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Legislation proposes new half dime

Legislation calling for the return of the half dime to replace the nickel was introduced Sept. 18 in the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla.

In H.R. 6942 Lucas calls for a “clad half dime that is based on the size and shape of the half dime or 5-cent coin produced in the 1870s.”

The half dime was a denomination struck in silver by the United States from the 1792 until it was abolished in 1873. Initially called a “half disme,” it had a diameter of 15.5mm as compared to a dime’s 17.9mm. At the end, it weighed 1.24 grams compared to 2.50 grams for the dime.

Effective date if adopted would be after Dec. 31, 2009, so the coins would be dated 2010.

Saving money on production costs of the 5-cent coin is the central idea behind the legislation. Lucas said Sept. 22 that taxpayers should not pay more to produce a coin than it is worth.

Because the legislation was introduced so late in this Congress, Lucas said he did not expect any action on the idea until next year. He said House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank told him that a hearing would be held on the subcommittee level then.

At that point, it would be expected that representatives of the vending machine industry and the U.S. Mint will weigh in with their views. Lucas said so far he has had not input from either source.

When asked how his constituents would view the legislation, he said he expected their judgments would also be based on the cost issue.

The last Mint report for Fiscal Year 2007 said the dime cost roughly 4 cents to produce and delivered to the banking system. Using that as a guide, a half dime would start off with a rough cost of 2 cents, certainly much lower than the nearly 10-cent cost of the current nickel.

Lucas urged collectors to write their representatives in Washington, D.C., if they want to express their views.

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