The composition of coins has transitioned immensely from the time coins first were created, primarily due to the cost of the metal used in the coins. U.S. coins are primarily made up of nickel, zinc and copper. Copper is an extremely valuable metal and was used to create many coins since the beginning of coin creation. The composition has changed to using other less expensive metals to save the U.S. mint money.
The penny, also called the cent, is primarily made of zinc. The common cent in circulation today uses 97.5 percent zinc and 2.5 percent copper. This composition has changed tremendously since 1837. From 1793 to 1837, the cent was made up of 100 percent copper, while in 2010, the copper content is down to 2.5 percent, reports the U.S. Mint website. The cent weighs 2.5 grams.
The nickel, worth 5 cents, is made of a composition called cupro-nickel. Cupro-nickel is a metal that is composed of a combination of copper and nickel. The nickel coin comprises 25 percent nickel and 75 percent copper and weighs five grams, according to the U.S. Mint. The nickel was originally made of pure silver, until 1866 when the composition changed to a mixture of nickel and copper.
A dime is worth 10 cents and is currently made of cupro-nickel, just like the current nickel. The content varies slightly, however, at 8.33 percent nickel, while the rest is copper. Dimes were first created in 1796 but did not contain an imprint of a denomination. In 1809, the denomination of 10 cents was finally placed on this coin. Prior to 1964, dimes were composed of 90 percent silver, and the rest nickel. Dimes weigh 2.268 grams, reports the U.S. Mint.
The quarter, worth 25 cents, is made of the same composition as the current dime: 8.33 percent nickel and the rest copper. In 1932, George Washington’s face debuted on the quarter, and at this time, the quarter comprised 100 percent silver. In 1965, cupro-nickel was required in coins; therefore, the composition changed to the today's mixture of copper and nickel, according to the U.S. Mint. The current quarter weighs 5.67 grams.
- Phil Ashley/Lifesize/Getty Images