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End the Cent Melting Ban
July 14, 2009

I just had a letter from a collector who was surprised to learn that it was illegal to melt the old 95-percent copper cents (or any other U.S. cent or five-cent coin).

Somehow he missed the front page Numismatic News story at the end of 2006 when the ban was imposed and the references to it that have occurred from time to time since.

I understand people are busy. Stuff happens that they simply don't notice or don't think is significant at the time they see it and therefore don't remember it.

So it was up to me to break the news that he was stuck with his hoard and it was worth face value and not melt value, which is currently about 40 percent more, according to my favorite Web site on these matters,

I haven't thought about the ban for a while either. Since commodity prices dropped from the highs of last year, I'll bet most collectors haven't given the cent and the nickel much thought.

Perhaps this is a good time to repeal the ban. Even at a 40 percent premium, I wouldn't expect to see much of a rush to melt the old copper cents.

Three out of four cents I received yesterday in change were dated before 1982 and were made of the old alloy.

However, even if all the old cents suddenly headed for the melting pot, the Mint has huge unused capacity that could be employed to make the new Lincoln cents.

That would kill two birds with one stone. More of the sought after new designs would become available to the public and the residual worry about what might happen to the circulating cent supply if the copper cents were melted would be eliminated once and for all.

As for nickels, with the current price of its metallic composition at 3.67 cents, nobody is going to melt any of them and there will be no effect on the circulating coin supply.

And while Washington is at it, it might be a good time for Congress to take up the matter of the future of the cent and nickel once again when they are not under severe market pressure to "don't just stand there, but do something."

In this economy, by lifting the melting ban on cents and nickels, everybody would win.

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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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