US Coins

Vending-machine compatibility key for replacing silver coinage

With the Coinage Act of 1965 realizing its 50-year anniversary, Coin World has a chance to revisit the the Coinage Act as its grassroots in U.S. numismatics. Over the 1950s and 1960s, as the public began to warrant interest, and the price of silver rose, silver would become quite limited. These new dynamics were solved by the use of clad compositions when creating dimes, quarter dollars, half dollars and dollars moving forward. 

In 1963 the Treasury Department, concerned that the nation would run out of silver, began studying alternative metals, hiring the Columbus, Ohio, research operation, Battelle Memorial Institute, to investigate possible solutions.

The fruits of that study were released into circulation Nov. 1, 1965, as the nation turned its back on the nearly 175-year tradition of silver coinage and switched to copper-nickel clad dimes and quarter dollars.

Silver prices had been rising since 1943, when an ounce of silver averaged just 38.3 cents. Rising demand, especially in the photography industry, pushed prices above 90 cents in 1956 and over $1 in 1961.

Vending machines and coins

Coins were a crucial part of the economy 50 years ago, used to make change for every purchase and to buy an array of goods at vending machines.

The prime criteria for a silver replacement in coinage was the metal’s compatibility with existing vending machines. 

The coin’s weight, size, and electromagnetic properties had to mimic the same specifications as the silver version or it would fail the vending-machine test. The Battelle Memorial Institute report notes, “Vending of goods and services in coin-operated equipment has become a large industry in the United States. Nearly everyone makes use of such coin-operated devices as pay telephones, cigarette and candy machines, toll-road collection boxes, juke boxes, and many others.”

Today the few pay phones that exist are relics of pre-cell phone days, rarely seen and rarely used. Cigarette machines became illegal as states passed and enforced laws limiting smokes to people over 18. Increasingly, vending machines are equipped with card readers and can accept payment by credit or debit card.

In 1963, the Battelle report says, “28 billion coins passed through vending machines, while another 4 to 5 billion went into pay telephones of the Bell System alone.”

Here are typical prices for vending machine goods in 1965:

  • Pack of cigarettes: 35 cents
  • Local phone call: 10 cents
  • Song on juke box: 10 cents
  • Bottle of pop: 10 cents
  • Daily newspaper: 10 cents
  • Stamp: 6 cents
  • Candy bar: 5 cents

Many vending machines made change, and some products, especially cigarettes, came with a cent or two tucked into the packaging to make change.

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