What Are Coins Made Of?

What Are Coins Made Of?


Did you know that the United States Mint has produced coins form the nations for over 225 years? Back in 1793 when the institution opened its doors coin production was a very physical, slow, and imprecise process. Over the years coin production has really evolved, as it is no longer a slow horse operation. In fact, what was once a slow process evolved to man-powered machinery and today coins are constructed through even faster computer-controlled techniques. So, how are these coins really constructed and what materials are used to construct them?  

The Penny  

The history of the penny can be dated back over 1,200 years. The very first pennies were constructed way back in 790 A.D. and they denoted any sort of coin or money. Great Britain was the only country in the world to have any denomination that was officially called the penny. In fact, this is the very reason that the United States started referring to their one-cent coins as pennies. It is pretty impressive to think that since the penny first came on the market there have been over 300 billion one-cent coins produced and there have been elven different distinct designs.  

Fugio Coppers – The first ever penny that was produced by the United States was known as the Fugio cent and it was constructed with 100 percent copper. This type of production would continue into the 1800s. This penny featured a sundial on one side with a sun hovering above and on the other side was thirteen connected chain links that represented the first original states.  

Classic Head – In 1808 came along the classic head one-cent piece. This new design was an improvement over the latter designs and allowed for much faster production times, but its sharpness certainly didn’t match that of the past. And, this is because this penny was constructed with softer copper that consisted of more metallic impurity. On one side appeared a left-facing portrait of Liberty with curly hair and a headband. The other side of the coin featured the statement of ONE CENT surrounded by a continuous wreath.  

Lincoln Shield Cent – There were many styles and designs to come and go over the years, but the most current and present design is the Lincoln Shield Cent. On one side, you will find a right-facing Abraham Lincoln and on the other side, you will find a shield with thirteen vertical stripes joined by an upper horizontal bar with a banner at the bottom that is branded with the words ONE CENT. Interesting enough these newly minted pennies are constructed mostly of zinc.  

The Nickel  

Would you be surprised to learn that the nickel wasn’t always worth five cents? Back in 1865, the coins were only worth three cents. It was only referred to as the nickel due to the alloy content. In 1859 the United States Mint used a mixture of nickel and copper to produce this piece. The history of the nickel is truly interesting as it revolves around a war story. Back during the Civil War, the outcome of the war was growing ever so unpredictable and America was in crisis as well as its currency. People started hoarding as much money as they could, including silver and gold. The Mint could barely keep up with the demand and the country simply didn’t have the resources to keep pumping out these pieces. The government experimented with a few scenarios and they finally came up with the idea of replacing the nickel with Demand Notes, also known as greenbacks. Eventually, the war ended and gold and copper came accessible again. Today’s five-cent pieces are constructed of a three to one ratio of copper to nickel.

Dimes  Over the years, coins in the United States have changed significantly. Dimes are worth 10 cents and that has always been the case. However, the way in which they are made has changed. In the past, dimes were actually made out of silver. That was the case before 1965. Due to the cost of silver and the increasing demand for the metal, the United States eventually decided to change the way it made its dimes. After 1965, the United States made the switch to alloy. This means that dimes in the United States are actually made of various metals. At this point, it is estimated that the dime is 92% copper and 8% nickel.

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Today, the dime does not contain any silver whatever. It does have 118 ridges. If you’re able to find a silver dime, you can guarantee that it is going to be worth much more. In fact, it is estimated that each silver dime will be worth roughly $1.23 each If you find one or two, you will definitely want to hold onto it.


In this day and age, quarters are the most popular coin Americans carry. Quarters are convenient for vending machines and they’re also the most valuable coin that is still widely circulated. There are more valuable coins, but they’re much less common. The United States quarter has gone through a handful of changes over the years. Today, the clad version of the coin contains two layers. One is 75% copper and the other one is 25% nickel. The entire composition of the coin contains 8.33% nickel and the rest is made up of copper. The first quarter of the United States was added to circulation by the United States Mint in 1795. It was actually authorized to be made in 1792. Over the course of four years, the country spent time designing the coin and producing enough capacity to release them. There are silver quarters and non-silver quarters. Some of the older coins are worth so much more than the newer ones. In 2010, the United States government began releasing new quarters. At this time, it was announced that the United States Mint would begin issuing 56 new quarters. Those quarters would depict national parks and other national sites throughout the United States. While these coins are not valuable at this point in time, there is a good chance that they will be in the future.