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, 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.

Coins in an ashtray

Over the last few years I have been trying to come to grips with the aging process. I waited a few years before joining AARP, I spent the time to take care of health issues, and I even took to heart an article written for the AARP magazine that asks what I want to be when I grow up (which I will write about another time). Looking back, my return to my collecting interests was the beginning of what would blossom into a full blown mid-life crisis.

I decided to give into my mid-life crisis and as long as it does not affect much, my wife is letting me go.

Dodge Challengers

L-R: 1970 Dodge Challenger and a 1971 Dodge Challenger convertible are still desired American muscle

As a teenager of the 1970s, I was entranced by the muscle cars of the day. I wanted a muscle car but I was too young and could not afford them. I remember that the three most popular cars where I grew up was the Pontiac GTO, Pontiac Trans-Am, and the Ford Mustang. My neighbor had an Oldsmobile Cutlass but only had the 350 cu. in. V8 which was nothing like the Olds 442 engine!

I have always had an appreciation for the cars built prior to 1980. Actually, with few exceptions, I enjoy seeing all cars built prior to 1978, about the time that cars became bland. Exceptions are the Corvettes made any time and the new Dodge muscle cars particularly a Dodge Challenger R/T Classic.

By now you are probably asking what this has to do with coins, other than it will take a lot of them to buy a car?

This past weekend I attended the annual Rockville Antique and Classic Car Show. With more than 60 cars and motorcycles, it has to be one the larges classic car show at least in this region. Anyone who loves old cars will feel like a kid on a playground when you climb over the hill into the field. This is the same show that I found the Plymouth Gold Duster brochure advertising the “Old West” Coin Collection last year. While I did not find anything this year, I did have an encounter with classic coins in a classic car.

I was looking in a 1951 Hudson Hornet (here is the information about Jay Leno’s Hornet to see what a Hornet looks like since my camera died by then) and saw change in the ashtray. I asked the owner about the coins and he said that they were found in the car when he bought it from someone’s barn over 10 years ago. After he finished restoring the car he put the change into the ashtray for effect.

This 1927 Standing Liberty Quarter is similar to the one I found in the Hornet’s ashtray.

This 1927 Standing Liberty Quarter is similar to the one I found in the Hornet’s ashtray.

After talking with the owner I told him I collected coins and his eyes lit up. He reached into the car, scooped up the change, and asked if I could identify some coins he did not know anything about. As he was searched the coins he dropped a 1905 Liberty Head “V” nickel and a 1927 Standing Liberty quarter in my hand. He was surprised that I not only knew about the coins but had some back stories on them.

One of the problems was that he cleaned the coins. Apparently, they were so encrusted with junk and dirt that he thought that cleaning them would be a good idea. While both coins are quite common even if they were not cleaned, whatever value they had was reduced by the harsh cleaning. The silver coins are minimally worth their value in silver.

The car’s owner asked me to write down the information and returned the coins to the ashtray. I left him with some web links including a link to this blog. He asked me not to use his name and I hope he had a good time at the show. I know I did!

If you want to see the pictures I did take at the Rockville auto show, you can see the pictures on Photobucket.

Image of the 1927 Standing Liberty Quarter courtesy of MPG Coins. The coin is for sale on their site.

Return of the Poll: What’s on your desk?

Some of the numismatic items found on my desk.

Some of the numismatic items found on my desk.

To bring back the weekly poll, I thought about my post the other day about desktop finds where I discussed the items I found while cleaning my desk. I was thinking about this and was curious as to what other collectors do? After all, many of these items are the results of my saying “oh neat” and buying something outside of my collecting interest. Others are items that were given to me that are also outside of my collecting interest.

I read articles that say if you’re not a collector you’re an accumulator. But it is not that simple. Sometimes I over buy just to get one specific item. For example, the lot of Canadian dimes I found on my desk were purchased because I wanted one of the dimes for my collection. I will probably resell the rest of the dimes, but in the mean time they are on my desk.

Other items are souvenirs like the faux million-dollar bill and the package of shredded currency. While I may not have an attachment to them, they are not salable and I just do not want to throw them away. Maybe I’ll create an auction lot of this stuff to see if someone else wants it but it is still here, too.

What about you? Do you buy extra items and think you’ll resell them later? What about those souvenirs? How many of you have cheap items that you know you cannot resell or even give away? Take the poll. Comments are always welcome!

What kind of "extra items" are in your collection?

I have bought something I thought was neat or unusual. (35%, 6 Votes)
I have bought lots of coins or exonumia just for one or two items. (24%, 4 Votes)
I have souvenirs that are not part of my main collection. (18%, 3 Votes)
I collect souvenirs but have bought more than I should have. (12%, 2 Votes)
I have a box of goodies, want to see it? (12%, 2 Votes)
I just have what I collect and nothing extra. (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 8

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Desktop Finds

Amongst my activities for the last month has been cleaning off the top of my desk. While for some this may be an easy project, for me it is a major proposition. One of the reasons is that the way I work can be best classified as “organized chaos.” Organized chaos builds piles of like items until there is no room. Rather than clean up the piles, priority items are reordered and piled on top of items that may not be needed until later. This keeps going until the desktop becomes unorganized as the piles get shifted looking for something that became buried. At some point the organization goes away and all that is left is the chaos. Finally, the day comes when a critical item can no longer be found.

I have had people tell me that the best way to keep my organization under control is to deal with the item right away. For some reason, I get attached to ideas, concepts, and the objects that are associated with them. Everything gets saved until I do something with them or I am faced with the difficult decisions to make it a priority when I finally dig out of the chaos.

But the digging can be fun because at the bottom of the pile, when the top of the desk is finally rediscovered, are the small items that are the most fun. In my case, there are a lot of coins, medals, tokens, and other items that I thought would be cool or nice to resell. Just to have a little fun, I gathered up some of the numismatic trinkets and decided to share it with my readers.

Some of the numismatic items found during my attempt to organize my chaos.

Some of the numismatic items found during my attempt to organize my chaos.

It looks like an eclectic little lot of stuff. I have a million dollar bill (talk about inflation money) sitting on top of a package of shredded currency that says has about $10 of chopped up notes, some Canadian money, and older U.S. coins. Those coins with the little numbered stickers were purchased at my coin club’s auction. There is a lot of five Canadian dimes, a copper 2-cent piece, and a nickel 3-cent coin.

Encased steel cent advertising John C. Roberts Shoes “for the particular man.”

Encased steel cent advertising John C. Roberts Shoes “for the particular man.”

But some of these coins are a bit interesting. Let’s look at this encased steel cent. Up until I bought this coin from noted error dealer Fred Weinberg through eBay I had never seen an encased steel cent. The aluminum ring says “Wear the John C. Roberts Shoe” around the top and “For Particular Men” on the bottom. The reverse has the address of a store in Chicago, Illinois.

John C. Roberts was one of the founders of the Roberts, Johnson & Rand Shoe Company of St. Louis in 1898 as a wholesaler. The other founders were Jack Johnson, Oscar Johnson, and Edgar E. Rand. They were a competitor to Peters Shoe Company that was founded in 1836 but organized into a formal corporation under Missouri law in 1891 by Henry W. Peters. The Peters Shoe Company was a manufacturer and wholesaler.

Although these two companies were competitors, their policies, ideals. and business standards were so closely aligned that they were drawn together by a mutual respect. The companies merged in 1911 and changed their name to the International Shoe Company. The next year, in 1912, the International Shoe Company purchased Friedman-Shelby Shoe Company, another St. Louis-based shoe manufacturer. In 1921, International Shoe Company was incorporated in Delaware.

International Shoe Company was once the world’s largest manufacturer of shoes with Red Goose shoes being its flagship brand. At one time, International Shoe Company owned Florsheim and Savage Shoes, Canada’s largest shoemaker. In 1966 the company changed its name to Interco and tried to become a conglomerate in apparel, footwear, and retailing. The company’s troubles began as it branched into furniture by buying Ethan Allen and Broyhill Furniture in 1980 as the furniture manufacturing was declining in the United States.

Eventually, Interco filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1991 and sold off all of its operations except for Broyhill, Lane, Converse (which it bought in 1986), and Florsheim. By 1994, the company sold Converse and Florsheim to exit the shoe business. The company was rebranded as Furniture Brands International 1996 after buying Thomasville Furniture. Now they only manufacture and sell furniture leaving collectors with these encased coins to raise our curiosity.

My next interesting find was my “gold” medal commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Montgomery County Coin Club in 2009. As president of the Montgomery County Coin Club, it was my job to help lead a celebration honoring our 50th anniversary. Since I was not a member for as long as others, I leaned heavily on longer tenured members for assistance. I believe the celebration went well.

To commemorate the occasion, we wanted a special medal but we did not want to spend a lot of money. Rather than buy new medals, we dipped into our ample supply of pewter medals and had them gold plated. On the back, I created a “50” logo that was similar to our regular logo that uses the reverse of the Maryland Tercentenary half-dollar but uses the reverse of the Lincoln Memorial cent that was released in 1959. That logo was added to a sticker and numbered. The club as #1 as a souvenir. Since I was the president, I was able to get #2. I just wish I made the background of that sticker a bit lighter.

Miscellaneous Items with Canadian dollar, dimes, a TBTA token, and Keith Hernandez souvenir “coin.”

Miscellaneous Items with Canadian dollar, dimes, a TBTA token, and Keith Hernandez souvenir “coin.”

Sometimes there is just some loose stuff on the desk including a Canadian dollar commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Montreal Canadiens (they are a professional hockey team for those who do not follow hockey), a token from the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (TBTA) in New York City, a small set of Canadian dimes, and a Keith Hernandez “coin” from a 7-Eleven promotion in the mid-1980s. Hernandez was the Mets’ star first baseman when they won the 1986 World Series. Yes, I know he played for St. Louis before being traded to the Mets, but that is inconsequential to my collecting interests!

The TBTA token is interesting because it is smaller than the ones I used to use because it is for other tolls than the East River bridges. This token was primarily used on the Henry Hudson and the Marine Parkway (now Marine Parkway-Gil Hodges Memorial) Bridges where the tolls were cheaper. The larger tokens were used on the Triborough Bridge, Verrazono-Narrows Bridge, the Queens Midtown Tunnel, and other nearby crossings.

Tokens are no longer accepted at the TBTA crossing and they stopped issuing special Staten Island resident tokens for the Verrazano Bridge in 1998 with the introduction of EZ-Pass. I should try to find a Staten Island resident token for my collection.

An 1865 3-cent nickel and an 1865 2-cent coin for my 2-, 3-, and 5-cent one-pager

An 1865 3-cent nickel and an 1865 2-cent coin for my 2-, 3-, and 5-cent one-pager

Finally, something that was purchased relatively recently but made it to the bottom of the pile are two coins I bought to start my one-page collection of 2-, 3-, and 5-cent coins. The week after writing about this in a blog post, the coins were available in my coin club’s monthly auction. Since I plan to put the set together, I bought these 1865 2-cent and 3-cent nickel coins to begin the question. But like a number of items that ended up buried on the surface of the desk, this is where that stopped. Now that I found the coins, I am going to make note of where I am in this collection and bring the list to the World’s Fair of Money in August to see if I can fill in the holes. In fact, I will probably work on completing my one-page cent collection, too. It’s not like I will have anything else to do!

There is more but if I do not stop now I am not going to be able to finish my cleaning!

Keeping it Light Today

Before I begin with today’s post, to help the victims of Hurricane Sandy, I urge my readers to donate what they can to the American Red Cross. You can donate online or you can Text REDCROSS to 90999 to donate $10 to the Red Cross Disaster Relief fund. Charges will appear on your wireless bill, or be deducted from your prepaid balance.

Those of us in the D.C. metropolitan area dodged the wrath of Sandy for the most part. There are power outages, trees down, and flooding, but not to the extent north and east of here. It may take a day or two for what passes as normalcy to return to the area but we are in better shape than the coastal areas from the Delmarva Peninsula north to Connecticut and Rhode Island. I wish all of those in the effected areas well and hope their recovery goes as smoothly as possible.

Today’s post is lighter than planned. I rather than do a 2012 version of the numismatic trick or treat as I did last year, I will show off a pocket change find was not found in pocket change and not even change, per se. At our last coin club meeting someone paid for their auction lots with this Series 1953 $2 Federal Reserve Note. Although it is not in good shape and there is a tear in the bottom corner, I decided to take it as part of payment for the lots I sold.

Sec. George M. Humphrey
Thomas Edgar Stephens (1957)–Oil on canvas

Priest Pictured with a hat of money when she announced her candidacy for treasurer of California (circa 1966)

This note from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston has a “full-house” serial number, for those into playing Liar’s Poker. It is signed by Treasurer Ivy Baker Priest and Secretary of the Treasury George M. Humphrey. Both were appointees of President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Humphrey was the 55th Secretary of the Treasury serving during Eisenhower’s first term. It was reported that Humphrey gave up a $300,000 annual salary as president of the steel manufacturer M.A. Hanna Company to accept a Cabinet position that paid only $22,500. After retiring from government service, Humphrey returned to Hanna Company and later became chairman of National Steel Corporation.

Long time readers will remember that Priest was the mystery guest on the television game show “What’s my Line” that aired on August 29, 1954. If you forgot, you can go back and watch the video.

Aside from being a political leader in Utah and the 30th Treasurer of the United States, Priest is also the mother of Pat Priest who is better known for playing Marilyn Munster on the 1960’s sitcom “The Munsters.”

Pocket Change Find: Obverse of a Series 1953 $2 Federal Reserve Note signed by Treasurer Ivy Baker Priest and Secretary of the Treasury George M. Humphrey

Pocket Change Find: Reverse of a Series 1953 $2 Federal Reserve Note featuring image of Jefferson’s Monticello.

Portrait of Secretary George M. Humphrey courtesy of the Department of the Treasury.
Image of Ivy Baker Priest courtesy of

Not In Too Many Pockets These Days

I still hunt pocket change. Occasionally, I will hunt through my wife’s pocket change. Actually, she saves her coins in a jar for me to search through at my convenience. Every so often, she asks me to look at the quarter so that they can be used in her office’s soda machine. I took the opportunity to look at the top eighth of the jar to see what I could find.

While digging through the jar looking for quarters, I found a dime that initially struck me as odd. I was expecting to see the usual torch of the Roosevelt Dime reverse but this was different. Not only was the color different but it was a fasces and not a torch. Instantly, I recognized it as the reverse of a Mercury Dime.

When I started collecting in the early 1970s, I would find a Mercury Dime in change along with the silver Roosevelt Dimes. But as the economy fell apart, what was left of circulating silver coins were promptly removed from change. In fact, I have found more silver certificates in change than silver dimes.

Although it is not worth much, it is still fun to find something like this in change.

2012 Pocket Change

It was just an ordinary trip to run some errands. It was not a special shopping sprees except that it included essentials to get through the next week. After all, it was the weekend and I really wanted a little rest. I was not expecting to find anything remarkable.

In the first store, I was handed three very brilliant Lincoln Cents. I looked at the one on top and it was dated “2011.” Thinking that the establishment must have received a roll of 2011 cents from the bank, I dropped the coins in my pocket and went to my next stop.

After paying for my items at my second stop, I did not look at the coins as I dropped them into my pocket so I can get this trip over with.

One more stop before going to the grocery store. Grab some essentials, something nice for dinner, and then pay for my purchase so I can hurry home to put the perishables away. As I am handed the change, I noticed a very shiny Jefferson nickel. Since it was tails-up, I did not see the date.

That evening, I empty my pocket and place the coins on the top of my dresser. There they stayed until last night when I started to sift through my finds. When I looked at the three brilliant cents, I found the 2011 but the other two were dated 2012, making it the first 2012 coins found in 2012. This is the earliest I have found 2012 coins this early since the start of the current recession.

That shiny Jefferson nickel was dated 2012-D. Not only was it the first 2012 nickel of the year, but it is from Denver. Since the Washington, D.C. area receives its primary deliveries from the Philadelphia Mint, finding a D mintmark was an unexpected pleasure.

Recently, I have been finding quite a few quarters from the 1970s, but this time I found something different: an El Yunque National Forest quarter! While I have been finding quite a few 2010 quarters in change, I cannot recall finding any 2011 quarters and definitely not the latest release.

Also found in the change was a 1995 Canadian Cent, which at the current exchange rate is on par with the U.S. one cent coin.

There are still interesting finds in pocket change!

First National Parks Quarter Found in Change

Glacier National Park is located in northwest Montana named for its prominent glacier-carved terrain. The rugged terrain has been a favorite for hikers and photographers. In 1895, Chief Whit Calf of the Blackfeet tribe sold the land to the United States government for $1.5 million with the provision that the Blackfeet could continue to hunt on the land and that the land be made public land. By 1910, President William Howard Taft signed the bill that made the land a national park.

The Glacier National Park Quarter was the second of 2011 and the seventh in the America The Beautiful Quarters Program.

According to the U.S. Mint, 31.2 million Glacier National Park Quarters were struck in Denver and 30.4 million were struck in Philadelphia. Prior to that, 347 million quarters were produced in 2010 and 61.2 million Gettysburg Park Quarters were produced prior to Glacier National Park.

After all this production and over a year-and-a-half into the program, I received my first National Parks Quarter in pocket change. The quarter was given to me in a local grocery store after an early evening venture to fill the pantry. I was pleasantly surprised to see finally find one in change.

I also was able to take two 2010 Native American Dollar Coins from the cashier as part of my change. I will spend them over the weekend hoping they will continue to circulate and not end up back in the Federal Reserve’s coin room.

A 2011 Find in a New Place

Yesterday, I received one of those charity solicitations in the mail with a nickel attached to the form. After opening the envelope, I found a shiny, new 2011-P Jefferson Nickel. Usually, I send back the nickel with a donation. This time, I kept the nickel as my first 2011 nickel of the year. When I write the check I will add 5-cents to my donation instead.

I thought this was an unusual place for a coin find!

First 2011 Find

After a week that included surgery (I’m fine… just healing), there are two issues that dominated my Inbox: my commentary about the CCAC Blueprint Report and more on electronic publishing. I will discuss these at another time following research I am doing.

In the mean time, I am happy to report that I found 2011 coins in change. As I was searching my wife’s change looking for something interesting, I found three 2011 Lincoln Cents! These three very bright, red, well struck examples with Victor David Brenner’s portrait of Abraham Lincoln, our 16th president, and the Union Shield designed by Lyndall Bass and engraved by Joseph Menna.

This is the first time in a few years that I have seen new coins this early in the year. What would really make this more exciting if these were Denver minted coins. Hopefully, we can find these in the D.C. area soon!

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