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Metal Content of Modern US Coins

Metal Content of Modern US Coins

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Published by: 57anonymous on Feb 06, 2012
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Metal Content of Modern United States Coins
The weights and metal compositions of the various United States coins have changed many times since the firsthalf cent and cent were minted in 1793. Often, these changes have been due to variations in availability and/or costs of the metals used in their production, especially during times of war (e.g., the Civil War 1861 - 1865 andWorld War II 1939 - 1945). As demand for these metals continues to change, their values and therefore their usage in modern coins change as well.Coins can be thought of as having three values.
 Face Value
is the stated value of the coin as stamped on the coin.
 Numismatic Value
is the value of the coin to a collector, the value usually being based on its rarity.
 Intrinsic Value
is the value of the underlying metals used to produce the coin.Before coins were produced in early America the barter system was the primary method to obtain goods andservices. In 1792 the United States Congress passed the first coinage act authorizing the United States Mint toissue coins. These first coins were produced from gold, silver and copper. The value of these coins wasdirectly related to the value of the metals used to make them. A ten dollar gold eagle weighed 17.5 grams of 22kt. gold, ten dollars worth at that time. A one dollar silver coin was made from 27 grams of an alloy of 89.24%silver which was valued at one dollar. It is interesting to note that the gold/silver ratio at that time was 1:15.Thus it would take fifteen ounces of silver to buy one ounce of gold. So the face value of the coin was equal tothe intrinsic value.This system was destined to fail. While the price of gold remained stable at $19.39 per troy ounce (31.1034768grams) from 1792 till 1814, it rose to $21.79 that year and to $22.16 the following year before returning to$19.39. But demand for gold could not be satisfied by the supply and eventually the price began to rise again.The result was that the intrinsic value of coins began to exceed their face value. Eventually this would lead tothe elimination of gold and silver and the reduction of copper in our current circulating coinage.While many older coins are worth more for their numismatic value than their intrinsic value, the same is notnecessarily true of coins produced in the last hundred years or so. There are of coarse exceptions to this, usuallydue to the rarity of certain coins. In some cases it is because of low production numbers at certain mints duringcertain years. In other cases it is due to various minting errors. Whatever the cause, the numismatic value isgreater than the value of the metals used to produce the coins, but these are the exceptions.While this document provides some information on the older coins, the focus is on coins produced over the lasthundred years or so. Silver and copper have been significant components of many of these coins and ever increasing metal values have pushed the intrinsic values above their face values, in some cases, many timesabove their face values. In the case of most coins with silver content, the intrinsic value exceeds both the facevalue and the numismatic value.Since the focus of this document is on coins produced over the last hundred years or so, the following US coinsare not includedYEARS MINTEDDENOMINATION1793 1857Half-cent
1864 1873Two-cent1851 1873Silver Three-cent1865-1889Nickel Three-cent1794 1873Half-dime1875 1878Twenty-centGold coins are not included either as production of the original coins ran from 1795 to 1933. Beginning in 1984the United States Mint resumed production of gold coins, but they have sold based on their intrinsic or numismatic values, not their face values.
The cent has probably gone through more modifications over the years than any other US coin. The early cents,known as Large cents, were produced from 1793 through 1857 and ranged in diameter from 26.5 mm to 29 mm(more than an inch in diameter). These Large cents were all 100% copper. Small cents were introduced in1856 and were reduced in diameter to 19 mm, the size of current Lincoln cents.YEARSDESIGNWEIGHTCOMPOSITION1793Flowing Hair13.48 g100% coppe1793 1795Liberty Cap13.48 g100% coppe1795 1796Liberty Cap10.89 g100% coppe1796 1807Draped Bust10.89 g100% coppe1808 1814Classic Head10.89 g100% coppe1816 1839Coronet Liberty10.89 g100% coppe1839 1857Braided Liberty10.89 g100% coppe1856 1858Flying Eagle4.67 g88% copper, 12% nickel1859 1864Indian Head4.67 g88% copper, 12% nickel1864 1909Indian Head3.11 g95% copper, 5% tin and zinc1909 1942Lincoln3.11 g95% copper, 5% tin and zinc1943Lincoln2.69 gzinc-coated steel1944 1945Lincoln3.11 g95% copper, 5% zinc1946 1962Lincoln3.11 g95% copper, 5% tin and zinc1962 1982Lincoln3.11 g95% copper, 5% zinc1982 currentLincoln2.50 g97.5% zinc and 2.5% coppeIn 1982, cents were minted on both the old and new compositions, so both are common. There were some centsminted in 1983 and 1984 on older 95% copper planchets. These may have some value to collectors.Cents minted from 1983 through current are composed of 97.5% zinc and 2.5% copper (these pennies actuallyhave a core that is 99.2% zinc and 0.8% copper that is plated with 100% copper).At the time of this writing (February, 2012), the metal value of pennies minted from 1864 – 1982 (except the1943 steel cent) is approximately $0.025 (two and a half times their face value). But before you decide to makeyour fortune by melting down your old pennies and selling them for their metal content, be aware that onDecember 14, 2006 the U S Mint announced a new regulation making it illegal to melt down U S cents and
nickels. There have been similar bans in the past, e.g., the silver melting ban of 1967 – 1969 and the pennymelting ban of 1974 – 1978. Only time will tell if this ban will be permanent.
The term “nickel” has been used since 1857, though not for the coin with which we are familiar today. The1856 – 1858 Flying Eagle cent and the 1859 – 1864 Indian Head cent were known as nickels due to their composition of 12% nickel and 88% copper. In 1865 the three-cent piece was introduced with a composition of 25% nickel and 75% copper and became the new nickel of the time. One year later in 1866 the Shield nickelwas introduced as a five-cent coin. Since that time the term nickel has applied to the five-cent coin like those incurrent circulation.Since 1866, the design of the nickel has changed, but the weight has always been 5 grams and its compositionwas only changed once as a temporary measure during World War II. Nickel and copper were needed for thewar effort so the less strategically important metals, silver and manganese, were substituted.YEARSDESIGNWEIGHTCOMPOSITION1866 1883Shield5 g25% nickel, 75% coppe1883 1913Liberty Head V5 g25% nickel, 75% coppe1913 1938Indian Head / Buffalo5 g25% nickel, 75% coppe1938 1942Jefferson5 g25% nickel, 75% coppe1942 1945Jefferson5 g56% copper, 35% silver, 9% manganese1946 currentJefferson5 g25% nickel, 75% coppe Note: there is an unofficial variant of a 1944 nickel known as a Henning nickel which is easily detected. Thiswas a counterfeit coin produced in 1954 by a man named Francis LeRoy Henning. These nickels were quicklyspotted as Mr. Henning had not included the large mint mark over Monticello’s dome that was common to allthe silver bearing wartime nickels. He is also known to have minted nickels dated 1939, 1946, 1947, possibly1953, and perhaps one other date. The nickels were minted from the same metal alloy as genuine nickels.At the time of this writing, the common nickel made of cupronickel is worth $0.0578, slightly over its facevalue. See the note above regarding the illegality of melting pennies and nickels. Wartime nickels, with their 35% silver content are worth about $1.92 each.
The first dimes minted for circulation were produced in 1796. The design, weight, and composition of the coinhave been changed as summarized below.YEARSDESIGNWEIGHTCOMPOSITION1796 1807Draped Bust2.70 g89.24% silver, 10.76% coppe1809 1837Capped Bust2.70 g89.24% silver, 10.76% coppe1837 1853Seated Liberty2.67 g90% silver, 10% coppe1853 1873Seated Liberty2.49 g90% silver, 10% coppe

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