19 March 2008
Will the U.S. return to steel pennies?
Those of you who are coin collectors, or at least old enough to remember the 1950s, will know that in 1943 the United States minted its pennies using steel rather than copper. This was done because of a WWII-related shortage of copper. I remember saving them as a child (they now sell for about 20c each on eBay). In 1944 copper pennies returned, but in 1982 the core had to be changed to zinc because copper was too expensive to use (you may notice that these pennies are about 20% lighter than the old ones).
I had heard rumors that because the price of copper and zinc has quadrupled in the last 5 years (in dollar terms), there is a risk that U.S. pennies might be melted down for their copper and zinc content. This past week Lew Rockwell's blog featured comments by Congressman Ron Paul about a bill presently before Congress that apparently would authorize the Secretary of the Treasury to mint steel pennies again.
"...I oppose HR 5512 because it is unconstitutional to delegate the determination of the metal content of our coinage to the Secretary of the Treasury. Under Article I Section 8 of the Constitution, the Congress is given the power to coin money and regulate the value thereof... The Secretary of the Treasury would be given sole discretion to alter the metal content of coins, or even to create non-metal coins... While I sympathize with the aim of Section 4 of this bill to save taxpayer dollars by minting steel pennies, it is disappointing that our currency has been so greatly devalued as to make this step necessary... Based on the price of gold, what one penny would have purchased in 1909 requires 47 cents today... HR 5512 is a sad commentary on how far we have fallen, not just since the days of the Founders, but only in the last 75 to 100 years. We could not maintain the gold standard nor the silver standard. We could not maintain the copper standard, and now we cannot even maintain the zinc standard..."