Mint seeks public comment on alternative coinage materials

Exploring possible alloy changes under authority granted in 2010
Published : 03/20/11
Text Size

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 circulating coins.”

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

➤ coinability

➤ durability

➤ sorting, handling, packaging and vending machines

➤ appearance

➤ 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, 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. 14, 2010.

The law was passed in response to a Treasury Department request in early 2010 to gain more control over determining the composition of circulating coins.

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.

Rising costs

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’ face value.

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, 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. ■

You are signed in as:null

Please sign in or join to share your thoughts on this story

No comments yet