In an effort to protect the supply of one-cent and five-cent coins, the US Mint issued an interim rule to make melting and export of these coins illegal. Even though the cost of the metals have risen above the cost of the coin, Mint Director Edmund Moy said that the regulations will prevent these coins from being “melted down so a few individuals can take advantage of the American taxpayer. Replacing these coins would be an enormous cost to taxpayers.” These rules are being implemented under the authority of 31 U.S.C. §5111(d).
Rules limiting the melting and exporting of US coinage are being implemented for the third time. The first time was in the 1960s when silver prices forced the conversion to clad coinage. It was used again during the inflationary period of the late 1970s shortly before the cent was changed from a copper coin to a copper-coated zinc coin. If history hold true, this may be a prelude to changing the composition of the one-cent and five-cent coins.
Historically, the five-cent coin we call a “nickel” has been minted using the same alloy of .750 copper and .250 nickel since the Shield Nickel in 1866. Nickel Three-Cent pieces were also minted using the same alloy from 1865 through 1889. The exception to this was the wartime silver Jefferson Nickels (1942-1945) that contained copper, silver, and manganese, but no nickel in the alloy.
In 1974, the Mint experimented with striking cents using aluminum. Images of these coins are bluish in tint, but that may be an artifact of the image. Aluminum cents were distributed to congress but law makers rejected the change. The Mint requested the return of the coin and were destroyed. At least one was not returned and certified last year by the family of a deceased US Capital police officer.
The odds against acceptance the aluminum cent were great at the time because of the change from silver to clad coinage using base metals. By 1971, the Kennedy Half-Dollar and newly minted Eisenhower Dollars were copper-nickel clad coins ending the use of silver for circulating coinage.
Today, the environment has changed. After 35 years of base-metal coinage, maybe the use of aluminum for the cent is an option that may be accepted. This time, rather than just an aluminum coin, the Mint could try to coat the coin with the .8 percent copper that the Mint uses to cover the current zinc planchets. It may be different for the nickel considering a change may affect more than just the look and feel of the coin including the modifications necessary for the use in the vending machines.
Look for a change with your change in the next few years.