As I went through a $50 bag of pennies for a friend, I started to
wonder about what really happens to old coins. I understand that the
Mint destroys old worn out coins, but what exactly does it take for
a coin to be taken out of circulation?
I would guess that they do not keep records on destruction of what
was destroyed, or do they? If so, the mintages of what was produced
are in error now as worn out coins get melted.
Alan Hepler, Laytonsville, Md.
into too much detail about the processes involved, the U.S. Mint
identifies two broad categories of coins that are candidates for being
removed from circulation to be melted.
One category is “Uncurrent Coins,” or those “U.S. coins which are
merely worn or reduced in weight by natural abrasion yet are readily
and clearly recognizable and machine countable.”
The other category is “Mutilated Coins,” or “all coins that are
bent, broken, corroded, not whole, melted together and not machine
countable,” according to the Mint.
When banks, coinage storage facilities, and other handlers of large
numbers of coins receive coins in these two categories, they can ship
them to the Mint for destruction and reimbursement. Private
individuals can do this as well. See the guidelines for details on how to submit
coins, but be aware that those guidelines are currently being
considered for revision.
As to the coins in these two categories it destroys, the Mint keeps
redemption records for coins by denomination or composition, not
specific date or Mint mark.
In addition, precious metals U.S. coins have been melted by private
firms for decades when the coins’ bullion content has exceeded face
and numismatic value, again with no records kept.
The melting of all these coins, however, in no way changes a coin’s mintage.
By generally accepted definition, “mintage” refers to the number of
coins struck, though for modern collector coins, “mintages” are
actually net sales figures, not the number of coins produced. A coin
with a mintage of 1.5 million pieces will always have a mintage of 1.5
million pieces, even if 1.25 million of them are withdrawn from
circulation and melted.
What changes is the number of surviving pieces or survival rate.
At the best, collectors, dealers and other researchers can estimate
the surviving populations for certain coins, through intense study of
auction appearances, grading service population reports, and other sources.