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Hunt for coin metals goes on and on


What’s to be made of a Mint report to Congress that basically asks for more time on the assignment given to it?

Nobody wants to ask Congress to make important coinage decisions based on less than the best information available.

But since the problems being addressed by the report first arose in 2006, you just have to ask if this is the best that can be done.

Perhaps we should abolish the U.S. Mint and subcontract all of our work to the Royal Canadian Mint, which despite the obvious affront to our sense of national dignity, seems to be able to make important decisions on a timely basis.

The Mint report to Congress leaves us with the same problems.

Should the cent be abolished? Should the composition of the nickel be changed to a cheaper alloy? Should other denominations be changed as well as long as we are making decisions regarding the cent and the nickel?

Whatever your feelings on any of these questions, I am sure that most would agree that dragging this process out over many years is not a smart way to go about it.

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We are not in crisis like we were in 1965 when a national coin shortage made it extremely urgent that the government act quickly to change compositions of the dime, quarter and half dollar.

Certainly there were blind alleys then, too, as the striking and melting of Peace dollars in 1964 indicate, but I think it is fair to say that the solutions addressed by the Coinage Act of 1965 were developed over a much tighter time line.

The consulting firm says we can leave the cent composition as is and adopt a copper-based alloy for all the other denominations.
This will be least disruptive to the vending machine industry, but visually it will be the most jarring to the average American coin user since every coin would eventually look something like the brown color of well circulated cents.

It is doable. It works in Costa Rica. I have seen and used their current coinage, which the Standard Catalog of World Coins lists as being made of brass. The coins there start out nice and shiny with a kind of yellow color and end up a dirty brown similar to our Sacagawea dollar coins.

But the Mint wants more time to determine whether this is the right long-term approach to take. It is certainly to be hoped that any decisions made will stand for a generation. However, this is not without price. The cent costs more to make than its face value, two cents now, according to the latest figures listed in the report to Congress, an improvement from the 2.41-cent figure last year.

As long as taxpayers are willing to write checks to the Treasury to pay for cents, they can continue. Perhaps the real endpoint in this process is not to reach the best outcome for U.S. coinage but to reach a point where electronic payments make their continued existence unnecessary. After all Social Security checks end next year. Will coins cease being used before we can agree on what they should be made of?

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