The treasurer of the United States, Angela M. Buchanan, told Congress the other day that, with their permission, she planned to take the copper out of the copper penny. It will still look like copper but it will have a copper wash, or what is described as a "copper surface electroplated" on the outside skin. How Abe Lincoln will feel about this I don't know. On one side of the new coin will be old Abe and the words "Liberty" and "In God we Trust" and the date. On the other side will be the Lincoln Memorial, "United States of America" and "E Pluribus Unum." And a thousand years from now when archaeological numismatists dig up a one-cent piece in the debris of an old US city they will be able to designate the great divide: real copper, before 1981; imitation, after 1981.
Personally I hate change. But they have already changed most of the coinage. First went gold. Since 1934 when FDR took us off the gold standard no gold coins have circulated. Starting in 1964 the Treasury cut down the silver all newly minted dimes and quarters. (You can see the alloy if you look at the edge of a make-believe coin, through the milled rim.) The five-cent piece seems to be sailing on very much as before though it won't buy a nickel Hershey bar anymore (nor will a penny buy a stick of chewing gum).
Why is Angela Buchanan fooling around with the penny? Very practical reasons , she says. Copper has been fluctuating erratically. Supplying coinage for american is a big problem. Back in 1977 the Mint supplied $11.5 billion in circulating coinage and now it is $16 billion. Pockets and purses sag with coins that don't seem to buy anything. And so, testified Treasurer Buchanan:
"The largest increase in demand recently has been for the one-cent coin. Demand was so strong last year that we produced one-fourth more, pushing production levels to the limits of the Mint's capacity."