US Coins

New legislation seeks changes to alloys used for coinage

Proposed legislation seeks additional studies in search of alternative metals for circulating U.S. coin denominations.

Images courtesy of the United States Mint

For the second time in four months, Sen. Margaret Wood Hassan has introduced legislation seeking possible changes in the composition of United States coins for circulation.

Hassan, D-N.H., for herself and on behalf of Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wy., on Sept. 23 introduced S. 4663, the “Coin Metal Modification and Cost Savings Act of 2020.

The proposed legislation was referred to the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs.

Similar legislation, S. 4006, was introduced by Hassan June 18, 2020, but never moved beyond the committee stage.

S. 4663 seeks to reduce costs in the production of coins for circulation.

“By tweaking the metal composition of our coins, the U.S. Mint could, in the short-term, create more coins amid a temporary shortage, and, in the long-term, save millions of dollars every year without any significant changes to the coins’ weight or appearance,” Hassan told Coin World. “Given the severe strain that the COVID-19 pandemic has put on families and our economies, people and businesses cannot afford to literally be short-changed because there simply aren’t enough coins out in circulation. This is fiscally responsible and commonsense legislation, and I hope my colleagues will join Senator Enzi and me in moving this bill forward.”

S. 4663 seeks a study and analysis conducted by the U.S. Mint, with input from industry stakeholders such as vending machine manufacturers that would be affected by any composition changes.

If passed, S. 4663 would amend Title 31 of the United States Code dedicated to Money and Finance, and grant the Treasury secretary discretion to make composition changes if a Mint study and analysis indicates such changes would result in cost savings, be seamless with the same diameters and weights as current coinage denominations, as well as same electromagnetic signature, and have minimal adverse impact on the public and machine manufacturers.

The Mint’s study and analysis would have to determine the justification for changing the compositions for any possible changes to be considered.

Composition research

Under provisions of the Coin Modernization, Oversight, and Continuity Act of 2010, Public Law 111-302, enacted Dec. 14, 2010, the U.S. Mint has been conducting ongoing research and development of compositional alternatives for the copper-plated zinc Lincoln cent, copper-nickel Jefferson 5-cent coin, copper-nickel clad Roosevelt dime and copper-nickel clad America the Beautiful quarter dollars.

The cent and 5-cent coin currently cost more than face value to produce.

The Mint has forwarded to Congress biennial reports on the results of their findings from research starting in December 2012, with the last report submitted in 2019 for 2018.

The Mint has come up with potential compositional alternatives that offer cost savings for circulating coinage, but not for the cent. While possible alternatives for the cent have been developed, none of the possibilities would bring the cost below face value, according to the most recent report.

Possibilities determined by the Mint for the 5-cent, dime and quarter dollar denominations would incorporate manganese with varying percentages of copper and nickel in the alloy. Manganese is currently used in the composition of Native American and American Innovation dollar coins, neither of which is struck for circulation release.

Other alternative metal compositions include alloys involving steel.

Complete findings from those biennial reports can be found on the Mint’s website online at

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