Since its inception, the United States Mint has used different metal alloys to produce coins. For half cents through cents, the Mint used a Copper alloy for over 200 years. Then in 1982, the Mint had to change to a mostly Zinc alloy for the one cent coin due to the increasing cost of copper.
Copper Alloy on an Indian Cent
Another popular metal used on U.S. coins is silver. Silver was used to produce the first dollars that were ever struck. As the price of silver increased, the metal in the coins became worth more than the coins value. So, in 1965 the Mint removed silver from most circulating coins. Today, the Mint still produces silver coins for special sets and different related Bullion coins such as Silver Eagles, Commemoratives, and 5 Ounce coins.
Silver Alloy on a Flowing Hair Dollar
Another metal that has been used to produce coins is a Copper Nickel alloy. As of 2013 it is estimated that it costs the U.S. Mint about 11.2 cents to produce each Nickel. That's over $100 million each year to produce the Nickel alone. The Mint is currently researching other alternatives to cut costs when producing the Jefferson Nickel.
Copper Nickel Alloy on a Jefferson Nickel
For many years the Mint was losing millions of dollars when producing the one cent coin, since the copper alloy in the Lincoln Cent was worth more than one cent. In 1982, the Mint finally changed the composition to a mostly Zinc alloy, a much cheaper alternative than copper.
Mostly Zinc Alloy on a 1984 Lincoln Cent
In the year 2000, the Mint introduced a new Dollar coin composed of copper, zinc, nickel and manganese giving it a golden appearance; however, it does not contain any actual gold. The Mint still uses this alloy to produce Native American and Presidential Dollar coins.
Manganese Layered Sacagawea Dollar
Then there is of course the very popular gold alloy used on many U.S. Coins. Gold has been extremely popular over the years with both collectors and investors. The U.S. Mint no longer produces coins for circulation made out of a gold alloy but continues to offer them every year as a Commemorative, a Special Issue, or as a Bullion coin.
Gold Alloy on a $20 Liberty Head Double Eagle
Finally, in 1997 the Mint introduced platinum on U.S. coins. It produced a Platinum Eagle series of coins in different denominations including a $100 denomination, which is currently the highest denomination used on any U.S. coin.
Platinum used to produce a $10 Platinum Eagle
There are several other metal alloys that the Mint has used to produce coins over the years. But for the most part, these are some of the most popular or significant metals used for most U.S. coins. Each metal alloy has its own attributes. Some metals tone really nicely while others hardly tone at all. Some seem to be struck in better quality than others, while others are very affordable and some every expensive. In my opinion, all metal alloys are very attractive if they have a great design. If the coin happens to have a great story behind it or is a rare or scarce coin, then it becomes even more appealing. Whatever metal alloy is your favorite, it's great to know that the U.S. Mint has offered different metal alloys on U.S coins over the years. This variety has given collectors many more options when collecting, and at the same time, made coin collecting much more exciting.
What's your favorite alloy? Submit your preference at our survey page: www.pcgs.com/survey