Using authority granted by the Coin Modernization, Oversight and
Continuity Act of 2010 (Public Law 111-302), the United States Mint
announced March 7 that it is seeking public comment “from all
interested persons on factors to be considered in conducting research
for alternative metallic coinage materials for the production of all
The Mint stated that these factors include, but are not limited to:
➤ the effect of new metallic coinage materials on the current
suppliers of coinage materials
➤ the acceptability of new metallic coinage materials, including
physical, chemical, metallurgical and technical characteristics
➤ metallic material, fabrication, minting and distribution costs
➤ metallic material availability and sources of raw metals
➤ sorting, handling, packaging and vending machines
➤ risks to the environment and public safety
➤ resistance to counterfeiting
➤ commercial and public acceptance
➤ any other factors considered to be appropriate and in the public interest
The Mint is seeking public comment only on the factors to be
considered in the research and evaluation of potential new metallic
coinage materials, but is not soliciting suggestions or
recommendations on “specific metallic coinage materials.” The Mint
stated that suggestions or recommendations such as these “will not be
considered at this time.”
Comments to the Mint regarding this issue must be submitted on or
before April 4. Persons or parties with an opinion on this subject are
invited to contact the Mint by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org,
by fax at (202) 756-6500, or by mail at New Coin Materials Comments,
Mail Stop: Manufacturing 6 North, United States Mint, 801 Ninth St.
N.W., Washington, DC 20220
For further information, contact Jean Gentry, Deputy Chief
Counsel, United States Mint at (202) 354-7359.
Authority to study
In the Coin Modernization, Oversight and Continuity Act of 2010,
Congress gave the Treasury Department (which oversees the Mint) the
authority to conduct studies for alternative metallic coinage
materials. The bill was signed into law by President Barack Obama Dec.
The law was passed in response to a Treasury Department request in
early 2010 to gain more control over determining the composition of
A similar legislative attempt was made in August 2007, when two
separate bills were introduced in the House and Senate on the behalf
of Treasury officials.
The 2007 bills called for Congress to cede its constitutional
authority governing coinage compositions to the Treasury secretary.
Neither bill moved beyond the subcommittee level.
The act passed in 2010 did not cede congressional responsibility
over coinage compositions to the Mint.
Although the Mint is authorized to study and recommend composition
changes to circulating coins under the current law, the Mint is still
restricted from implementing changes without congressional approval.
Under the Constitution, Congress is the governing entity empowered
with the final authority to coin money. This power includes
establishing the specifications comprising the denominations, such as
weight, diameter and composition.
Over the past several years, the rising costs of materials and
labor the Mint requires to manufacture circulating U.S. coinage have
made some denominations unprofitable. Of the five circulating
denominations, the cost of minting 1-cent and 5-cent coins is greater
than the face value of the coins themselves.
In the Jan. 10 issue of Coin World, Paul Gilkes reported
on the Mint’s increasing costs to produce circulating coins.
Gilkes reported that as of Sept. 30, 2010 (or the end of Fiscal
Year 2010), the Mint stated that it cost 1.79 cents to mint the
Lincoln cent and 9.24 cents to produce each Jefferson 5-cent coin for circulation.
The Mint’s cost to produce other circulating denominations — the
dime, quarter dollar and dollar — rose in Fiscal Year 2010, but not to
the point where the cost of minting these coins exceeded the coins’
While the Mint still strikes Kennedy half dollars, these are
produced for collector sales, not for circulating purposes.
The price of copper, particularly, has a substantial effect on the
cost of production. The Jefferson 5-cent coin has a composition of 75
percent copper, 25 percent nickel, and its weight of 5 grams is more
than twice the weight of the Roosevelt dime (2.27 grams).
While the Lincoln cent is composed primarily of zinc (97.5 percent
zinc, 2.5 percent copper), its cost to strike still exceeds its face
value. Many older Lincoln cents, composed primarily of copper and
struck prior to the 1982 changeover to the current composition, still circulate.
With the exception of the zinc-coated steel cents struck in 1943,
Lincoln cents from 1909 to 1982 were composed of 95 percent copper
with the remaining percentage either zinc or a zinc-tin mixture.
According to the latest figures provided by www.coinflation.com, the metallic value of a 95
percent copper Lincoln cent from 1909 to 1982 is 2.84 cents, or almost
three times the cent’s face value. ■