US Mint seeks new methods to make coins

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — When it comes to making coins, the Mint isn’t getting its two cents worth. In some cases, it doesn’t even get half of that. A penny costs more than two cents and a nickel costs more than 11 cents to make and distribute. The quandary is how to make coins more cheaply without sparing quality, durability, size and appearance.

A presented to Congress outlines nearly two years of trials conducted at the Mint in Philadelphia, where a variety of metal recipes were put through their paces.

Evaluations of 29 different alloys concluded that none met the ideal list of attributes. The Treasury Department concluded that additional study was needed before it could endorse any changes.

“We want to let the data take us where it takes us,” said Dick Peterson, the Mint’s acting director. More tests with different alloys are likely.

The government has been looking for ways to shave the millions it spends every year to make bills and coins. Congressional auditors recently suggested replacing dollar bills with dollar coins, which they concluded could save taxpayers some $4.4 billion over three decades.

To test possible new metal combinations, the U.S. Mint struck penny-, nickel- and quarter-sized coins with images that don’t exist on legal tender.

Test stampings were examined for color, finish, resistance to wear and corrosion, hardness and magnetic properties.

Except for pennies, all current U.S. circulating coins have the electromagnetic properties of copper.

A slight reduction in the nickel content of our quarters, dimes and nickels would bring some cost savings and keep the magnetic characteristics the same.

Making more substantial changes, like switching to alloys with different magnetic properties, could mean big savings to the government but at a big cost to coin-op businesses, Peterson said.

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