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Mint testifies before House on coinage composition changes

The flag for steel-based U.S. coinage was waved by Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio, at a June 11 hearing of the Subcommittee on Monetary Policy and Trade of the Financial Services Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington, D.C.

He even went so far as to ask the representive of the British Royal Mint if his institution could strike cents more cheaply than the U.S. Mint.

The Royal Mint’s Andrew Mills demurred, saying he would have to look at the matter more closely, but he did volunteer that it would not cost less than the one cent face value, which emphasized a point made earlier in the hearing by Deputy Mint Director Richard A. Peterson in his testimony, who said no composition change could bring costs of the cent down below face value.

It currently costs the U.S. Mint 1.8 cents to strike a cent and 9.4 cents for each nickel.

The production and circulation of coins and currency was the overall topic of the hearing.

Peterson also said that “Steel is a viable option for United States coinage,” when questioned. Several different steel compositions have already been test struck by the millions.

He explained that zinc and steel, including stainless steel, were the two most likely alternative compositions to all of the current U.S. coinage alloys.

Specific compositions and their costs, though, will not be spelled out until a Mint report is sent to Congress in December.

Mills in his testimony highlighted the advantages of using Royal Mint steel-plating technology rather than that of the rival Royal Canadian Mint. In addition to not charging a royalty or licensing fee, as the RCM does, the plating method by the Royal Mint is also thicker and lasts 25 years compared to six to nine years for coins made by the Canadian method, he said.

Peterson said that the prices quoted by the Royal Canadian Mint for its plated-steel blanks were fair.

There is also a security feature to the Royal Mint’s plating method. Its ISIS technology will create coins that will be machine readable, Mills said.

Perhaps the most peculiar question during the hearing was voiced by Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., who asked whether physical payments in what he called “hard currency” could be used to pay one-twentieth of a cent to listen to a song online.

The answer was that to make such tiny denominations would be cost prohibitive.

Mills also said that when composition changes were made to coins in the United Kingdom, the vending industry there favored as rapid a shift to the new composition as possible so that two kinds of the same denomination were not circulating side by side.

Stivers pushed the Mint to announce a composition change as soon as it could.