You should comment to the U.S. Mint

U.S. cents have been made of copper, steel, and copper plated zinc. What's next?

U.S. cents have been made of copper, steel, and copper plated zinc. What’s next?

As part of its ongoing study of alternative medals to be used for coinage mandated by the Coin Modernization, Oversight, and Continuity Act of 2010, (Public Law 111-302 [PDF]), the U.S. Mint is seeking comment from “ stakeholders” as to the impact expected if congress was to approve a change in coinage metals. The Request for Comment (RFC) was published in the Federal Register (79 F.R. 19971 [PDF]) asking for stakeholders to provide more input to its ongoing research effort.

Although the U.S. Mint does not define who they consider stakeholders but does mention the “coin industry” in one paragraph, the guideline questions are clearly targeted to the coin-operated machine industry. Coin-op machines are more than the soda and candy machines that may be in the break room where you work. These machines include toll booth machines, machines that produce bus and/or train fare cards, parking meters, game machines, and even the few pay telephones that are still in use. Everything that accepts coins will have to be replaced, repaired, adjusted, or scrapped should there be a change in coinage metals.

The new technology used by the Royal Canadian Mint to protect the Toonie (C$2)

The new technology used by the Royal Canadian Mint to protect the Toonie (C$2)

The trouble that the United States is in for can be seen just across the border in Canada. Although the Royal Canadian Mint produced test tokens that anyone could have used to verify and adjust their systems two years prior to the introduction of the new Loonie (C$1) and Toonie (C$2) coins, Canadian news followed the trials and tribulations of many communities whose parking meters and other parking-related systems would not accept the new coins.

In the United Kingdom, the Bank of England and law enforcement is engaged in a difficult fight against counterfeit £1 coins. Sources estimate that between 3-percent of the £1 coins in circulation are fake amounting to more than 45 million counterfeit coins. These fakes are so convincing and very well constructed that they can be successfully used in vending machines for payment including in London’s Underground. In an attempt to stem the problem, the Royal Mint has designed a new £1 coin to be circulated by 2017 in hopes to cut the counterfeiting rate.

New edge view of the coin the Royal Mint hopes will be able to thwart counterfeiters.

New edge view of the coin the Royal Mint hopes will be able to thwart counterfeiters.

Changes in the Loonie and Toonie were subtle as compared to the changes in the £1 coin. While the size of the coin will remain about the same, it will go from being round to have 12 sides. Rather than it being make of one metal, the new coin will be bi-metallic with a yellow metal on the outer ring and a silver-colored inner core. Rather than the edge being milled with a single incuse inscription, the edge will have alternating milling and the year in Roman numerals on each of the sides.

The coin-operated businesses in Britain are beginning to complain about the changes even though they are being given nearly three years to adjust. For their systems, the new coins will have a different weight, specific gravity, and the electromagnetic signature will differ from the current coin. Every system from the Underground to parking systems to food and beverage vending machines will have to be upgraded to accept the new coins. One report estimates that it will cost up to £50 million (approximately $82.3 million) just to update parking systems.

The Automatic Vending Association, the U.K.’s vending industry trade group, estimates that the new coin will costs its members over £100 million ($168.5 million) to convert their machines.

Expect the costs in the United States to be much higher mainly because of scale. The National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA), the $45 billion per year vending industry trade association in the United States, has already issued a report saying that it will cost from $100 to $500 per machine to convert them to accept new coinage.

The American Amusement Machine Association (AAMA) has come out against any change in U.S. coinage. It was reported that AAMA president John Schultz said to leave the coinage alone “because it works, rather than risk the costly consequences.” AAMA has not provided an estimate for those costly consequences.

The last significant change in coinage composition was in 2000 on the introduction of the Sacagawea “Golden” dollar coin. Following the debacle of the Susan B. Anthony small dollar coin that was mistaken for a quarter, the coin was redesigned without a reeded edge and given a golden color by adding manganese to the metals mix. Although this change primarily impacted the gaming industry that relied on the dollar coin, the vending machine industry did respond by converting old machines and manufacturing new ones that accepted the new coin.

The change to copper-coated zinc cents created a seven coin set for 1982

The change to copper-coated zinc cents created a seven coin set for 1982

Previously, the one cent coin went from being made of 95-percent copper and the rest zinc to being made of 98.5-percent zinc with a copper coating. Not only did this change occur in the middle of 1982, but it created seven collectible varieties of coins that are not that expensive to own. Although this change did not affect many industries, new automated cash registers being used primarily at grocery and home improvement stores can accept both the copper and zinc coins without problems.

Any discussion of coin composition changes has to include the change from silver to clad coinage. When President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Coinage Act of 1965 (Pub. L. 89-81) into law on July 23, 1965, the composition of the dime and quarter dollar was change from 90-percent silver and 10-copper to 75-percent copper and 25-percent nickel bonded to a core of pure copper. This mix of metals was selected so that the coins would have an electromagnetic signature that was very similar to their silver counterparts. The half-dollar was reduced to 40-percent silver surrounding a pure copper core.
This change in coinage was done for the same reason that congress has asked the U.S. Mint to study alternative metals: the cost of materials and labor to make the coins is higher than the face value of the coin. As of the Fiscal Year 2013 (October 2012-September 2013) Annual Report, it costs the U.S. Mint 1.83 cents in labor and materials to manufacture the one cent coin and 9.41 cents for the five cents coin.

As a comparison, the cost for the dime including labor and materials is 4.56 cents per coin while the quarter dollar costs 10.5 cents to make.

1853 Braided Hair Half Cent Obverse

1853 Braided Hair Half Cent Obverse – The last lowest denomination coin eliminated by the congress.

Deciding what to do about U.S. coinage goes beyond the accounting details. A change by the federal government will impact everyone domestically and those overseas that use the dollar as their currency. There will be quite a few collateral issues including economic, political, and philosophical considerations. From a policy perspective, congress will have to think about the following before making any changes to our change:

  1. Does the U.S. eliminate the one cent coin?
  2. Does the U.S. eliminate the one dollar note in favor of a coin?
  3. If a transition to new metals is approved, does the government provide economic assistance to small businesses and sectors that will feel a bigger impact from this change?
  4. Will the federal government provide assistance to communities to help convert municipal services to be able to take the new coins?
  5. Should the U.S. Mint, a government agency, be allowed and/or required to earn a profit from its operations?
  6. How will the people be educated on the new coinage?
  7. What role will the Federal Reserve play?

Since the U.S. Mint did not define who their stakeholders are, it is fair to say that the stakeholders are all citizens of the United States. If you would like to comment, the U.S. Mint is looking for input on the following factors:

  • Costs to convert to circulating coins composed of alternative metals given the following possible changes to coins:
    • Weight
    • Electromagnetic signature
    • Visual changes, such as color and relief
  • Transition time needed to introduce a circulating coin composed of an alternative metal.
  • Comments on how best to inform and educate both affected industries and the public on changes to circulating coins.
  • Environmental impact from the use of circulating coins composed of alternative metals.
  • Other issues of importance not identified above.
  • When commenting, note that the U.S. Mint said it is not considering aluminum alloy metals.

    Responses are due to the U.S. Mint 60-days following its printing in the Federal Register (April 10, 2014 making the due date June 9, 2014). Electronic comments can be sent to Coin.StakeholdersResponse@usmint.treas.gov. If you prefer to send your comments the traditional way, mail them to Coin Stakeholders Response, Office of Coin Studies, United States Mint, 801 9th Street NW., Washington, DC 20220.

    If you do comment and would like to share what you said with the rest of the community, either send it to me via email or post it as a comment below.

    Photo credits: All photographs are the author’s except the image of the Toonie from the Royal Canadian Mint and the One-pound coin prototype from the Royal Mint.

    Alternative metals for U.S. coins

    U.S. cents have been made of copper, steel, and copper plated zinc. What's next?

    U.S. cents have been made of copper, steel, and copper plated zinc. What’s next?

    When the White House released its budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2015 on Tuesday, included was a request that the Department of the Treasury perform “a comprehensive review of U.S. currency production and use, including developing alternative options for the penny and the nickel.”

    According to the budget report [PDF], it says:

    The production and circulation of currency in the United States have been largely unchanged for decades, despite the growth in electronic financial transactions. Treasury is undertaking a comprehensive review of U.S. currency, including a review of both the production and use of coins, in order to efficiently promote commerce in the 21st Century. These studies will analyze alternative metals, the United States Mint facilities, and consumer behavior and preferences, and will result in the development of alternative options for the penny and the nickel.

    Some of this has been ongoing for the last few years. As part of the Coin Modernization, Oversight, and Continuity Act of 2010, (Public Law 111-302 [PDF]), the U.S. Mint performed and Alternatives Metals study that was completed in August 2012 and then reported to Congress in December 2012.

    The problem with the study is the politics written into the law which the report addresses in the executive summary. Key to the problem is the provision written into the law that gives too much consideration to the vending and coin-operated industry. Rather than find the best metals possible while considering the factors that would have to be changed to make new coins work in devices like vending machines, parking meters, and other machines that take coins for payment, the law is written as if the vending industry has veto power over the choices.

    Reading the alternative metals report is like taking a college course in metallurgy. When reading the report, it is apparent that there is no perfect solution. Either the coin sizes and weights will have to change in order to meet electromagnetic signature (EMS) requirements to make new coins similar enough to provoke fewer changes to existing equipment or the EMS of the coins will have to change and the machines reprogrammed. In either case, something will have to change.

    In short, the EMS is the waveforms that are sensed when a coin is exposed to low frequency radiation (harmless to humans). The waveforms are read by sensors and compared with a programmed baseline to verify that you dropped a real coin into the machine and not a slug.

    As part of the alternative metal study, the U.S. Mint is holding a stakeholders meeting. Interested members of businesses, industries, and agencies will meet with the U.S. Mint study group to share their perspectives on the impacts of alternative metal compositions on circulating coins. This meeting will be held Thursday, March 13, 2014, from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. (EDT) at the U.S. Mint Headquarters located at 801 Ninth Street NW, Washington, D.C., 2nd floor. Attendance is by invitation only. Anyone interested in attending can contact Leslie Schwager, Office of Coin Studies at OfficeofCoinStudies@usmint.treas.gov, or by calling 202–354–6600 no later than Monday, March 10, 2014 to request an invitation and obtain additional meeting information.

    You can read the full announcement about this meeting in the Federal Register 79 F.R. 6672. [PDF]

    Because of the recent storms and closing of the federal government, my work requirements have shifted making it difficult for me to attend. Anyone who will attend this meeting is invited to contact me. I would be interested in hearing all perspectives about the meeting.

    Given the political nature of both the budget process and the law behind the alternative metals study, it is reasonable to believe that nothing will be accomplished by the president’s budget recommendation or the meeting at the U.S. Mint. In fact, since congress has to approve any changes to U.S. coinage and that this congress has been the least productive in history, do not expect change in your pocket change any time soon.

    Counting Down the Top 10: #7 Dollars and What Sense

    Two discussions that transcended numismatics is what to do about the one dollar coin and common one-cent coin. Both coins cause different problems depending on who is doing the arguing. I find it amazing that the logic that is used to support the argument is not used consistently.

    Dollar coins have been around since the beginning of the republic. In fact, the coin that currently holds the record for being the most expensive coin sold at auction is a 1794 Flowing Hair dollar. The coin is reported to be amongst the first dollar coins minted at the newly created Mint was bought by Legend Numismatics for more than $10 million. Laura Sperber, one of the principals of Legend Numismatics, was quoted as saying that she was prepared to bid higher for the coin.

    If that is not enough to show how important the dollar coin has been in our history, there is always the 1804 Bust dollar, also known as “The King of Coins.” The U.S. Mint ceased to strike dollar coins in 1804 because of hoarding when the price of silver rose. The dollars that were struck in 1804 were struck using dies dated 1803 and are indistinguishable from the coins struck in 1803. The U.S. Mint continued to strike “minor coinage” to encourage circulation.

    In 1834, eight dollar coins were struck with the 1804 date to include in a special set created as a gift for the King of Siam (the area known today as Thailand). One coin was included in the set, one was retained by the U.S. Mint for its collection that is now part of the National Numismatic Collection at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, and the six others were kept as souvenirs by Mint officials and eventually landed in private collections. Between 1858 and 1860 seven more specimens were surreptitiously by U.S. Mint employee Theodore Eckfelt. It is alleged that Eckfelt created 15 coins. Six are in private collection, one is now part of the National Numismatic Collection and the others were reported to be destroyed when seized by the government.

    The Coinage Act of 1873, known as “The Crime of ’73,” ended the free coining of silver and put the United States strictly on the gold standard until the western states where silver was being mined became upset. Two weeks later, congress passed the Bland-Allison Act to required the Department of the Treasury to buy the excess silver and use it to strike the Morgan Dollar. Morgan dollars, especially those struck at the branch mint in Carson City, Nevada are popular with collectors because of their ties to the days of the old west. Collectors can find quite a few nice examples of Morgan and the Peace dollars that were struck from 1921 through 1938 because many did not circulate. These coins were held as backing to silver certificates in circulation and did not get released to the general public until the GSA Hoard sales that begin in the 1960s.

    Such a colorful history also has a downside that is used as fodder against the dollar. After ending the production of the Peace dollar in 1938, no dollars were struck until 1964 when the U.S. Mint struck 316,076 1964-D Peace dollars in May 1965. The coins were never put into circulation and the entire population of 1964-D Peace dollar were allegedly destroyed. There have been reports that some Peace dollars were struck using base metals (copper-nickel clad) as experimental pieces in 1970 in anticipation of the approval of the Eisenhower dollar. The same reports also presume these coins have been destroyed.

    The Eisenhower dollar was not well received because of its size. The 38mm coin was seen as too big for modern commerce and with the exception of dollars struck with the special bicentennial reverse in 1975 and 1976, most coins did not circulate.

    The Susan B. Anthony dollar coin was introduced in 1979 with much fanfare for being the first coin to honor a woman. The coin was a failure because it was confused with a quarter

    The Susan B. Anthony dollar coin was introduced in 1979 with much fanfare for being the first coin to honor a woman. The coin was a failure because it was confused with a quarter

    To try to improve circulation someone came up with the idea of the small dollar as part of an attempt to honor suffragette Susan B. Anthony. The copper-nickel coin was very close in size to the Washington quarter, had reeded edges like the Washington quarter, and on a simple glance was consistently confused with the Washington quarter. I even have heard coin collectors use the fiasco of the Susie B.’s as a reason not to pursue the dollar coin.

    Since the introduction of the Sacagawea dollar in 2000, the dollar coin’s size has remained the same but with the addition of manganese has a golden color to be visually different from other coins. For the visually impaired, the reeding was removed from the edges. Today, the Presidential $1 coins and the Native American $1 Coins have edge lettering that keeps it tactically different from the quarter dollar. However, people continue to bring up the Susan B. Anthony dollar as a reason not to use dollar coins.

    Historically, dollar coins has been more popular in the western regions of the United States where the east prefers paper. Financial centers and big city government prefers paper for its alleged ease of handling. When circulated side-by-side, the public tends to choose paper over coin.

    When we look around the world for examples of how to handle this situation, we find that the United States is the only country where the unit currency is available in both paper and coin. Other countries did not give people a choice. Rather, their governments made a decision based on overall economic benefits of using a coin with a predicted 30-year lifespan over paper currency that can last 18-24 months in circulation. Instead of the argument being of practical economics where every other country and the European Union have put on their proverbial long pants and made a decision that is in their best economic interest, factions in the United States comes up with mind boggling arguments of alleging that taking the paper dollar away is akin to taking away our freedom.

    Obverse of the 2013-S Lincoln proof cent. Lincoln's portrait, designed by Victor D. Brenner in 1909,  is the longest running design of any United States coin.

    Obverse of the 2013-S Lincoln proof cent. Lincoln’s portrait, designed by Victor D. Brenner in 1909, is the longest running design of any United States coin.

    Then why is that not an argument that can be used to figure out what the do about the one cent coin? Are we not giving up the same freedoms by forcing those who pay for good and services using cash to sacrifice their ability to pay what is due and not over pay?

    The United States has a history of using its currency to boost the economic status of its citizens, aside from the various silver laws and the laws that eventually took the United States off the gold and silver standards, the creation of the half-cent was made because of the economic status of its citizens. Following Alexander Hamilton’s Treasury Secretrary’s report to congress “On the Establishment of a Mint,” Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson had another idea. Jefferson thought it would be better to tie subsidiary coins tied to the actual usage of the 8 reales coin. At the time, rather than worry about subsidiary coinage, people would cut the coin into pieces. A milled dollar cut in half was a half-dollar. That half-dollar cut in half was a quarter-dollar and the quarter-dollar cut in half was called a bit.

    The bit was the basic unit of commerce since prices were based on the bit. Of course this was not a perfect solution. It was difficult to cut the quarter-dollars in half with great consistency which created problems when the bit was too small, called a short bit. Sometimes, short bits were supplemented with English pennies that were allowed to circulate in the colonies.

    As an aside, this is where the nickname “two bits” for a quarter came from.

    Jefferson felt that in order to convert the people from bit economy to a decimal economy, the half-cent was necessary to have 12½ cents be used instead of a bit without causing problems during conversion from allowing foreign currency to circulate as legal tender until the new Mint can produce enough coinage for commerce.

    The half-cent would come into focus in the 1850s when the cost to produce the United State’s copper coins was nearly double their face value. In 1856, the Mint produced the first of the small cents, the Flying Eagle small cent, and produced 700 samples to convince congress to change to the small cent. As part of the discussion was the elimination of foreign currency from circulation making the U.S. Mint the sole supplier of coins.

    There is no record of outcry from the public on the elimination of the half-cent. Its elimination came four years after the Coinage Act of 1853 that created the one-dollar and double eagle gold coins in response to the discovery of gold in North Carolina, Georgia, and California. The gold rush caused a prosperity and inflation that not only made the half-cent irrelevant but not something on the public’s mint. In that light, the Mint and congress felt that it just outlived its usefulness and would not be necessary with the elimination of foreign currency from circulation.

    More controversy was generated in 1857 over the demonetizing foreign coins in the United States than the elimination of the half-cent. While the half-cent continued to circulate, it was estimated that one-third of the coins being circulated were foreign, primarily reales from Mexico. Redemption programs did not go smoothly, but in the end foreign coins were taken out of the market and the American people adapted and it could be said we prospered as a nation.

    Like the 1850s, the last seven years have found that the cost of the copper used to make the one-cent coin has increased to more than the coin’s value. Combined with the labor and manufacturing costs, it costs the U.S. Mint between 1.6 and 1.8 cents for each copper-coated zinc cent struck. Although people argue that the cent is not needed and is barely useful, the U.S. Mint reports that 65-percent of its production are for one-cent coins that are ordered by the Federal Reserve to be circulated in commerce.

    Eliminating the cent has caused controversy from those concerned with the economic welfare of the less fortunate. Many are using the same arguments that Jefferson made in 1791 to create the half-cent in order to keep the one-cent coin in circulation while others point to what other countries are doing. Canada is currently the country with the largest economy to eliminate its lowest denomination coin. Proponents of eliminating the cent point to Canada’s rocky success (withdrawal of the cent had been delayed twice) as an example of how the United States can handle the situation.

    Canadian 1-dollar and 2-dollar coins. The 1-dollar coin is called a Loonie because its reverse depicts a common loon. “Toonie” is a play on the Loonie nickname.

    Canadian 1-dollar and 2-dollar coins. The 1-dollar coin is called a Loonie because its reverse depicts a common loon. “Toonie” is a play on the Loonie nickname.

    Canada also does not circulate paper currency smaller than their 5-dollar banknote. Rather than paper (or polymer as they are converting away from rag-bond paper), Canada circulates a one-dollar (Loonie) and two-dollar (Toonie) that is regularly used in commerce. The Bank of Canada is also considering eliminating their 5-dollar note in favor of a 5-dollar coin that would be produced by the Royal Canadian Mint for circulation.

    Suggesting that if the United States follows Canada’s lead in the elimination of the cent, should the United States follow Canada’s lead and eliminate the one- and two-dollar Federal Reserve Notes in favor of one- and two-dollar coins?

    This debate will continue until someone decides to act like an adult and make a definitive policy decision—especially when the Fed publishes a “working paper” that cherry picks facts to support a specific viewpoint.

    Image of the Susan B. Anthony dollar and Lincoln cent courtesy of the U.S. Mint.
    Image of the Canadian Loonie and Toonie courtesy of Noticias Montreal.

    One Page Collection: 2, 3, and 5 cent coins

    A few weeks ago, I wrote about a one page collection starting with the one cent coin. The set also included an example of a half-cent to cover the lowest denomination of coins produced by the U.S. Mint.

    The concept of the one-page collection is to create a meaningful collection using a single 20 pocket page that holds 2×2 holders. Using this format, I can create any type of collection without being bound to the albums and folders that are published by the numismatic press. I can also personalize the collection with information I find and other stories, some that I write.

    When creating a one page collection, I am looking at ungraded coins that could be graded Fine or better and costs under $100 each. While I try to keep purchases under $50, having the ability to go over for certain coins gives me a little flexibility while staying closer to affordable.

    I was asked what I used as a price guide to determine affordability. For full disclosure, I had been consulting the NumisMedia Online Fair Market Value Price Guide of collector coin. The site is free, updated monthly, and is the same information printed in their monthly publication. The NumisMedia Online Dealer Price Guide as well as their printed version requires a subscription.

    Since my first one-pager was of the lowest denominations, I will move up a bit and put together a collection of 2, 3, and 5-cent coins.

    The first coin struck by the newly created Mint was the half disme in 1794. As one of the original coins designated by the Coinage Act of 1792, legend has it that the coins were struck using silver donated by Martha Washington. Although there is no proof that our first First Lady donated her silver, it makes for a good story.

    The first half-dismes were really not struck for circulation but over 86,000 coins of the 20.8 grains (1.35 grams) of .8924 fine silver were delivered to Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson (under the First Coinage Act, the Mint was placed under the Department of State). Originally designed by Robert Scot, the early Flowing Hair and Draped Bust half-dimes (the “s” was dropped in 1796 since it was silent anyway). Production ceased in 1805 with the shortage of silver.

    Production picked up again in 1829 with the Capped Bust design by William Kneass and continued until 1837. After the passage of the Act of January 18, 1837, the weight of the coin was reduced to 20 5/8 grains (1.34 grams) and the fineness raised to .900 silver. For this change, Christian Gobrecht’s Seated Liberty design was used for the new coin.

    This is where the series gets interesting. First, there was a change in design in 1838 to add stars to the obverse. In 1853, to show that the size and weight was change, arrows were added to the date from 1853 through 1855 before being removed in 1856 when the weight was returned to the old standard. In 1860, the legend was move to the obverse replacing the stars and the reverse laurel leaves were made larger.

    The silver half-dime was made through 1874 after the successful release of the copper-nickel coin we call the Shield nickel. Nobody is sure when the coin started to be called a nickel, especially since it is made of only 25-percent nickel. It has been speculated that it was called a “nickel” because of the composition while it circulated along side the silver half-dime.

    The U.S. nickel is unique in that it is the only coin that has been made of the same .750 copper and .250 nickel composition since its introduction in 1866 except for the silver alloy used during World War II from 1942-1945.

    Starting this collection with an easy to find 1865 3¢ Nickel

    Starting this collection with an easy to find 1865 3¢ Nickel

    Two and three cent coins were conceived out of the coin shortages during the mid-19th century. The three-cent coin, nicknamed the trime, was conceived in 1851 for better handling by the post office for buying postage. The silver three-cent coin was struck between 1851 and 1873. However, when silver became expensive and people were hoarding the coins for their silver content, congress authorized the striking of copper-nickel three-cent coins where were called to as three-cent nickels. Mint engraver James B. Longacre designed both coins that used a Roman numeral “III” on the reverse.

    Bought this 1865 2¢ coin from my coin club's auction

    Bought this 1865 2¢ coin from my coin club’s auction

    During the Civil War, the silver shortage caused hoarding of coins. The only circulating coins were the copper large cents. In order to produce more coins that would circulate, congress passed the Coinage Act of 1864 that eliminated the silver half-dime, the silver three-cent piece (trime), and authorized the production of the bronze two-cent coin. The Longacre-designed coin featured a shield on the front and the denomination “2 CENTS” on the reverse between two wheat stalks.

    Beginning with the Liberty Head “V” nickel, most of the coins should be easy to find and not cost a lot of money. In fact, it may be easier to find an 1883 Liberty Head nickel without the “CENTS” on the reverse, also called the Racketeer Nickel, than an 1883 nickel with the “CENTS” in Fine to Very Fine grades. It may be easier to find a 20th century version that would fit this collection nicely.

    For the rest of the series, you can find nice coins at all grades without problems. Just be aware of the major varieties, such as the two types of Buffalo nickels, and the modern changes in the Jefferson nickel. It should be fun to complete this set:

    ✓ 1964-1873 Two Cent piece: When I started to look for a an example of a two-cent coin, I was surprised as to how many I could find that were nicely preserved and affordable. Most VF-XF coins in this series can be purchased for $40-60 or even less if you find a dealer having a good day.
    ✓ 1851-1873 Silver Three Cent piece (trime): It will be difficult to find silver three-cent coins from 1863 through 1872 because most were melted in 1873. One of the best examples I have seen were the 1852 coins. Not only are they affordable but the mintage of over 18 million make them the most available coins of the set.
    ✓ 1865-1889 Nickel Three Cent piece: After the two-cent coin, this was the other coin minted in reaction to the hoarding during the Civil War. Early dates are easily found because of their mintage figures in the millions and for affordable prices. It should not be difficult to find a nice Extra Fine coin for around $40.
    ✓ 1829-1837 Capped Bust half-dimes: If you want a real challenge, put together a typeset of all half-dime types. Part of the problem with that is the Flowing Hair half-dimes will cost thousands of dollars, if you can find them. For the average collector, I suggest a Capped Bust half-dime to start the five cent part of this set. Based on the price guides and what I have seen at dealer tables, you should be able to buy a nice one graded around Fine for $60-65. This should be a good representative start of the five cent series.
    ✓ 1837-1873 Seated Liberty half-dimes Types 3 &amp 4: No collection is complete without a representation of Christian Gobrect’s Seated Liberty design. Inspired by the similar image of Britannia, Gobrect posed Miss Liberty in the same manner except holding a union shield and a phrygian cap on a pole that signifies liberty and the pursuit of freedom. For this set, I recommend the 1853-1855 “Arrows at Date” (Type 3) variety. Aside being affordable at $60-70 in XF, the arrows tell the story of how the composition was changed while the coin was being used. The “Legend on the Obverse” (Type 4) variety is an interesting change and would be even more affordable. For the “Arrows at Date” variety, you may want to consider finding one with the “O” mint mark from the New Orleans mint to keep it interesting. “Legend on the Obverse” varieties from San Francisco are affordable and would make for an interesting addition to this collection.
    ✓ 1866-1833 Shield nickel: Rather than worry about the “Rays” versus “No Rays” types, I decided on the “No Rays” to keep this coin around $40. However, it is your collection and if you what to spend about $100 for a VF-XF Shield Nickel with Rays, go ahead since it will give your collection a little more depth.
    ✓ 1883 Liberty Head nickel “Without Cents” When Charles Barber designed the coin, his idea was to use a Roman numeral “V” on the reverse and not include the word “CENTS.” Since the three-cent coins used the Roman number “III” it was a logical progression. However, since the coin was about the same size of the $5 gold-half eagle, the Liberty Head nickel was gold plated in an attempt to pass them off as the $5 gold coin. These coins were then nicknamed Racketeer Nickels. It was then decided to add “CENTS” to the bottom of the reverse. After this decision was made, people thought that the coins would be recalled and started to save them, thus making it easier to find the 1883 without CENTS nickel than it is to find an 1883 with CENTS coin.
    ✓ 1883-1912 Liberty Head “V” nickel: Most XF coins in this series will be around $40 each, if you can find them. It is easy to find very worn coins and very expensive to find the higher grades. In fact, if you can find a nice XF 20th century issue, that would make a nice entry in this collection and only cost around $30.
    ✓ 1913 Type 1 Buffalo nickel: This iconic American design by James Earle Frasier ranks as one of my favorite. While it is a great design, the coin did not wear well and it is possible to find a lot of coins where the dates have been worn flat. On the reverse, Fraser designed the coin where the buffalo (actually, an American Bison) is standing on a grassy mound. On the mound was the denomination and mint mark. This high surface wore easily in circulation. It was later changed to remove most of the mound for a line. You can find nicely preserved Type 1 Buffalo nickels from Philadelphia for around $25. Spend as little as $10-15 more for an example from Denver. San Francisco coins will be $40 more.
    ✓ 1913-1938 Type 2 Buffalo nickel: Basically, the mound was hollowed out leaving the buffalo standing on what looks like a line. While not as aesthetically pleasing, it did preserve the denomination and mint mark on the reverse from wear. Best bet for this collection is to find a late 1930s example for $10-15. If you spend a little more, you can own an uncirculated 1935 or 1936 with a mint mark for $35-40. These make stare-worthy coin in any collection.
    ✓ 1938-1942,1946-2003 Jefferson nickel: Jefferson nickels come in four types with the left-facing portrait being the dominant coin of the series. With the exception of the 1939-D, you can find an uncirculated example for under $10. If you want an example with the mintmark on the reverse, select a coin from 1964 and earlier since the mint marks were move to the obverse starting in 1968 and no coins had mint marks from 1965 through 1967. Maybe you would want to add a 1970-S coin which was the last year the nickel was produced in San Francisco and had an obverse mint mark.
    ✓ 1942-1945 Wartime Silver Nickels: to reduce the amount of copper and eliminate the nickel that were need for the war, the Mint produced nickels using an alloy of .560 copper, .350 silver, and .090 manganese. To distinguish these coins from regular nickels, the Mint added a large mint mark over Monticello on the reverse. It was the first time the Mint used a “P” mint mark on any coin. Since the mint mark makes them unique, one from each mint would make a nice example. Maybe one from each year with each on representing one Mint. You can find nice uncirculated examples for an average of $5 each without looking too hard.
    ✓ 2004-2005 Westward Journey Nickel Series: After the success with the start of the 50 State Quarters series, to honor the 200th anniversary of the exidition by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark in the newly purchase Louisiana Territory and westward, congress authorized this two-year four coin series to commemorate the journey. These modern circulating commemoratives are readily available and the four should not cost a lot of money, even as uncirculated coins. Make sure you find all four coins: 2004 coins with the left-facing portrait with the Peace Medal and Keelboat designs on the reverse. The 2005 coins had a wonderful obverse portrait designed by Joe Fitzgerald that included the word “Liberty” reproduced from Jefferson’s writing. The reverse included the American Bison and “Ocean in View.”
    ✓ 2006-Present Front Facing Portrait: With the return of Monticello on the reverse, a new front-facing portrait by Jamie Franki based on the 1800 portrait painted by Rembrant Peale and includes the “hand written” version of “Liberty” on the obverse.

    An interesting aspect of this collection is that the coins are of all the basic metals used in non-gold coins. The 2-cent pieces were made from copper while the 3-cent coins had one type made in silver and anther in nickel. While most of the 5-cent coins were made of copper-nickel, the wartime composition removed the nickel and lowered the copper content by adding silver and manganese. It is a good representation of coinage metals circulating in the United States.

    This is one set where it was difficult to think about how to keep it to 20 coins. Depending on where you shop, your patience, and your budget, this is a collection that can easily be expanded.

    If you decide to use this guideline for your set, do not limit yourself to my suggestions. Consider other options. Consider adding another page. Make it personal. Make it yours.

    Most importantly: HAVE FUN!

    2013 Will Be Interesting

    We end numismatic 2012 almost the same way as we began, discussing what to do about the one-dollar coins. The over production lead to a quite a number of bills introduced in congress to try to fix the perceived problem but none ever made it to a hearing, let alone out of a hearing. Rather, the U.S. Mint hired Current Technologies Corp. (CTC) to perform an alternative metals study required by congress.

    When the U.S. Mint finally published the report and a summary they made a recommendation to study the problems further because they could not find suitable alternatives to the current alloys used. While reading the summary gives the impression that the request is reasonable, the full 400-page report describes the extensive testing and analysis that the U.S. Mint and CTC performed leaving the reader curious as to why they were unable to come to some sort of conclusion—except that there is no “perfect” solution. This is a story that will continue into 2013 and be on the agenda for the 113th congress when it is seated on January 3, 2013.

    The other part of the discussion is whether or not to end the production of the one-dollar Federal Reserve Note. It was the last hearing before the House Financial Services subcommittee on Domestic Monetary Policy and Technology for Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) and the 112th congress that will certainly carry over into 2013.

    This does not mean the Bureau of Engraving and Printing is without its controversy. In order to comply with the court order as part of American Council for the Blind v. Paulson (No. 07-5063; D.C. Cir. May 20, 2008 [PDF]) and the subsequent injunction (No. 02-0864 (JR); D.C. Cir. October 3, 2008 [PDF]), the BEP has been working to provide “Meaningful Access” to United States currency.

    Secretary of the Treasury Timothy F. Geithner approved the methods that will be used to assist the blind and visually impaired to U.S. currency on May 31, 2011. In addition to examining tactile features, high contrast printing, and currency readers, the BEP issued a Request for Information for additional information to implement their plan. The BEP will be participating at stakeholder organization meetings to socialize and refine their plans. There will probably be few announcements before the conventions of the National Federation of the Blind and American Council of the Blind this summer.

    Another building controversy from the BEP is whether the redesigned $100 notes will find its way into circulation. Introduced in April 2010, full production has been delayed because of folding during the printing process. The situation has to be so severe that the BEP has not announced a new release date and delayed releasing the 2011 CFO Report [PDF] to the end of Fiscal Year 2012 while finding a way to bury the scope and costs of the delays. Will the redesigned $100 Federal Reserve Note be issued in 2013? Stay tuned!

    Staying with currency issues, there should be a new series of notes when a new Secretary of the Treasury is appointed. It is known that the current Secretary Timothy F. Geithner wants to pursue other options. If the BEP follows its past practice, notes with the new Secretary of the Treasury’s signature would be Series 2009A notes. There have been no reports as to whether Treasurer Rosie Rios will continue in her position.

    As for other products, the BEP will continue to issue specially packaged notes using serial numbers that are either lucky numbers (i.e., “777”) or ones that begin with “2013” as part of their premium products. Of course they will continue to issue their sets of uncut currency.

    Another carry over from 2012 will be whether the U.S. Mint will issue palladium coins that were authorized by the American Eagle Palladium Bullion Coin Act of 2010 (Public Law No: 111-303 [Text] [PDF]). The law requires that the U.S. Mint study of the viability of issuing palladium bullion coins under the Act. That report was due to congress on December 14, 2012 but has not been made public at this time.

    Bibiana Boerio was nominate to be the Director of the U.S. Mint.

    Bibiana Boerio was nominated to be the Director of the U.S. Mint.

    One final bit of unfinished business from 2012 is the nomination of Bibi Boerio to be the 39th Director of the U.S. Mint. The former Chief Financial Officer of Ford Motor Credit and Managing Director of Jaguar Cars Ltd. has recently been a Special Advisor to the President of the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce while waiting for the Senate to confirm her nomination. The Senate will have quite a few presidential nominations on its agenda that will he taken up in the new congress.

    Other than the higher prices for silver products, the U.S. Mint should not generate controversies for its 2013 coin offerings. There will be no changes for the cent, nickel, dime, and half dollar with the half dollar only being struck for collectors since it has not been needed for circulation since 2002. These coins will be seen in uncirculated and proof sets with silver versions for the silver sets.

    For the sets with the changing designs, the reverse of the 2013 America the Beautiful Quarters Program will honor:

    There has been no confirmation from the U.S. Mint whether they will strike San Francisco “S” Mint quarters for the collector community as they did in 2012.

    The 2013 Presidential $1 Coins ends the 19th century and begins the 20th century with some of the more interesting Presidents of the United States in history:

    If we honor the Presidents we have to honor their spouses. In 2013, the First Spouse Gold Coins will honor:

    • Ida McKinley
    • Edith Roosevelt
    • Helen Taft
    • Ellen Wilson (died 1914)
    • Edith Wilson (married Woodrow Wilson 1915)

    The U.S. Mint has not released designs for these coins at the time of this writing.

    2013 Native American Dollar Reverse Design

    2013 Native American Dollar Reverse Design

    The 2013 Native American $1 Coin will feature a reverse commemorates the Delaware Treaty of 1778. Since the dollar coin does not circulate, only collectors have enjoyed the great designs of this series since it began in 2009.

    Congress has authorized two commemorative coin programs for 2013:

    American Eagle coin programs will continue with the bullion, collector uncirculated, and proof coins for both the silver and gold. The American Eagle Platinum bullion coin will continue to use its regular reverse while the American Eagle Platinum Proof will continue with the Preamble Series. The Preamble Series is a six year program to commemorate the core concepts of the American democracy as outline in the preamble of the U.S. constitution. For 2013, the reverse will be emblematic of the principle “To Promote the General Welfare.” The U.S. Mint has not issued a design at this time.

    Currently, there are no announced special products or sets using American Eagle coins and no announced plan for special strikings such as reverse proofs or “S” mint marks.

    Finally, we cannot forget the American Buffalo 24-Karat Gold Coins that will be available as an uncirculated coin for the bullion/investor market and a proof coin for collectors.

    And I bet you thought that 2013 would be a mundane numismatic year!

    Steeling Coins

    Let’s start with a trivia question:

    What is the only coin (not pattern) struck by the U.S. Mint that contained no copper?

    (cue “Jeopardy!” music)

    Give up?

    If you said the 1943 Lincoln Steel Cents, you are correct. Every other coin struck by the U.S. Mint has contained some amount of copper in the alloy. Even the 1942-1945 war-time alloy used for the Jefferson Nickel was changed from a copper-nickel alloy to one made of copper-silver-manganese.

    After the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese on December 7, 1941, the next day congress passed a formal Declaration of War on Japan. Three days later, a Declaration of War was passed against Germany. Mobilization took a while and the United States did not formally enter the European theater until landing on Normandy Beach on June 6, 1944, better known as D-Day. Between those declaration and full-scale fighting in both Europe and the Pacific, copper was a critical element necessary to manufacture bullets for training.

    Rather than using the copper for coins, the government had bullets manufactured. In order to ensure there was a supply of circulating currency, the U.S. Mint changed the composition of the cent to zinc coated steel. Similarly, to save the nickel needed to make other armaments, the Jefferson 5-Cent coin was changed to 56-percent copper, 35-percent silver, and 9-percent manganese.

    To say that 1943 Steel Cent was a disaster would be an understatement. Because of its silver color, it was not accepted by the public. Also, since the steel was not treated, it oxidized quickly and became a dark, dirty color. After a while, the coins would begin to rust. In 1944, Lincoln cents were made using the spent shell casing picked up from the training fields. This continued through 1946, the end of World War II giving the coins the nickname of “Shotgun Cents.”

    One other coin that was not made using copper was a 1974 Lincoln Cent pattern that was made of aluminum. The U.S. Mint struck over 1.5 million examples in 1973 in order to convince congress to allow them to circulate them. A few was given out to members of congress as part of the U.S. Mint’s lobbying effort. After the measure was defeated, the members of congress was supposed to return the coins. However, one coin was allegedly “dropped” by a senator and retrieved by U.S. Capitol Police Officer Albert Toven. The Toven Specimen was graded MS62 by PCGS in 2005. It is estimated that 18-44 more still exist but have yet to be discovered.

    Today there is another issue. Since 2006, the cost of the metals to manufacture the current Lincoln Cent (99.2-percent zinc covered with .8-percent copper) and Jefferson Nickel (75-percent copper and 25-percent nickel) has raised its base cost to at least 150-percent of face value before considering manufacturing costs. The cost has caused several “discussions” about the fate of these coins—there are some who want to eliminate the cents; others want to change its composition; and there is a small group who understands the concept of the loss-leader and is willing to let it go as long as seignorage for other coins cover the costs.

    First term Rep. Steve Stivers (R-OH) wants to settle the discussion by introducing two bills that if passed will change the composition of the one-cent and five-cent coins. Stivers introduced H.R. 3693, Cents and Sensibility Act, and H.R. 3694, Saving Taxpayer Expenditures by Employing Less (STEEL) Imported Nickel Act on December 15, 2011. Both bills are being co-sponsored by Reps. Tim Ryan (D-OH) and Pat Tiberi (R-OH).

    H.R. 3693 is very straight forward. It says that the “1-cent coin shall be produced primarily of steel” and “shall be treated to impart a copper color to the appearance of the coins.” If the law is enacted, the coins will use only steel produced in the United States. If it is not possible to use U.S. manufactured steel, the reason has to be published in the Federal Register. The size of the coin will not change but the weight is allowed to be altered as necessary.

    H.R. 3694 is similar to H.R. 3693 in that it strives to keep the 5-cent coin to look the same using U.S. manufactured steel. Where the bill differs is how the coins are to be designed for use in circulation. The three provisions required for the conversion is that whatever composition is used, the new alloy is not supposed “require more than 1 change to coin-accepting and coin-handling equipment to accommodate coins,” use the same alloy or specifications that is used by another country, and “require changes to coin-accepting or coin-handling equipment whatsoever to accommodate both coins produced with the new specifications.”

    Every time there is a proposed change in the composition of U.S. coins, the one group that has the biggest say is the vending machine industry. When silver was removed from U.S. coins in the 1960s, the decision was made to use the current copper-nickel clad coins so that it produces the same electro-mechanical signature its silver counterparts. The electro-mechanical signature is the combination of the coin’s size, weight, and how electricity is conducted by the coin. If the coin can match the specifications, it is determined to be real (as opposed to a slug) and is accepted by the machine. Considering that steel has a different density from the copper-nickel alloy, the coin will have a different weight and be a stronger conductor of electricity. Steel coins may require two changes to vending machines making it nearly impossible to comply with the law. The vending machine lobby will not like the results of this bill and will lobby for its defeat.

    Before considering other options, by saying that the coins cannot use the same alloy or specifications that is used by another country, the U.S. Mint could not consider using aluminum, especially since it is being used in Canada.

    The professional organizations that cover the vending machine industry has not comment on these bills.

    The bill was referred to the House Committee on Financial Services. Coin bills are referred to the Domestic Monetary Policy and Technology subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX). Aside from Rep. Paul’s current status as a candidate for the Republican nomination for president, he is known for not being a fan of using base-metals for coins and “wasting time” on coinage changes. Remember, it took a the members of this subcommittee to bring the measure to the Financial Services Committee as a whole to have the Baseball Hall of Fame Commemorative referred to the floor for a vote.

    While H.R. 3693 and H.R. 3694 may make for an interesting discussion, politics suggests that these bills may never make it out of committee.

    Copper Prices Rising

    The base metals market woke up this morning trumpeting record high futures prices for copper, nickel, and aluminum on the London Metals Exchange (LME) and COMEX Metals Exchange (New York). Analysts credit this rise in price to low supplies and higher demand, specifically in China.

    [Most Recent Quotes from www.kitco.com]Copper closed at $4.5135 per pound in New York and $9,878 per metric ton in London on Monday, January 31, 2011.

    For numismatists watching production at the U.S. Mint, this means that the material costs to produce U.S. coins will increase. With the exception of the cent, the predominant metal used in the manufacture of U.S. coins being copper—the Lincoln cent is 97.5-percent zinc with a coating using a 2.5-percent copper coating. Since most coins are composed of an average 88-percent copper and the nickel containing 75-percent copper, the rise in the cost of materials will reduce the seigniorage (profit) collected by the U.S. Mint.

    Second most used metal used in U.S. coinage is nickel. While nickel has been up for the last six month and approaching its one-year high, it is down from its previous high reached in 2007 when it the U.S. Mint said the cost of manufacturing the nickel was nearly double its face value. If we use the average production costs from the last three years of 21-percent of face value (as reported in the U.S. Mint Annual Reports), it costs approximately 8.16-cents per coin to manufacture (metals cost 7.06-cents and approximately 1.1 cents to manufacture).

    As for the Lincoln Cent, it has fared better in its materials cost. The price of Zinc has also dropped from its five-year high and is trading around $1.09 per pound. Zinc is also in ample supply to meet market demands meaning that the price should not be that volatile. This means that the materials cost to make the Lincoln Cent is 0.644-cents. Using the average cost to manufacture the cent at 35-percent of face value (as reported in the U.S. Mint Annual Reports), the overall cost to manufacture the cent should be on par with its face value.

    However, the FY2009 U.S. Mint Annual Report showed a marked rise in manufacturing costs (I have not analyzed the FY2010 Annual Report as of this post) wondering if the production costs estimates are too low. However, if copper continues to rise, then the costs to manufacture all U.S. coins will rise and reduce the profit collected by the U.S. Mint.

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