Mint ready to implement alloy change for coins pending approval
- Published: Jan 15, 2021, 10 AM
The United States Mint’s fifth biennial report on technological research into alternate compositions for circulating coinage was recently submitted to Congress.
One of the potential metallic alternatives for the 5-cent, dime and quarter dollar is ready for implementation, pending congressional authorization.
The Mint also submitted reports in 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2018 under provisions of The Coin Modernization, Oversight and Continuity Act of 2020, Public Law 111-302.
The primary impetus for the ongoing research is the production cost for the cent and the 5-cent coin, which each continues to run above the coin’s face value.
The research focuses on alternatives for the copper-plated zinc Lincoln cent, copper-nickel Jefferson 5-cent coins, and copper-nickel clad Roosevelt dime and America the Beautiful quarter dollars.
The costs for all four denominations are lower in the 2020 report than they were in 2018, except for the dime, whose costs remained the same.
The Fiscal Year 2020 costs were 1.76 cents for the Lincoln cent, 7.42 cents for the Jefferson 5-cent coin, 3.73 cents for the Roosevelt dime and 8.62 cents each for the America the Beautiful quarter dollars.
These costs compare to FY2018’s 2.06 cents for the cent, 7.53 cents for the 5-cent coin, 3.73 cents for the dime and 8.87 cents for the quarter dollar.
The Mint’s research has resulted in discovery of a number of potentially seamless alloys (substitutions that would require little or no modification to coin-accepting equipment) but they offer only incremental material savings, and several “co-circulating” alternatives that could enter circulation with existing coinage.
While potential alternatives could lower costs for the cent, none is identified that would bring overall costs below face value.
The U.S. Mint conducted more-focused research into five potential compositions, including one for the cent. One of the remaining four is fully ready for implementation pending congressional authority.
That possible alternative is referenced as 80/20. The alternative is a seamless variant to the present 75 percent copper, 25 percent nickel homogenous alloy used for the 5-cent coin and as the cladding for the dime, quarter dollar, and the Kennedy half dollar, but the 80/20 uses more copper, less nickel and adds manganese.
The 80/20 composition is actually 77 percent copper, 20 percent nickel and 3 percent manganese.
Three other potential alternatives under consideration for the 5-cent, dime, quarter dollar and half dollar are:
➤ C99750T-M — potentially seamless, developed jointly with the National Institutes of Standards and Technology, at 50.75 percent copper, 14 percent nickel, 33 percent zinc and 2.1 percent manganese.
➤ Nickel Steel — monolithic alloy developed uniquely by the Mint, austenitic steel (not attracted to magnets), with nickel content at 25 percent and the balance being lower cost iron and some manganese, versus the coins’ current 75% copper content.
➤ Nickel-plated silicon steel — a U.S. Mint-produced co-circulating alternative with a distinguishable electromagnetic signature for coin-accepting equipment that offers “less opportunity for substitution with other commonly available plated steel coins which are plated on low carbon steel.”
U.S. Mint researchers identified a copper-plated steel cent as an alternative to the copper-plated zinc cent. The option would be seamless, with the same dimensions and weight as the current cent, but a different electromagnetic signature.
The full 2020 Biennial Report to Congress can be found on the Mint website along with the previous four reports at https://www.usmint.gov/about/reports.
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