Time to End
Ban on Melting Cents, Nickels
By Jay Johnson
Having seen Editor
Dave Harper's recent blog (July 14, reprinted in
the July 28 Numismatic News) suggesting the time
is now to lift the ban on melting U.S. Mint
pennies and nickels, I just had to write and say
I strongly agree.
There are many reasons for lifting this ban.
First, the U.S. Congress passed legislation
creating four great new reverse designs for the
100th anniversary of the Lincoln penny, so any
pennies struck this year cannot be considered
"replacements" for older pennies, but brand new,
attractive, highly collectible and sought-after
special "anniversary design" 2009 pennies. It
still costs the U.S. Mint more than a penny to
make a penny, but the 2009 pennies are really
something unique and only available this year.
Second, any of the companies that deal with
large quantities of pennies (like Coinstar,
Brinks, etc.) can tell you that there are huge
and growing stockpiles of pennies in coin depots
all around the country. The banks don't want
them. They want new pennies. The folks who
warehouse all of these coins are frustrated with
this growing stockpile of coins, yet Treasury
and the Mint refuse to let them be recycled so
that the copper can be re-used in new pennies.
But the same rule which Treasury issued banning
the melting of older pennies also allows the
Mint to issue licenses for melting pennies. If
the Mint would license and oversee the melting
of older pennies, it could also recoup the
melted copper to make new 2009 pennies. It would
not alter the fact that the Mint still would
spend more than a penny to make a penny, but it
would at least reduce a huge stockpile of
pennies while at the same time making the Mint
coin-making process a modern recycling
Finally, there may still be a constitutional
question about the idea of the Treasury ban on
melting pennies and nickels. For the most part,
once the Mint produces coins, those coins become
the property of those who own them. The
Constitution gives Congress and the Mint power
to make and issue coins, but not to retake them
or gain control over them once they have been
acquired by citizens.
It is not the fault of citizens who now own
pennies that are worth more than when they were
issued. Still, they are prevented from recouping
that profit by melting these coins for their
metal value. It is being done all the time with
gold and silver coins.
If Congress and the Mint want to save money on
making new pennies, it should do what Canada has
done: create a new, less expensive penny. It
surely has the metallurgical expertise to do so.
Last year, the House of Representatives passed a
bill which would authorize the Mint to come up
with a less expensive penny, but the bill never
came up for a vote in the Senate.
This year, Congress and the Mint need to take
action to reduce the costs of making cents. It
Jay Johnson of Bristow, Va., served as director
of the United States Mint in 2000-2001.