According to the U.S. Mint's 2014 Biennial Report to Congress,
the Mint has been testing blanks containing 80 percent copper and 20
percent nickel for circulating coins, with different levels of
manganese substituted for some of the nickel in related test compositions.
The various alternatives were tested for coinability, wear,
hardness, coin sorting and electrical conductivity, and die life,
among other variables.
The 80/20 alternatives would not require changes to coin acceptors,
according to the U.S. Mint’s findings, and would offer small savings
over other possibilities. However, the other alternatives tested would
require coin vending and sorting equipment retrofitting, since the
weight and electromagnetic signature of each option would differ from
the existing parameters.
The U.S. Mint suggests that an 80/20 alternative offers annual
savings to the bureau of $5.25 million on the 5-cent, dime and quarter dollar.
Regarding the other alternatives, vending and coin-handling
representatives estimate the equipment retrofitting and/or
replacements costs would be in the billions of dollars.
Plated steel alternatives would offer the Mint substantial savings,
but along with presenting expenses to coin handling machine operators,
would also present increased risks of fraud and confusion with
low-denomination foreign coins.
Stainless steel resists corrosion, but its hardness negatively
impacts coinability, according to the U.S. Mint’s findings.
Testing of copper-plated zinc and tin-plated copper-plated zinc
removed them from consideration because of insufficient wear and
durability properties in comparison to alloys in current use for coins
other than the current copper-plated zinc cent.
The U.S. Mint’s
research also included adjusting the height of relief and crown on the
coin designs to address unacceptable metal fill on some materials. The
adjustments presented other challenges, including border elements
filling before inner details, or the flow of the material changing.
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