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U.S. Mint Tries to Get Its Money’s Worth

Posted on: 12/27/2012
The U.S. Mint needs to make a change. The cost of manufacturing coins has become quite a losing proposition, with a penny costing more than two cents and a nickel running as high as 11 cents to make and distribute.

To try to save cash on the coins that it makes, the Mint in Philadelphia has been conducted nearly two years of trials with 29 different alloys to find a cheaper metal that will still provide the same quality, durability, and appearance expected of U.S. coins.

The results of the study was presented in a 400 page report to Congress in mid-December. It concluded that none of the alloys tested met the ideal list of attributes.

A particularly tricky aspect of creating coins from new metals is retaining their specific magnetic signatures. Switching to steel or other alloys with different magnetic properties would change these magnetic signatures, which coin-operated equipment and vending machines use to identify potential counterfeits. The report estimated that the vending industry would have to invest between $380 to $630 million to recalibrate machines to recognize these additional signatures.

Copper is used in all U.S. coins, while nickel is used in everything except pennies. Alternative materials being examined to replace these more expensive metals include steel, aluminum and zinc.

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