mint’s researchers reached a lower but still pricey estimate of $380 million to $630 million.
Another challenge for the Mint is the rising cost of copper (used in all U.S. coins) and nickel (used in all except pennies).
Only four of the 80 metals on the periodic table – aluminum, iron (used to make steel), zinc and lead – cost less than copper and nickel, the report stated. Lead isn’t an option because of its potential health hazards.
“Pricing of steel, aluminum and zinc are pretty close to each other … there are promising alternatives for the nickel, dime and quarter,” Peterson said. “There wouldn’t be any advantage to shift the composition of the penny, so we offset that cost with (savings from) other denominations.”
Pennies may not be cost-efficient, but they won’t be getting pinched as long as they’re in demand.
“We produce 6 billion pennies a year,” Peterson said. “Our customers want them.”
Follow Becket Adams (@BecketAdams) on Twitter
Featured image courtesy the AP.
- Why Were DHS Agents Seemingly Monitoring Multiple Tea Party IRS Protests Across the Country on Tuesday? 436 Comments
- Confusion Erupts in IRS Hearing After Lois Lerner Tries to Plead the 5th — Watch It All Unfold 413 Comments
- Shock Video Surfaces: Meat Cleaver-Wielding Man Shouts ‘You People Will Never Be Safe!’ Moments After Gruesome London Attack 353 Comments
- CNN’s Wolf Blitzer Has Awkward Moment With Okla. Tornado Survivor After Asking If She ‘Thanked the Lord’ 320 Comments
- More Than $1 Million Raised Through Mercury One for Oklahoma Tornado Relief 266 Comments
- ‘Unbelievable’: Apparent Thief Leaves $140 & Apology Note on Family’s Doorstep — Find Out Why Read More
- Anti-Gay Bias or Fair Punishment? New Details Emerge About High School Student’s Lesbian Relationship With a Minor 114 Comments
- Comedian’s New Anti-Muhammad Video Excoriates Islamic Prophet, Juxtaposes Him with Jesus: ‘Very Wrong and Twisted’ 130 Comments
- Teacher Admits She ‘Prayed Out Loud’ During Violent Tornado: ‘I Did the Teacher Thing that We’re Probably Not Supposed to Do’ 120 Comments
- Farrakhan Talks of ‘Satanic Jews’ and ‘Synagogue of Satan’ at Detroit Church Speech — but Wait Until You Hear Who Was in Attendance 232 Comments
- Here are the 7 Most Explosive & Informative Moments from Today’s IRS Hearing Read More
- Foreign Banks Operating on U.S. Soil Have Just Set a Record Read More
- The Tense Exchange Between Rep. Trey Gowdy and the Former IRS Head You’ve Been Waiting for…and It Doesn’t Disappoint 243 Comments
- Report: No IRS Workers Have Been Disciplined & Union Says It Hasn’t Been Contacted on Personnel Read More
- Ex-Cincinnati IRS Manager: This Was Not the Work of ‘Low-Level’ Employees Read More
- The Incredible Role Facebook Played in the Aftermath of Devastating Okla. Tornado Read More
- Tech Company Demonstrates Remote Disabling of a ‘Smart Gun’ 114 Comments
- Meet the Blind Man Nicknamed ‘Midnight Gunslinger’ Who Has 80% Shot Accuracy Read More
- How a $4.5 Million Network of 181 Sirens Helped Save Lives in Oklahoma Twister Read More
- See the Record-Setting Python a Man Caught With His Bare Hands (and Guess How Much It Weighed) Read More
- Arias jury deadlocks but must keep deliberating
- ND ad agency sues creators of Cartoon Network show
- Minn. teen whose farewell song became web hit dies
- HP's 2Q offers hope even as revenue slump deepens
- Boy Scout leaders to vote on lifting gay ban
- 3rd grader who loved to sing among tornado victims
- WikiLeaks case file fight moves to federal court
- Tesla uses stock, note sale to repay government