The United States
Mint recommends in its 2014 Biennial Report to Congress filed Dec. 12
to pursue additional testing of a promising alloy of 80 percent
copper, 20 percent nickel for circulating U.S. coins.
It is the second such report submitted to Congress under provisions
of the Coin Modernization, Oversight and Continuity Act of 2010, Public Law 111-302. The first report was
submitted in December 2012.
The U.S. Mint is researching alternatives for a “seamless”
circulation introduction since any selected alternative would
co-circulate with existing coinage.
While the first biennial report reviewed 29 composition alternatives
tested, the second round of testing concentrated on only six — a
homogenous alloy of 80 percent copper, 20 percent nickel, the most
promising option; nickel-plated steel; multi-ply plated steel;
stainless steel; copper-plated zinc; and tin-plated copper-plated zinc.
The report includes
recommendations for larger-scale testing of the 80/20 alloy and the
development of a final specification for use by current and other
coinage strip suppliers. It is also recommended testing a cladding of
the 80/20 alloy to a copper core for the dime, quarter dollar and half dollar.
Continued examination of stainless steel options, which currently
points to a thinner copper core for the clad pieces, resulting in a
lighter final product, is also recommended.
All of the experimental pieces struck during the testing were
produced with “nonsense dies” bearing designs to simulate production
images. The obverse designs bear renditions of First Lady Martha
Washington. The 5-cent nonsense reverse depicts Monticello.
Over the past four years, the U.S. Mint has been exploring
composition alternatives, since the cost of metals for the existing
compositions has pushed the production costs for the cent and 5-cent
coins above their face value.
The cost to produce and distribute the Lincoln cent was 1.7 cents
during Fiscal Year 2014, down from 2.41 cents three years earlier. The
latest cost for the 5-cent coin is 8.1 cents, while the dime clocks in
at 3.9 cents and the quarter dollar at 9 cents per coin.
U.S. Mint officials have not found an alternative composition for
the copper-plated zinc cent that would bring costs below face value.
The conclusions reached in the 2014 report center on research into
possible alternatives for the 5-cent coin, dime, and quarter dollar.
The 5-cent coin is currently composed of a homogenous alloy of 75
percent copper, 25 percent nickel. The dime and quarter dollar are
currently composed of outer layers of 75 percent copper and 25 percent
nickel bonded to a core of pure copper.
Those in the vending machine and coin-handling industries stress
that any composition alternative should maintain the weight and
electromagnetic signature of the current denominations to eliminate
the need to retrofit equipment.
The 2014 biennial report also examines the study of
ringed-bimetallic coinage, an alternative that according to U.S. Mint
consultation with Royal Mint and Royal Canadian Mint representatives, should be
reserved for denominations of $1 and higher. The report suggested
considering use of a clad core for any such bimetallic pieces.
While the U.S. Mint currently strikes manganese-brass clad
Presidential and Native American dollars in circulation quality, all
such coins are produced for inclusion in numismatic products and as
such are sold at prices above their face value, with none placed into
general circulation by the Mint.
The 2014 Biennial Report also examines the results of a study
conducted by Fraunhofer USA into laser blanking.
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