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Cent, nickel melting still illegal

How quickly we forget.

I had an emailed inquiry regarding the melting of pre-1982 cents with the 95-percent copper alloy.

It is illegal to do so. It has been since Dec. 14, 2006, when the Treasury imposed regulations on melting and exportation of American cent and nickel coins.

But unless you were paying attention to that particular issue nearly seven years ago, it apparently was easy to miss.

Text of the inquiry is as follows:

“I have a strange question. Hopefully you have the answer. All coins with silver in them can be melted down. If that is the case, then why can’t we sell the copper pennies for scrap metal?

“I know the metal content on the pennies was changed in 1982. The dimes and quarters changed their metal content in 1965.

“If it’s not about the material used for the coins it must be about the design? But that doesn’t make sense either, because the dimes changed their design, as well as the penny. So why can’t the pennies be sold for scrap?

“Unless they’re planning on keeping them in circulation to reduce the amount of pennies to be produced. I know I have about 150 pounds of copper pennies (not sure what that works out to be ). These were all pulled out of circulation for almost two years, and I am positive that I’m not the only one doing this. That means there is plenty of pennies out there to at least minimize production costs.”

“Some sort of insight on this is greatly appreciated.”

OK, then. I am glad to help.

As 2006 was ending, the prices of copper, zinc and nickel were soaring. Costs of producing the cent and the nickel were beginning to exceed face value.

The Mint did not want to find itself in an endless loop of minting, melting and more minting.

So melting was banned. Exportation was also banned except in pocket change amounts under $5 and quantity shipments of under $100 to prevent any end runs around the melting ban.

Presently, metal prices are such that there is no profit to be made in melting copper-coated zinc cents or nickels.

However, the pre-1982 copper cents contain over two cents’ worth of copper value.

That seems tempting.

But it is illegal to melt them.

Will it always be so?

Probably not, but there are no signs that the melting ban will be lifted soon.

Buzz blogger Dave Harper is editor of the weekly newspaper "Numismatic News."