Monday, March 16, 2015

3/16/15 Report - U. S. Mint Tests Coins Made Of Alternate Materials. Nonsense Pattern Coins. How To Build A Coin Counter & Identifier.

Written by the TreasureGuide for the exclusive use of

Table From U. S. Mint Study Showing Some Of The Metals Tested.
See link below.

The U. S. mint has been conducting studies to decide if U. S. coins could be made more cost-effectively.  After spending money on studies, they concluded that no change should be made now but that more studies should be conducted.

Most studies conclude that there should be more studies.  Why shut down the milk cow?

One of the big obstacles to changing our U. S. coins is the vending business, which would have to change all of their machines if the coins are changed.

Vending machines use both mechanical and electromagnetic methods for identifying coins.

Below is a link giving the results of one of the U. S. mint studies.  Despite the recommendation for no immediate change, it is interesting.  See the above table.

If coins were changed it would also mean that your discrimination settings would be off.  Some metals might make discriminating much more difficult. One metal that was tested but not shown in this table is aluminum.  Also steel and iron.

Here is one link to read about that.

Here is a link to another report on one of the mint's studies.  This one discusses production costs of various alternatives and shows the results of some of their corrosion testing.

Nonsense patterns were used on test coins.  The test coins were made using the standard die striking process.  I wonder if any of the test coins got out of the mint.  One type featured Martha Washington.

I actually found catalog values for a 1759 Martha Washington test coin, which was actually made recently.  I was surprised that they have catalog values since they weren't supposed to leave the mint.  The values weren't extraordinarily high either for something that I would think should be very rare.

Here is a link showing one Martha Washington test coin and some test results.

The total number of coins in circulation in the US is estimated as follows.

One-Cent: 240 billion 5-Cent: 29 billion Dime: 44 billion Quarter Dollar: 43 billion Half Dollar: 0.3 billion (from Method # 1 above) Dollar: 9 billion.  Total: 366 billion .

They speculated that of the estimated 366 billion coins in circulation 84% are being hoarded or in some type of storage.  They based their estimates upon data collected by other countries.  

I don't know exactly how  "hoarded" is defined.  I've never seen estimates of the number lost or destroyed by corrosion or whatever.  I bet that number is bigger than they think.  It has to be huge, and detectorists should be thanked for returning many lost coins to circulation.

Here are a number of recommendations offered by the mint.
  • Maintain coin dimensions (thickness and diameter) for all future coins regardless of materials of composition since the conversion coins for coin processing equipment would be too large to justify any changes.
  • Maintain the current materials of construction for the cent. After accounting for metal and production cost, copper plated steel one-cent coins would offer no cost savings compared to the current composition of copper-plated zinc. Aluminum alloys were fond to jam or destroy coin acceptance or coin handing equipment, removing this composition from consideration.
  • Further develop copper based alloys for the composition of the nickel. Although these alloys would not bring costs to parity with face value, they would produce material cost savings. The alloys considered have a yellow cast color or golden hue color. The US Mint would achieve an annual cost savings of up to $16.7 million based on March 2012 metals pricing and 2011 production rates. There would be conversion costs for private sector coin acceptance equipment ranging from an estimated $11.3 million to $56.4 million depending on the alloy selected.
  • Consider copper based alloys for use in the dime, quarter dollar, and half dollar coins. The US Mint would achieve an annual cost savings of approximately $2.2 million annually for the quarter dollar and $3.9 million annually for the dime based on March 2012 metal pricing and 2011 production rates. There would be conversion costs for private sector coin acceptance equipment estimated at $9.20 million for the quarter and $6.92 million for the dime. It was noted that one of the copper alloys had a slight yellow cast, which might cause confusion between the quarter and $1 coin.
  • Maintain the current composition for the $1 coin, as none of the alternative material costs showed an improvement in cost.
  • Continue long range research of surface engineering of zinc or steel for one-cent coin as a useful technology to reduce costs associated with copper plating. The report mentions the example of inexpensive paints or colored particles on bare zinc covered with a wear resistant coating.
  • Continue research and development on stainless steel as a potential alternative for lower denomination coins. Also continue development of stainless steel alloys clad to copper alloy for higher denomination coinage to mimic the current electromagnetic signature of the dime, quarter, and half dollar.
My guess is that before we see many changes in our coins they'll go out of use.  I'd say digital.  Something like BitCoin.   There are now vending machines that will let you pay via smartphone.


I thought you might find the following interesting.  Here is a diagram for a coin identifier and counter such as would be used in one of those coins-for-cash machines you see.

Basic Schematic For Coin Identifier and Counter.
Source: Following link.
The following article explains the diagram and shows you how to build your own coin counter and identifier.


On the Treasure Coast we'll have a calm surf.  The wind will be changing.  Tomorrow it will becoming from the south.  The low tide is around 11:30 today.

Happy hunting,