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Coin production at 1970s levels

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This article was originally printed in Numismatic News.

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How long can we blame low current production numbers for various coin denominations on the recession? When might changing use patterns enter the picture?


Take the cent. In April the Mint struck 381.6 million coins at the Denver and Philadelphia production facilities. For the first four months of calendar year 2011, output stands at 1.454 billion pieces.

At the current rate of production, the U.S. Mint will strike 4.362 billion cents for the year. That’s less than average annual production from 40 years ago.

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Are people quitting the use of cents? It might seem logical to say they could be, but it is not just cents showing low output two years after the bottom of the last recession. If we multiply the output numbers through April by three to arrive at an annual total for each denominatioin, we see the Mint is on target to strike 1.173 billion dimes this year – a total that would fit with output data from the decade of the 1970s.

A projected quarter output of 501 million this year also looks good as part of the 1970s data set, but the country is still working off the excess supply created by the huge mintages of state quarters. Dimes and cents have no such excuse.

Nickel output is showing a little more spunk coming off the lows hit in 2009, but at 671.76 million projected for the year, output for this denomination also fits nicely into the numismatic version of That ’70s Show.

Only the existence of the Native American dollar series and the Presidential dollar series serve as a reminder that the Mint is working in the 21st century. Unfortunately, neither coin has any warmer reception with the public than the dollar coins of the 1970s did.

That ’70s Show was canceled eventually. Is that where American coinage is heading?

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