Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Skinny Nickels

I heard a person younger than I talking today about America and our society.  He said it feels like the country has some kind of malaise.  Boy this took me back!  I hadn't heard anyone describe our country this way since Jimmy Carter was president, but I have to agree with him.  There seems to be the feeling that there's something off with the way our country is going and that our leaders, if not the cause of the trouble, certainly don't have any ready solutions.

Sometimes it's the little things that make me feel this most acutely.  The other day, I received some change and without looking something didn't feel quite right.  When I was a kid, I collected coins and I'm very familiar with the way they should feel and sound, so I immediately took a look.  What caught my attention was that this particular nickel felt concave.

The US Mint has been experimenting with our money for a few years now.  Part of the problem is that our money is worth less and they keep having to look for cheaper metals.  For example, silver was used in dimes until 1964, but pretty soon having dimes that were 90% silver made them cost more to make than a dime.  That's why you rarely find a dime in circulation older than 1965.  A 1965 dime which is mostly copper (and some nickel) is worth 10¢.  A 1964 dime is worth about $3.05 for it's silver alone.  This is melt value of the coins, not the collectible value (or what would the metal be worth if we melted the coin).

The nickel, although made from common metals (75% copper, 25% nickel) is now worth about 6¢ to 7¢ in its metal content which is putting it in danger of metal substitution.  They did this with pennies back in the 1980s.  Until 1982, pennies used to be made of 95% copper.  That means if you melted a pile of pre-1982 pennies, you'd be getting about 3¢ of copper per penny melted.  After 1982, they switched to zinc which costs about a penny.  If you scrape a modern penny across the sidewalk, you can see it's zinc inside.

I have some French coins from right after World War II and they are so lightweight they appear to be made out of aluminium.  Every time I hold one, it gives me the feel of an economy in ruins.  This is the same feeling I got holding the skinny nickel, that something was just a little less right.  It still seemed to weigh the same, but something is different.

There may be good reasons for making the coin slightly concave.  Maybe they're trying to preserve the relief image stamped on the coin and make them last longer.  I like Thomas Jefferson on the old coins, he looked confident, well fed, and cheerful.  The new image, where he's looking straight at you, he looks tired, gaunt, and forlorn.

Well, I'm not going to lose sleep over it, but it's just another minor annoyance of mine.  If I was in charge of the nickel design, as much as I admire Jefferson, I'd go back to the buffalo nickel anyway.


Judi said...

I wouldn't recognize Jefferson from that new nickel portrait. They took away his wig & gave him bangs!

recumbent conspiracy theorist said...

Interesting post Nate. I still have my collection but not active in the hobby now. Once or twice a year I hear the unique ring of a piece of silver when I receive change at the store. The other day the bank teller caught a silver quarter just before she gave it to me! Darn.

My wife worked in a carry out during college. people would come in for cigarettes and booze and pay with rolls of silver quarters and mercury head dimes. We really expanded our collection during those years.

But yes interesting correlation you point out in money now versus then.

Virgil S. said...

Cool and thought provoking post. Also jogs my memory about an old slightly risque joke in high school involving the Mercury dime tails side (Google an image of the dime to follow this)
Hold it so United is at the top-
See the rail fence?
See the hill behind the fence?
See the trees on the hill?
See the top of the Model T parked behind the fence on the right?
See the couple kissing in the back seat?
No? Well, what do you expect to see, for a dime?

Anonymous said...

I didn't know there are so many types of US coins. The 50 state quarters, with the date of admission to the union, looks interesting (it started me reading why and when a state was admitted).

Lillian Cruz said...

There are some interesting points in time in this article but I don’t know if I see all of them center to heart. There is some validity but I will take hold opinion until I look into it further. Good article, thanks and we want more! Added to FeedBurner as well

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