The U.S. Mint’s report to Congress on alternative metals for
circulating coinage calls for additional testing before any
recommendations on replacements are made.
The findings in the report are the result of nearly two years of
extensive research by the U.S. Mint into alternative metals for
The Treasury’s recommendation that more testing be conducted means
the copper-plated zinc for the Lincoln cent, copper-nickel for the
Jefferson 5-cent coin, copper-nickel clad for the Roosevelt dime and
America the Beautiful quarter dollars, and manganese-brass clad for
Presidential dollars will remain in use indefinitely.
The Mint’s first biennial report was submitted to the Senate
Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs and House Financial
Services Committee on Dec. 13. Coin World obtained a copy of the
nine-page summary of the report the same day. The full report was to
be publicly released Dec. 14.
The U.S. Mint constructed a dedicated research and development
laboratory within the Philadelphia Mint, with Concurrent Technologies
Corp. from Johnstown, Pa., overseeing the testing.
Two series of test strikes were conducted and evaluated on 29
different metallic configurations supplied by potential vendors.
Tests were conducted for hardness, ductility, weight, color,
surface finish, coinability, corrosion and wear resistance,
electromagnetic signature (for vending machine capability), supply
chain availability, and cost.
Of the 80 metals on the periodic table of elements, only aluminum,
zinc, lead and iron (used to make steel) cost less than copper and
nickel, the primary metals for U.S. coins, according to the report
summary. CTC’s research focused solely on alloys and plated metals
using aluminum, steel, zinc, copper and nickel.
Because the cost of zinc is competitive with the price of steel
and aluminum, changing the composition of the cent to a formulation
based on those two metals would not yield significant savings,
according to the report summary.
“For all denominations other than the one-cent coin, the current
electromagnetic signature could be maintained with a slight reduction
in nickel content, generating minimal cost reductions,” according to
the report summary. “Changing the electromagnetic signature
potentially enables additional cost reductions that need to be
confirmed with further research,” according to the report.
“Additional production-scale testing is required to confirm
preliminary cost estimates of all the alternatives tested, including
those which may not match the electromagnetic signature of existing coins.”
With the exception of the cent, duplicating the electromagnetic
signature for the remaining denominations proved challenging, with all
tested compositions demonstrating the electromagnetic signature of
copper, according to the report summary.
CTC estimates retrofitting vending machines to accept coins with
new electromagnetic signatures would cost vending operators between
$380 million and $630 million.
The Mint’s report to Congress, submitted under provisions of the
Coin Modernization, Oversight and Continuity Act of 2010, also
suggests that it would be necessary to give industry two to three
years advance notice before changing any composition of circulating coins.
The legislation authorizing the research and development of
alternative compositions for circulating coinages was triggered by
continually rising metals costs, primarily those associated with cent
and 5-cent coin output. Production costs for the cent and 5-cent coin
currently are approximately double their face value.
Presidential dollars were being struck for circulation when the
alternative metals research began. Circulation-quality production has
been restricted to numismatic products since Treasury Secretary
Timothy F. Geithner’s Dec. 13, 2011, edict suspending dollar coin
output for circulation.
While the Mint can recommend composition changes for U.S. coinage,
only Congress has the authority to change the compositions for
circulating coinage. ■