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Mint dilemma: Coins cost more to make than their value

In 2013, Deputy Mint Director Richard  Peterson will have to go back to Congress with his evaluation of the present state of American circulating coinage and what his recommendations are to fix the problems.

And there are problems.

These include a copper-coated zinc cent that costs more to produce than is recovered when the Mint is paid 1 cent by the Federal Reserve.

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Peterson, who has been the top executive at the U.S. Mint since Ed Moy resigned the directorship at the end of last year, made his remarks at an Aug. 19 press conference at the American Numismatic Association’s World’s Fair of Money held in Rosemont, Ill.

The nickel, made of 75 percent copper and 25 percent nickel, not only costs more to produce than can be covered by its 5-cent face value, but its metallic value at 5.9 cents creates a risk of mass melting that is only countered by a Treasury regulation that makes it illegal to melt or export this denomination as well as cents.

Almost nobody uses or wants to use the half dollar or the dollar coins.

Dimes and quarters face escalating production costs, but at least for now, these costs are not threatening to exceed face value.

Could the cent, half dollar or dollar coins be abolished?

Might the nickel and other denominations be changed to cheaper compositions?

Might there be coins with denominations of $2 or $5 in our future?

How about diameter changes?

Helping Peterson in making his evaluation will be Concurrent Technologies Corporation, which was given a $1.3 million contract by the Mint.

The Johnstown, Pa., firm announced this Aug. 18, the day before the news conference.

“CTC will undertake studies to identify issues with current coinage materials and recommend potential alternative metallic materials for future coins,” said Dr. Joseph R. Pickens, CTC chief scientist and technical lead for the new contract.

Critical to the coinage evaluation process will be the reaction of the vending machine industry. When Congress asked the Mint for this evaluation, it also specified that it have almost no impact on the vending industry.

That might be hard to do.

A page 1 story about the press conference published in the Sept. 13 Numismatic News was incomplete.

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