How Much Nickel Is In A Nickel? Is There Silver In Silver Coins? What About Pennies vs Cents?

1990-issue_US_Penny_obverse.jpg#1 Pennies vs cents — what’s the difference?

In the United States, it is common for people to refer to our one-cent coin as a penny.

But would you be surprised to learn there actually isn’t any such thing as a United States penny?

It’s true! The coin many Americans frequently call a penny is officially called a one-cent coin or cent.

So where does the term penny come from?

Our mother country, Great Britain, has been making pennies for centuries. Yes, their pennies really are pennies. In fact, penny is the official denomination name for Britain’s small copper coin.

More fun facts & trivia about U.S. coins…


#2 How Much Nickel Is In A Nickel?

U.S. nickels really do contain nickel, but probably not as much nickel as you might think.

In fact, 75% of a typical U.S. 5-cent coin is actually copper!

Only 25% of a nickel actually is made of nickel. This has been the case for the U.S. 5-cent coin since 1866, when the first nickel 5-cent coin was made.

Believe it or not, there were a few years when the nickel did not contain any nickel at all.

During 1942 through 1945, the U.S. removed nickel from the 5-cent coin in order to help save the metal for the war effort. Therefore, the U.S. used a special metallic alloy in the 5-cent coin during those 4 years.

The 1942 to 1945 five-cent coins are often called war nickels, wartime nickels, or silver nickels

Why? Because 1942 to 1945 5-cent coins contain a combination which includes 56% copper, 35% silver, and 9% manganese. 1942 to 1945 nickels are distinctive from others with a darker gray color than most other circulated nickels and a large mint mark over the dome of Monticello on the reverse (tails side).


Franklin-half-dollar-obverse-and-reverse.jpg#3 Is There Silver In U.S. Silver Coins?

If you are in your 50s or 60s (or a little older), then you probably remember a time when you used to hold silver dimes, silver quarters, and silver half-dollars in your pocket.

If you are younger, you may not be able to ever remember a time when you held a silver coin. And if you are a lot younger, then you’ve probably never held a half-dollar at all!

So, what happened to silver coins? We can blame their disappearance on rising silver prices during the early- and mid-1960s.

The U.S. Treasury and U.S. Mint were facing a serious situation during the time. The value of the silver in our nation’s dimes, quarters, and half-dollars was exceeding the face value of those very coins!

The option the U.S. Mint took to correct the issue was to strike coins with a copper-nickel clad composition. The first copper-nickel dimes and quarters were dated 1965.

Half-dollars (which had a reduced silver content of 40% beginning in 1965) fully converted to the copper-nickel clad format in 1971.

Silver coins have been produced since 1971. 40% silver dollars and bicentennial coins were made for collectors during the 1970s, and since the 1980s, 90% silver coins have been struck for numismatists.

Interestingly, some people still call copper-nickel clad dimes, quarters, half dollars, and dollars "silver coins".

Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez

Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez

My love for coins and numismatics began when I was 11 years old. I primarily collect and study U.S. coins produced during the 20th century. I'm a member of both the American Numismatic Association (ANA) and the Numismatic Literary Guild (NLG). I've also been studying meteorology and watching weather patterns for years. I enjoy sharing little-known facts and fun stuff about coins, weather, travel, health, food, and living green.

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