Archive for August, 2008

Veteran from 1866 >> The US five cents

August 15, 2008

Today I’m breaking with tradition… I’m going to yammer about coins twice in a row. (That’s RyanSpeak for "Nothing new to report this month.")

Consider the humble US nickel. This simple coin, one you and I meet every day, may hold a world record.

It may be the world’s oldest circulating coin still in production without a size or composition change.

The United States five cent coin was introduced after the Civil War, in 1866, sharing attention with the silver half-dime. Since then it has gone through five permanent design changes (shield, V, buffalo, Jefferson profile, and Jefferson forward) and one temporary design series (the Westward Journey series). In that time, it has only changed composition once, as a temporary measure during WWII. With nickel needed for the war effort, silver and manganese briefly replaced nickel in the coin from 1942 to 1945. The Mint planned to recall these stopgap coins after the war, but never got around to it. With the exception of the war nickels, the US five cent coin has not changed in size, shape, edge design, metal composition or weight since its first minting in 1866.

I couldn’t help but wonder if that’s a record, or if there might be another coin on planet Earth that’s been around longer. For purposes of this experiment, I’m ignoring design changes, bullion coins, proofs, and private issued coins.

Canada recently changed their sub-dollar coins to steel since 2000, so their oldest coin still being made the exact same way is the Loonie, established 1987. The oldest coin in the UK still in production for common use is the 20 pence, which hasn’t changed since 1982. Mexico redesigned all their coins in 1992 when they revalued the peso. Most European nation have switched to the 8-year-old euro, with Norway, Sweden, and Denmark as exceptions. Their oldest coins are from 1994, 1972, and 1989, respectively. Japan’s 5 yen coin has been in its present form since 1949. The most impressive competitor is the Swiss coinage, which is still using 19th Century designs. The Swiss 20 rappen coin has kept its composition steady since 1939, and their 10 cent coin hasn’t changed since 1879! (There is an exception to this; a temporary nine-year period during the Great Depression when the 10 rappen coin switched to nickel from copper-nickel. As our nickel’s temporary reprieve doesn’t count against it, neither does this count against the Swiss tenner.)

Someone else pointed out the Maria Theresa thaler, which hasn’t changed one bit since 1780, not even the date on the coin! It’s still produced and sold to this very day, over 220 years later. I don’t think the MTT counts, since it doesn’t circulate in its home country of Austria and hasn’t been legal tender in Europe since the 1850s. In places where it still circulates, it does so for its bullion status only, so per my above rule, the MTT is out.

So respect the US nickel. It may be five cents, but it’s a true survivor in a world in which revalued, devalued, and obsolete currencies happen every day. There are few places on Earth outside the US where coins from the first half of the Twentieth Century still circulate. But they do here at home, thanks to our five cents.

Game Recommendations: Army Ants and Micropul

Nifty Wikipedia Thing: The Maccabiah Games

What I’m Reading:

"Atlas Shrugged" by Ayn Rand (49.9%)

"Dave Barry is From Mars and Venus" by Dave Barry

P.S.: I’m enjoying the Summer Olympics, and I hope you are, too. (But I still prefer the Winter Games.)