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Copper profit disappearing

If savers of the old 95-percent copper cents struck until 1982 are watching the price of copper, they are probably increasingly disappointed.

It is going down.

The website monitors the prices of base metals and how they translate into melt values for our standard circulating coinage.

From time to time I check to see what’s what.

I was startled this morning to see that copper has dropped below $2.50 a pound.

This figure might not mean much by itself, but it translates into a melt value for those pre-1983 cents of just 1.64 cents.

If the Treasury lifted its melting ban today, this price might be low enough to prevent much melting unless someone somewhere has already got a warehouse full of the coins that have been sitting around for such a moment.

I think that this is not likely to be the case.

The alternative of sorting through all cents in circulation to find the remaining copper pieces might not be particularly profitable even for armored car companies that handle huge quantities daily.

Collector reports from those looking for copper cents indicate there are not that many left.

There might be pockets of higher quantities somewhere, but Iola, Wis., is certainly not one of them.

I rarely get a 95-percent copper cent in change anymore. When I do, I think it probably came from a coin dealer in town who just bought a collection and took the cents to the bank.

The break-even cost of sifting through the present circulating cent supply I am not privy to. I expect it depends on where and on what scale such an activity would occur.

With current melt value down to 1.64 cents per coin, we must be getting near the break-even level.

It would be a different story if a quarter or a half of all cents in circulation were the 95-percent copper variety, but we are long past such conditions.

For the nickel and the copper-coated zinc cents there is unambiguously no profit to be had from melting them.

In the case of the nickel, you would recover metal value of 3.86 cents, for a loss of 1.14 cents per coin.

For the zinc cent, the melt value is just over half a cent, or 0.5458 cent if you like to be precise, and the website is certainly that.

It is nice to have a website to go to that figures out these values for us.

Check it out and see what you think.

Buzz blogger Dave Harper is winner of the 2014 Numismatic Literary Guild Award for Best Blog and is editor of the weekly newspaper "Numismatic News."