Coinage metals

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The coinage metals comprise, at a minimum, those metallic chemical elements which have historically been used as components in alloys used to mint coins. The term is not perfectly defined, however, since a number of metals have been used to make "demonstration coins" which have never been used to make monetized coins for any nation-state, but could be. Some of these elements would make excellent coins in theory (for example, zirconium), but their status as coin metals is not clear. In general, because of problems caused when coin metals are intrinsically valuable as commodities, there has been a trend in the 21st century toward use of coinage metals of only the least exotic and expensive types.


Historically, most coinage metals (or alloys) are from the three nonradioactive members of group 11 of the periodic table: copper, silver and gold, the copper usually being augmented with tin and often other metals to form bronze. Gold, silver and bronze or copper were the coinage metals of the ancient world, and most medieval coins.

All western histories of coins begin invention at some time slightly before or after 700 BC, in Aegina Island,[1] or, according to others, in Ephesus, Lydia, 650 BC.[2] Ancient India in circa 6th century BC, was one of the earliest issuers of coins in the world.[3]

Since that time, coins have been the most universal embodiment of money. These first coins were made of electrum, a naturally occurring pale yellow mixture of gold and silver that was further alloyed with silver and copper.

However, the Persian daric was the first gold coin which, along with a similar silver coin, the siglos, (From Ancient Greek σίγλος, Hebrew שֶׁקֶל (shékel)) represented the bimetallic monetary standard of the Achaemenid Persian Empire which has continued till today.[4] The Persian coins were also very well known in the Persian and Sassanids era. Most notably, in Susa and in Ctesiphon.

However, there are many more, even for coins made from intrinsically precious metals. Precious metals are always used in bullion coins and some collectable coins. Coins not intended for circulation or for intrinsic value have also been made experimentally using an even larger variety of metals, since they function as fiat money. In general coins intended for circulation must have metal values considerably less than their face values, for reasons discussed below.

Requirements for a coinage metal[edit]

Coins that are intended for circulation have some special requirements based on the conditions they will encounter. For example, a coin may be in circulation for up to 30 years, and so must have excellent wear resistance and anti-corrosion properties. Achieving this goal necessitates the use of base metal alloys. Some metals like manganese have occasionally been used in coins, but suffer from making the coins too hard to take an impression well (or metals apt to wear out stamping machines at the mint).

When minting coins, especially low denomination coins, there is a risk that the value of metal within a coin is greater than the face value. This leads to the possibility of smelters taking coins and melting them down for the scrap value of the metal. Pre-1992 British pennies were made of 97% copper; but as of 2008, based on the price of copper, the value of a penny from this period is 1.5 new-pence. Modern British pennies are now made of copper-plated steel. For similar reasons, American pennies (cents) were once made of copper alloys, but since 1982 have been made of copper-plated zinc.

This problem has led to nearly the end of use for a common base metal alloy for everyday coinage in the 20th century, called cupronickel, with varying proportions of copper and nickel, most commonly 75% Cu 25% Ni. Cupronickel has a silver color, is hard wearing and has excellent striking properties, essential for the design of the coin to be pressed accurately and quickly during manufacture. In the 21st century with the prices of both copper and nickel rising, it has become more common to experiment with various alloys of steel, often stainless steel. For example, in India some coins have been made from a stainless steel that contains 82% iron, 18% chromium, and many other countries that have minted coins that contain metals now worth nearly the coin face-value, are experimenting with various steel alloys.

Chemical elements used in circulating coins[edit]

Element Example usage
Aluminium First issued 1907 for circulation by East Africa & Uganda Protectorates, though earlier patterns exist
Antimony Used in Guizhou, China 10 cents coin of 1931. Used in medallion medal alloy
Carbon In all steel and iron coins. A few "pressed galvanic coal" Notgeld coins were minted in the hyperinflation in post WW I Germany
Chromium Used for plating coins and in some rare hard stainless steel coins
Copper Many coins throughout history were made of gold, silver and copper.
Iron Numerous Chinese cash coins were made of iron, with the first being issued by the Han dynasty in 118 BCE. From 1942 through 1952, some of the Swedish krona coins – such as the 1, 2 and 5 öre – were made of iron.
Lead Most commonly seen in southeast Asian coinage. Certain 19th Century Japanese coins are also made of lead, such as those issued by Yonezawa in the 1860s.
Manganese American wartime "silver nickels" were composed of 56% copper, 35% silver, and 9% manganese. The reason given for this composition is that it matched the magnetic and electrical properties of 75% copper/25% nickel nickels, which was important for vending machines. Modern American dollars contain a small amount of manganese.
Magnesium Magnesium-aluminum coins were issued in 1943 for the Lodz Ghetto mark in Poland. Magnesium is a minor additive in many aluminum coins; this alloy is called magnalium.
Nickel Used unknowingly in alloys since antiquity. The first pure nickel coin was the Swiss 20 Rappen of 1881. A book published by the International Nickel Company of Canada in 1933 lists dozens of coins minted out of nickel.
Platinum The Russian 3, 6, and 12 ruble coins of Nicholas I, issued 1828–1845, were the world's only circulating platinum coins. Numerous bullion coins have been issued.
Tin Portuguese Malacca 1521-1557 bastardo; Malaysia tin hat money; Great Britain farthing and halfpenny 1684-1692; Thailand satangs from the 1940s.
Zinc It's not necessarily clear who issued the world's first zinc coins, but 12th century Indian coins were made of zinc. Vietnamese cash coins of the 1800s were made of zinc, as was the Vietnamese Tonkin 1/600 piastre of 1905. Zinc was a common metal of choice for American good-for tokens.


Chemical elements used in non-circulating (commemorative, demo, bullion or novelty) coins, medals, patterns, and trial strikes:

  • Cadmium (1828 medal made by G. Loos for the marriage of Heinrich von Dechen, "of Silesian cadmium"[5])
  • Cobalt (2005 Cameroon 750 CFA francs struck in cobalt-plated iron.)
  • Hafnium (Fred Zinkann demo coin.)
  • Iridium (2013 125 oz 10 franc bullion coin issued by Rwanda as part of "Noble Five" precious metals set.)
  • Molybdenum (Demo coin – Fred Zinkann) (Mintage 250-1 tr oz coins 2008 by Coins By Design – Murray Buckner.)
  • Niobium (Austria has issued a number of bimetallic 25 euro coins with a niobium center.)
  • Palladium (First issued 1966 by Sierra Leone. Also presentation sets from Tonga, bullion coins of various countries.[6])
  • Rhenium (Fred Zinkann fantasy pieces – Pope Matthew Triple Ducat and Malvinas 5 Australes)
  • Rhodium (2014 125 oz 10 franc bullion coin issued by Rwanda as part of "Noble Six" precious metals set. Also Cohen Mint bullion round.)
  • Ruthenium (1967 12 Hau from Tonga was 98% palladium and 2% ruthenium)
  • Selenium (1862 medal in UK Science Museum, commemorating Berzelius, discoverer of the element.)
  • Silicon (Privately struck US quarter patterns dated 1964 (Pollock-5380) in nickel-silicon alloy.)
  • Tantalum (Used in a bimetallic silver-tantalum coin from Kazakhstan.)
  • Tellurium (1896 Hungarian mining medal. Reproductions exist from 1975.)
  • Titanium (First issued 1999 by Gibraltar.[7] Austria has made bimetallic silver/titanium commemoratives.)
  • Tungsten (Alloys are too hard. A few private demos struck only for experimentation. Fred Zinkann US half eagle patterns.)
  • Uranium (Two types of a German medal of native uranium.[8])
  • Vanadium (Mintage 20-1 Troy ounce coins 2011 by Coins By Design – Murray Buckner.)
  • Zirconium (Mintage 500-1 Troy ounce coins 2012 including 50 black & 50 Rainbow by Coins By Design – Murray Buckner.)

Element Series[edit]

Beginning in 2006, Dave Hamric (Metallium)[9] has been attempting to strike "coins" (technically tokens or medals, about the size of a US cent) of every stable chemical element. To date he has struck tokens of the following elements:

Article "World's Coinage Uses 24 Chemical Elements"[edit]

World Coin News magazine published an article titled "World's Coinage Uses 24 Chemical Elements" by Jay and Marieli Roe, which appeared in two consecutive issues: Feb. 17, 1992, pages 24–25; and Mar. 2, 1992, pages 18–19.

The article was based on an award-winning exhibit that was assembled by Jay and Marieli Roe (a.k.a. Dr. John Westel Rowe, an organic chemist in Wisconsin, and his wife Marieli Rowe), and shown during the 1987–1990 period. The 24 elements named are: Al, Sb, C, Co, Cu, Au, Hf, Fe, Pb, Mg, Mo, Ni, Nb, Pd, Pt, Re, Ag, Ta, Sn, Ti, W, V, Zn and Zr.

The ANA did not award Best-of-Show "because the exhibit was downgraded for incompleteness" due to two missing pieces. However, the author defended his choices: The British Royal Mint's rhodium token "is only rhodium-plated", and the Pobjoy Mint's iridium coin "does not exist (possible confusion with palladium?)."

Curiously, chromium and manganese were not mentioned, even though both elements had been used in common circulation coins (Canada wartime V nickels and US wartime Jefferson nickels, respectively) long before the time of the article's publication.

Non-metallic materials used for circulating coins[edit]

Material Example of usage
Cardboard Stamp-moneyRussia1915 15k.jpg Cardboard, 15 kopecks (1915, Russian Empire)
Ceramics Grünberg in Schlesien, Zielona Góra, 1922, 75 Pf, Burg, Keramik.jpg 75 pfennig, notgeld, Zielona Gora, 1922
Charcoal or similar 1000 Mark 1922 Conradty.jpg 1000 mark private notgeld, Conradty Company, 1922)
Fiber Manchukuo fiber coin.jpg 1 and 5 fen coins, Manchukuo, 1944–45.
Glass The Poland 10 zloty coin of 2008 has a glass center, as does a Congo 1000 francs coin issued in 2015.
Leather Russian-American Co - 1 Ruble (7559).jpg Leather rubles of the Russian-American Company in Alaska.[11] American depression scrip in the 1930s.
Paper 50 копеек РСФСР 1923 года. Аверс.png Paper 50 kopecks (1923, Soviet Russia). Leiden issued coins made out of the pages of prayer books in 1574 as an emergency issue, making them the first issuers outside of China to issue paper money.
Plastic 2014-1-Rubel-Prednistrojen-Kursmuenze-Avers.jpg Transnistrian rubla coins
Porcelain Notgeld produced in 1920—1921 at the Meissen Porcelain Works[12]
Silk Silk money from Khorezm, in Uzbekistan[13] and other central Asian countries around the 1930s. Bielefeld notgeld in the 1920s.
Stone Yap Stone Money.jpg Rai stones from Yap island
Wood Used in Japan in the 1860s, for Austrian and German notgelds in the 1920s, and Tenino in the 1930s. A Congo 5 francs coin issued in 2006 was perhaps the first 'official' wooden coin.


  1. ^ "Ancient coinage of Aegina".
  2. ^ "World's Oldest Coin - First Coins".
  3. ^ See: Coinage of India and History of the rupee
  4. ^ Michael Alram, "DARIC", Encyclopaedia Iranica, December 15, 1994, last updated November 17, 2011
  5. ^ Wuerst, E. A. (1868). Die Münzen und Medaillen Bonns. pp. 51–.
  6. ^ Frank, René. "List of all Palladium coins (1966-2019)". Heusenstamm, Germany. Retrieved 5 May 2021.
  7. ^ World Firsts. Pobjoy Mint
  8. ^ Schwankner, Robert Josef; Eigenstetter, Michael; Laubinger, Rudolf; Schmidt, Michael (2005). "Strahlende Kostbarkeiten: Uran als Farbkörper in Gläsern und Glasuren" (PDF). Physik in unserer Zeit. 36 (4): 160. Bibcode:2005PhuZ...36..160S. doi:10.1002/piuz.200501073.
  9. ^ "The collection Dave Hamric in the Periodic Table".
  10. ^ "92U Depleted Uranium 'element coin' token made by Dave Hamric (Metallium)". Omnicoin.
  11. ^ Шиканова И.С. Денежные знаки Российско-Американской компании первой половины XIX в. (Памятники денежного обращения XVIII — XX вв.) // Труды ГИМ. — Вып. 53. Нумизматический сборник. Ч. 7. — 1980. — С. 159—169
    Шиканова И.С. Новые материалы о денежных знаках Российско-Американской компании. (Новые нумизматические исследования). // Труды ГИМ. — Вып. 61. Нумизматический сборник. Ч. 9. — 1986. — С. 44—47.
  12. ^ "ФАРФОРОВЫЕ ДЕНЬГИ. Словарь нумизмата".
  13. ^ Normatov, Nodir; Sirtsowa, Yulia, eds. (2009). "Silk Money from Khorezm". San'at. No. 4. Translated by Davidova, Adelia. Academy of Arts of Uzbekistan.

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