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Clean (Not Laundered) Coins
April 19, 2011

Did my April 5 Class of ’63 column in Numismatic News get the attention of the copper lobby?

My topic was the need to change the composition of the cent and the nickel because they cost more to produce than the Mint can recover by selling the coins to the Federal Reserve for face value.

The nickel is 75 percent copper and costs the Mint nearly double its face value to produce while the cent has a zinc core coated with the red metal and its cost is well over a cent and a half.

Among the possible alternative compositions I mentioned were steel based compositions with the surface bonded with another metal to give it the right color.

I also mentioned that stainless steel wouldn’t be a bad choice for the nickel. It looks are such that non-collectors probably wouldn’t know the difference except that the coin would be lighter.

Yesterday I received an e-mail from the Copper Development Association , which describes itself as the information, education, market and technical development arm of the copper, brass and bronze industries in the USA.

The release pointed out that there are antimicrobial properties in the current copper-nickel alloys used in the nickel, dime, quarter and half dollar and even in the copper coating of the cent.

It reports that in the course of two hours on the surface of these coins, 99.9 percent of dangerous bacteria like E. coli are killed.

Does this mean the copper lobby will make a strong effort to defend the current high-cost compositions of the cent and the nickel from alternatives with a charge of dirty money, or is it simply an effort to educate?

Perhaps it is simply an early defense of the other denominations just so that any exploration into alternative alloys for U.S. coins doesn’t get carried away.

If hygiene were the only issue, we would still be using silver coins which also have some powerful antimicrobial properties.

Check out the website at

And while we are on the topic of copper, you can get a free 12-page download of the cent pricing section of U.S. Coin Digest.


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About the Author
David C. Harper has been a coin collector since 1963. He joined the Krause Publications editorial staff in 1978 and is currently editor of Numismatic News and World Coin News. He also edits two books annually, North American Coins & Prices and Coin Digest. He is the author of the Class of '63 column that runs each week in Numismatic News. His first bylined numismatic article appeared in the June 1971 issue of Coins Magazine and his various Krause Publications assignments included a stint as editor of the magazine 1980-1983. Harper received a bachelor of science degree from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh in 1977. He had a double major of journalism and economics.

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