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The E-Sylum: Volume 19, Number 22, May 29, 2016, Article 13

GARY BEALS: ZINC, YOU STINK!

Gary Beals submitted these thoughts on that lowly coinage metal, zinc. Thanks. -Editor

The article in last week issue reminded me how much our government is suckered by the zinc industry while citizens waste their time with cents. Let's take a closer look at zinc in coins The article began:

Most people know that pennies cost the government more to make than they're worth, even after the U.S. Mint switched to using mostly zinc in 1982. They may not know that making all those pennies has a serious environmental impact, from raw ore, to smelter, to mint, and then to banks before finally being dropped on the street or dumped into a coin kiosk or a fountain.

Zinc is the cheap grey metal that is the material of choice when a government looks to make a near valueless coin. The thought of not making a coin so valueless does not seem to enter the minds of governmental leaders worldwide.

These coins are the Kardashian sisters of monetary systems. They all look appealing at the first glance, we see them everywhere, but then we realize there is no substance below the shiny surface. You can even dissolve the zinc out of a USA cent leaving a fragile copper shell — what fun!

Three coins in the fountain? They better not be zinc under that thin copper plating — they begin corroding in 48 hours —fouling the water. And many banks refuse to accept corroded coins at full face value.

The zinc coated steel cents of 1943 were ugly once that zinc hit the air. Zinc deteriorates into chalking or white rust – zinc oxide might belong on a surfer's nose but as 97.5% of one of my coins? No thanks.

Sacrifice Zinc! Zinc is best used as a sacrificial metal in our oceans. Really. Ships sail with slabs of zinc bolted to their hulls so that the salt water will dissolve it rather than steel and bronze of the hull and propellers. Blocks of zinc are also attached to oil rig pipes under water. Sacrificial anodes of zinc attract the corrosion that would otherwise rust the iron/steel. The sacrificial anodes must be replaced periodically as they corrode.

Now, if we could only get the Kardashian sisters to sacrifice themselves to protect much greater show business talent we will really be on to something, but I digress.

The cent's alloy remained 95 percent copper and 5 percent zinc until 1982, when the composition was changed to 97.5 percent zinc and 2.5 percent copper (copper-plated zinc).

Zinc, you may help in some men's prostate problems but you have no business in anybody's coins unless you are mixed with 10 times more than your weight of copper — now you are part of brass and bronze.

Canada ended its use of the cent in 2012. Shortly thereafter, the group Americans for Common Cents (ACC) a disguised zinc lobby organization, declared that most Americans want to keep the cent.

“Penny Still Makes Sense to Most Americans,” according to the San Diego Union-Tribune, which described the ACC's press release as a “report” and described the ACC as “a consortium of 50 groups that are working to highlight the benefits the penny provides to the economy and consumers.” “Only Some Americans Want to Cut The Coin.” Was another headline back then. Boy, how some journalists get suckered by flacks.

So — horse pucky. ACC is run by the main lobbyist representing the zinc industry, which supplies most of the metal used in pennies. Turns out, the group was citing opinion polls from 15 to 25 years ago. The most recent was conducted in 2006 — by Coinstar makers of vending machines that turn coins into currency. According to the ACC using a very old study, two-thirds of Americans want to keep the penny. That's the number several media outlets cited in their accounts of the “new report.”

It costs 2.4 cents to make each cent. That might be OK if the coins were useful, but they’re not.

On the flip-side we who watch coin collectors can marvel at the marketing prowess of the USA and European Union government. They can turn out ‘commerative’ dollar and euro-value coins for about 18 cents each, and people snatch them up and toss them in their dresser drawers. Presto — easy money made off people looking for all the states, or all the national parks or all the presidents.

Faced with the stark financial facts, any sentimental attachment to the cent might fade. FORTUNE Magazine reported in 2012:

Beside national inertia, the main reason the penny is still here is that business interests want it that way. President Obama, when he was campaigning in 2008, said he would like to get rid of the cent. “I need to find out who is lobbying to keep the penny,” he said. The Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks lobbyists knows, it's Big Zinc and the vending industry are the powerful penny lobby. We don’t know how hard the president fought on that battle, but we lost.”

One firm, Jarden Zinc, spends about $140,000 a year for pro-penny lobbying services, and, as an example, in 2011 was awarded $48 million in federal contracts.

An Internet article on cleaning zinc provides gloomy news: Zinc was used for coinage only in emergencies and only for coins destined to have a short period of circulation. For example, zinc money occurs principally in many emergency coinages of German cities after the First World War and also in the small change of the Third Reich from 1940.”

It must be assumed that the raw material available was not always satisfactory. Zinc contains traces of lead, bismuth and iron. These impurities cause zinc coins to vary in behavior with chemicals.

The provided methods that can be used for cleaning zinc coins, none of which were considered completely satisfactory. One cleaning example:

“Immersion into Sulfuric Acid (H2SO4) Solution. The best and simplest method of removing grayish-white zinc oxidation is placing the coins in approximately 5% Sulfuric acid (diluted 1:20) and leaving them there for 10 to 20 minutes. Caution: dilution of sulfuric acid must always be done by pouring acid into water in a fine stream, never by pouring water into concentrated sulfuric acid! Neutralization is accomplished by immersion in 5% Sodium Hydroxide (caution: caustic soda) and rinsed thoroughly. They are then brushed.”

So clean them up and you are all set? No, your work with zinc coins is not done:

“Zinc coins must be protected unconditionally from the effect of the atmosphere and its constituents, or they will darken again in a short time (a few weeks). This is best done by lacquering with Japanese lacquer. An oil film can be provided by kerosene or Ballistol.”

To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see:
HOW GREEN IS THE U.S. CENT? (www.coinbooks.org/E-Sylum_v19n21a17.html)



Wayne Homren, Editor

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The Numismatic Bibliomania Society is a non-profit organization promoting numismatic literature. See our web site at coinbooks.org.

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