Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Numismatic Discovery

(Because how often do you get to use a word like numismatic? It comes right on the heels of our recent philatelic discovery. And, really, what's more fun than using recondite terminology?)

I made an interesting discovery the other day, quite by accident (as many good discoveries are). It came about while fishing through some spare change at my desk at work, trying to fish out two quarters to use at the Coke machine. After pulling out one, then a second, I hefted them in my hand before closing the change box...and noticed something odd. The clink of one coin against the other didn't sound right. It is not something that one thinks about consciously, but after living in the world for enough years, your brain does in fact know how coins are supposed to sound. You might even be able, without any preparation or practice, do a blind identification of each of the U.S.-denominated coins, solely by their sound. What is more: I'll bet that at least some of the audience, despite my low-fidelity A/V equipment, can discern which of the two following coins doesn't sound right:

After I heard this odd sound, I naturally opened my palm and had a look: the coins looked different, too. One of them was definitely more lustrous.

Both are quarters, both are legal tender, and both would be accepted at a store or bank, and in most vending machines. What's different? The quarter on the right was stamped out in 1964.

A little research on the internet revealed that 1964 was an important year for quarters: it was the last year they were made from a 90% silver, 10% copper alloy. From 1965 to present, they've been stamped from a sandwich of copper and nickel. This becomes apparent when we view the edge of these coins:

The reason for the switch was that, by the early sixties, the 0.18 troy ounce of silver in the quarter was worth more than $0.25, and so they switched to cheaper materials. In the early 1980s, the Mint stopped producing pennies from copper for a similar reason.

At the time of this writing, with silver trading at a historically ridiculous price of $35/oz, this means the melt-value of this 1964 quarter is actually a couple of bucks. If memory serves, melting down money and selling off the metal is, whatever the economics, illegal. However, using legal tender to produce other objects is legal, especially if you do not subsequently sell it.

So, to any of my jeweler friends: got any good ideas of what to do with a silver quarter?

1 comment:

Allyson Wendt said...

That's hilarious. My wedding ring is made from a 1963 quarter, Ivan's from a 1964. He made both of them.