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The Madera Tribune

Coins not worth what they were

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webmaster | 12/24/12

The latest news about money is that the U.S. Mint is planning to use cheaper metal to make coins, as if the coins weren’t cheap enough already.

In the early days, coins were made of the real stuff — gold, silver and copper.

Until 1961, for example, pennies were made mostly of copper. Then, the value of the copper in the penny became more than the penny was worth. Then, Congress allowed the Mint to produce pennies that were made — and still are made — of zinc, tin and enough copper to make it look like a penny, but not much more.

The coins once made mostly of silver — dimes, quarters, half-dollars and silver dollars — now are made with various combinations of nickel and copper. When new, or cleaned, they shine like silver, but coins containing any silver at all are getting rare.

According to the Web site eHow, the value of the silver in a quarter made between 1932 and 1964 is close to $4 in today’s prices.

People once thought coins should reflect the value of the metal in their makeup, but the coins don’t.

When I was growing up in Idaho, silver dollars were the money of choice. Idaho, after all, was a silver-mining state. One didn’t see many paper dollars. Now, those silver dollars — at least the ones minted prior to 1964 — would be worth $15 or so in just the value of the silver alone. Many are worth much more to collectors. A friend had a drawer full of silver dollars. If he still has them, they must be worth a lot at today’s prices.

But now, with inflation and the rising value of metals, it’s getting so it costs more to make a coin than the coin is worth.

I save change in rolls for my grandchildren. When they get their annual rolls of coins as gifts, they probably think I’m stiffing them.


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