The United States Mint has been striking experimental Jefferson
5-cent coins in copper-plated zinc.
In efforts to save money by finding suitable alternative
compositions for circulating coinage, the U.S. Mint is considering,
among its options, changing the 5-cent coin from its current
copper-nickel alloy to the same composition as the current Lincoln cent.
At 21.21 millimeters in diameter and 5 grams in weight, the 5-cent
coin is larger and heavier than the copper-plated zinc cent. The cent
is 19 millimeters in diameter and weighs 2.5 grams.
The experimental copper-plated zinc strikes the Mint has executed
at the Philadelphia Mint for the 5-cent coin weigh 4.06 grams and
maintain the coin’s current diameter, according to U.S. Mint officials.
U.S. Mint spokesman Michael White said Jan. 23 that the
copper-plated zinc planchets for the 5-cent experimental strikes were
supplied by Jarden Zinc Products of Greeneville, Tenn.
Jarden is currently the U.S. Mint’s lone vendor for
ready-to-strike copper-plated zinc planchets for Lincoln cents.
For the 5-cent coin, a 75 percent copper, 25 percent nickel
homogenous alloy has been used since the denomination was introduced
in 1866, with only one interruption. The only period the copper-nickel
alloy was not used was from 1942 to 1945 when nickel was removed and
replaced with silver and manganese to alloy with copper.
The wartime alloy was 56 percent copper, 35 percent silver and 9
percent manganese. The wartime 5-cent coins also weighed 5 grams. The
.350 fine silver 5-cent coins were struck at the Philadelphia, Denver
and San Francisco Mints. The Mint mark from each facility appears on
the coin’s reverse in the field above Monticello’s dome.
The Philadelphia Mint wartime 5-cent coin strikes represented the
first use of the P Mint mark on a U.S. coin.
The copper-plated zinc planchets for the 5-cent denomination
experimental strikes are being struck with what the U.S. Mint refers
to as “nonsense dies” to test the alloy. The dies bear an obverse
portrait of Martha Washington facing right, and the reverse, a
rendition of the Washington home, Mount Vernon, in Virginia. The Mint
has used variations of these two designs for decades when testing new
compositions for circulating coinage.
Efforts to reduce costs
The Research and Development Team at the Philadelphia Mint has
been conducting test strikes using nonferrous and ferrous metals for
more than three years in ongoing, congressionally authorized
experiments aimed at reducing production and circulation distribution
costs for U.S. coinage.
The testing is being conducted under the authority of the Coin
Modernization, Oversight, and Continuity Act of 2010, Public Law
111-302, which calls for the Mint to examine the compositions for all
circulating coin denominations.
However, the primary focus of research and development efforts has
been concentrated on the cent and 5-cent denominations, both of which
have cost the Mint more than face value to produce and distribute for
eight consecutive fiscal years.
Under terms of Public Law 111-302, signed into law Dec. 14, 2010,
the U.S. Mint must submit a report to Congress every two years
updating Congress on alternative coin composition research and
providing potential recommendations.
The first biennial report was submitted in mid-December 2012, with
the next report due in mid-December 2014.
No cost savings likely for cent
Although the first report to Congress by the Mint included details
about a possible copper-plated steel alternative for the Lincoln cent,
the option offered no cost savings. Deputy U.S. Mint Director Richard
A. Peterson has previously stated that currently no known composition
alternative for the Lincoln cent would bring the combined production
and circulation costs per coin below the face value of one cent.
When Public Law 111-302 was passed, the U.S. Mint was striking
five denominations at the Denver and Philadelphia Mints for general
circulation — Lincoln cents, Jefferson 5-cent coins, Roosevelt
copper-nickel clad dimes, America the Beautiful copper-nickel clad
quarter dollars, and manganese-brass clad dollars (Presidential and
Production of copper-nickel clad Kennedy half dollars in
circulation quality has been restricted to numismatic product sales
since 2002. Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner suspended
Presidential dollar production for circulation on Dec. 13, 2011,
because of a glut in Federal Reserve Banks and associated storage
facilities. That suspension also included Native American dollars for circulation.
Kennedy half dollars, Presidential and Native American dollars are
still being struck in circulation quality, but only for numismatic
products at prices well above face value. Their costs are addressed
under the Mint’s numismatic programs.
Mint officials have studied alternative compositions for U.S.
coins on multiple occasions during the 20th and 21st centuries.
As noted, the Mint tested new alloys for the 5-cent coin and
compositions for the cents during World War II. The wartime testing
led to the aforementioned change to the 5-cent coin, as well as to a
zinc-coated steel composition for the cent in 1943.
Rising copper costs in the 1970s led to the testing of many
compositions for the cent, many supposedly struck with nonsense dies.
Regular Lincoln cent dies were use for two compositions: aluminum for
1974 and 1975 Lincoln cents, and bronze-clad steel for 1974 cents. The
price of copper fell before any of those compositional changes were
adopted. Examples of 1974 cents in both compositions are in private
hands, though it is illegal to own them.
In the early 1980s, the cent composition was changed as noted, to
Fiscal 2013 costs
According to the U.S. Mint’s 2013 Annual Report for the fiscal
year ending Sept. 30, 2013, the combined production and distribution
cost for the Lincoln cent for fiscal 2013 was 1.83 cents, compared
with 2 cents in fiscal 2012 and 2.41 cents in fiscal 2011.
Production and distribution for the 5-cent coin cost 9.41 cents
for fiscal 2013, 10.09 cents for fiscal 2012 and 11.18 cents for
Combined production and distribution costs for the Roosevelt dime
during fiscal 2013 were 4.56 cents, compared with 4.99 cents in fiscal
2012 and 5.65 cents in fiscal 2011.
Quarter dollar production and distribution costs were 10.5 cents
in fiscal 2013, 11.3 cents in fiscal 2012 and 11.14 cents in fiscal 2011.
The Philadelphia Mint is expected to continue experimental strike
production in February. ■