A penny costs more than two cents and a nickel costs more than 11 cents to make and distribute. The Mint is trying to figure out how to produce coins more cheaply without sparing our change's quality and durability, or altering its size and appearance—and its initial findings aren't too encouraging. A 400-page report presented last week to Congress outlines nearly two years of trials conducted at the Mint in Philadelphia, where a variety of metal recipes were put through their paces in the massive facility's high-speed coin-making machinery. The test stampings were then examined for color, finish, resistance to wear and corrosion, hardness, and magnetic properties.
Evaluations of 29 different alloys concluded that none met the ideal list of attributes. The Treasury Department concluded that additional study was needed before it could endorse any changes, and more test runs with different alloys are likely in the coming year. Neat tidbit: When testing possible new metal combinations, the Mint uses "nonsense dies," images that don't exist on legal tender ... and a bonneted Martha Washington is apparently a favorite subject. (In other penny-saving news, could Congress do away with the dollar bill?)