The coinage metals comprise those metallic chemical elements and alloys which have been used to mint coins. Historically, most coinage metals are from the three nonradioactive members of group 11 of the periodic table: copper, silver and gold. Copper is usually augmented with tin or other metals to form bronze. Gold, silver and bronze or copper were the principal coinage metals of the ancient world, the medieval period and into the late modern period when the diversity of coinage metals increased. Coins are often made from more than one metal, either using alloys, coatings (cladding/plating) or bimetallic configurations. While coins are primarily made from metal, some non-metallic materials have also been used.[1]


Early coinage made from metal came into use during the Axial Age in the Greek world, in northern India, and in China, as coins became a widespread embodiment of money.[2] Bronze, gold, silver and electrum (a naturally occurring pale yellow mixture of gold and silver that was further alloyed with silver and copper) were used. Silver coins from about 700 BC, are known from Aegina Island.[3] Early electrum coins from Ephesus, Lydia date from about 650 BC.[4] Ancient India in 6th century BC, was also one of the earliest issuers of coins in the world.[5]

The gold Croeseids, issued in Lydia, were the first true gold coins with a standardized purity for general circulation. The gold and silver Croeseids formed the world's first bimetallic monetary system, c. 550 BC.[6] The Persian daric was also an early gold coin which, along with a similar silver coin, the siglos, (from Ancient Greek σίγλος, Hebrew שֶׁקֶל (shékel)) represented the bimetallic monetary standard of the Achaemenid Persian Empire.[7] These coins were also very well known in the Persian and Sassanids era, most notably, in Susa and in Ctesiphon.

Precious metals were used historically in commodity money and are found in bullion coins and some collectable coins. Coins functioning as fiat money are now made from a larger variety of base metals.

Multiple metals

Coins may be composed of multiple metals using alloys, coatings, or bimetallic forms. Coin alloys include bronze, electrum and cupronickel. Plating, cladding or other coating methods are used to form an outer layer of metal and are typically used to replace a more expensive metal while retaining the former appearance. For example, United States cents since 1982 are zinc with copper-plating, and thus retain their prior copper look while having a less expensive composition.[8] Coatings may also be used as a form of debasement in commodity money. Bimetallic coins are used for their distinctive appearance and generally have an outer ring of one metal or alloy surrounding a center of contrasting metal.[9]

Requirements for a coinage metal

Coins that are intended for circulation may circulate for decades and thus must have excellent resistance to wear and corrosion. Achieving this goal typically necessitates the use of base metal alloys. In addition, some metals, such as manganese, are unsuitable as they are too hard to take an impression well or are apt to wear out stamping machines at the mint.

When minting coins, especially low denomination coins, there is a risk that the value of metal within a coin is greater than the face value, leading to negative seigniorage. This leads to the possibility of smelters taking coins and melting them down for the scrap value of the metal. Pre-1992 British pennies were made of 97% copper; but as of 2008, based on the price of copper, the value of a penny from this period is 1.5 new-pence. Modern British pennies are now made of copper-plated steel.

Cupronickel, a base metal alloy with varying proportions of copper and nickel, was introduced as a cheaper alternative for silver in coinage. Cupronickel, most commonly 75% copper, 25% nickel, has a silver color, is hard wearing and has excellent striking properties, essential for the design of the coin to be pressed accurately and quickly during manufacture. However, in the 21st century with the prices of both copper and nickel rising, it has become common to experiment with various alloys of steel, often stainless steel as an even cheaper alternative. For example, in India some coins have been made from a stainless steel that contains 82% iron, 18% chromium, and many other countries that have minted coins that contain metals now worth nearly the coin face-value, are experimenting with various steel alloys. Italy had earlier experimented with acmonital, a stainless steel alloy, for its coins.[10]

A number of more exotic metals have been used to make demonstration or fantasy coins which have not been used to make monetized coins for a nation-state. Some of these elements would make excellent coins in theory (e.g. zirconium). More expensive metals that are intrinsically valuable as commodities are less practical as coinage due to their cost, but could be used for bullion coins.

Chemical elements used in circulating coins

This list is incomplete; you can help by adding missing items. (May 2021)
Element Example usage
Aluminium First issued 1907 for circulation by East Africa & Uganda Protectorates, though earlier patterns exist
Antimony Used in Guizhou, China 10 cents coin of 1931. Used in medallion medal alloys
Carbon In all steel and iron coins. A few "pressed galvanic coal" Notgeld coins were minted during hyperinflation in post WWI Germany
Chromium Used for plating coins and in some rare hard stainless steel coins
Copper Many coins throughout history were made of gold, silver and copper.
Iron Numerous Chinese cash coins were made of iron, with the first being issued by the Han dynasty in 118 BCE. From 1942 through 1952, some of the Swedish krona coins – such as the 1, 2 and 5 öre – were made of iron.
Lead Most commonly seen in southeast Asian coinage. Certain 19th-century Japanese coins are also made of lead, such as those issued by Yonezawa in the 1860s.
Manganese American wartime "silver nickels" were composed of 56% copper, 35% silver, and 9% manganese. The reason given for this composition is that it matched the magnetic and electrical properties of 75% copper/25% nickel nickels, which was important for vending machines. Modern American dollars contain a small amount of manganese.
Magnesium Magnesium-aluminum coins were issued in 1943 for the Lodz Ghetto mark in Poland. Magnesium is a minor additive in many aluminum coins; this alloy is called magnalium.
Nickel Used unknowingly in alloys since antiquity. The first pure nickel coin was the Swiss 20 Rappen of 1881. A book published by the International Nickel Company of Canada in 1933 lists dozens of coins minted out of nickel.
Platinum The Russian 3, 6, and 12 ruble coins of Nicholas I, issued 1828–1845, were the world's only circulating platinum coins. Numerous bullion coins have been issued.
Tin Portuguese Malacca 1521–1557 bastardo; Malaysia tin hat money; Great Britain farthing and halfpenny 1684–1692; Thailand satangs from the 1940s.
Zinc Twelfth century Indian coins were made of zinc. Vietnamese cash coins of the 1800s were made of zinc, as was the Vietnamese Tonkin 1/600 piastre of 1905. Zinc was a common metal of choice for American "good-for" tokens.

In 1992, twenty-four chemical elements used in world coinage were documented by Jay and Marieli Roe in an award-winning exhibit and publication: aluminum, antimony, carbon, cobalt, copper, gold, hafnium, iron, lead, magnesium, molybdenum, nickel, niobium, palladium, platinum, rhenium, silver, tantalum, tin, titanium, tungsten, vanadium, zinc and zirconium.[11][12] Chromium and manganese, however, were not mentioned, even though both elements had been used in common circulation coins (Canada wartime V nickels and US wartime Jefferson nickels, respectively) long before the article's publication.


Chemical elements used in non-circulating commemorative, demo, bullion or fantasy coins, medals, patterns, and trial strikes:

Element Series

Beginning in 2006, Dave Hamric (Metallium)[17] has been attempting to strike "coins" (technically tokens or medals, about the size of a US cent) of every stable chemical element. He has struck tokens of the following elements, apparently not only metals: aluminium, antimony, barium (reactive, sealed in glass capsule), beryllium, bismuth, boron (mixed with binder, sealed in resin cast), cadmium, calcium (reactive, sealed in glass capsule), carbon (mixed with binder, sealed in resin cast), cerium (reactive, sealed in glass capsule), chromium, cobalt, copper, dysprosium, erbium, europium (reactive, sealed in glass capsule), gadolinium, gallium, gold, hafnium, holmium, indium, iridium, iron, lanthanum (reactive, sealed in glass capsule), lead, lutetium, magnesium, mercury (sealed in resin cast, containing the expected coin-weight of liquid mercury), molybdenum, neodymium (reactive, sealed in glass capsule), nickel, niobium, palladium, phosphorus (mixed with binder, sealed in resin cast), platinum, praseodymium (reactive, sealed in glass capsule), rhenium, rhodium, ruthenium, samarium (reactive, sealed in glass capsule), scandium, selenium, silver, strontium (reactive, sealed in glass capsule), sulfur, tantalum, tellurium, terbium, thallium (extremely poisonous; lead token clad on one side with thallium foil and sealed in resin), thulium, tin, titanium, uranium (not offered for sale),[18] vanadium, ytterbium, yttrium, zinc, zirconium.

Non-metallic materials used for circulating coins

Material Example of usage
Cardboard Cardboard, 15 kopecks (1915, Russian Empire)
Ceramics 75 pfennig, notgeld, Zielona Góra (then Grünberg in Schlesien), 1922
Charcoal or similar 1000 mark private notgeld, Conradty Company, 1922)
Fiber 1 and 5 fen coins, Manchukuo, 1944–45.
Glass The Poland 10 zloty coin of 2008 has a glass center, as does a Congo 1000 francs coin issued in 2015.
Leather Leather rubles of the Russian-American Company in Alaska.[19] American depression scrip in the 1930s.
Paper Paper 50 kopecks (1923, Soviet Russia). Leiden issued coins made out of the pages of prayer books in 1574 as an emergency issue, making them the first issuers outside of China to issue paper money.
Plastic Transnistrian rubla coins
Porcelain Porcelain 50 Pfennig Notgeld (1927, Bavaria) produced at the Meissen Porcelain Works[20]
Silk Silk money from Khorezm, in Uzbekistan[21] and other central Asian countries around the 1930s. Bielefeld notgeld in the 1920s.
Stone Rai stones from Yap island
Wood Used in Japan in the 1860s, for Austrian and German notgelds in the 1920s, and Tenino in the 1930s. A Congo 5 francs coin issued in 2006 was perhaps the first 'official' wooden coin.

See also


  1. ^ Clayton, Tony (28 May 2020). "Metals Used in Coins and Medals". Retrieved 12 November 2023.
  2. ^ Focardi, Sergio M. (19 March 2018). "3.1: Some brief remarks on money throughout history". Money: What It Is, How It's Created, Who Gets It, and Why It Matters. Economics in the Real World. Abingdon: Taylor & Francis. ISBN 9781315391045. Retrieved 18 April 2023. The idea of coinage follows almost naturally from the use of metal as a commodity for exchange. [...] Graeber [...] connects the Axial Age to the first coinage, noting that the three parts of the world where coins were first used correspond to the very parts of the world where religious and philosophical creativity thrived, that is, the kingdoms and city-states around the shores of the Aegean Sea, in the Ganges valley in northern India, and around the Yellow River in China [...].
  3. ^ "Ancient coinage of Aegina".
  4. ^ "World's Oldest Coin - First Coins".
  5. ^ See: Coinage of India and History of the rupee
  6. ^ Metcalf, William E. (2016). The Oxford Handbook of Greek and Roman Coinage. Oxford University Press. pp. 49–50. ISBN 9780199372188.
  7. ^ Michael Alram, "DARIC", Encyclopaedia Iranica, December 15, 1994, last updated November 17, 2011
  8. ^ Potter, Ken (May 2, 2019). "Second 1982-D Small Date Copper Alloy Lincoln Cent Discovered". Retrieved January 6, 2024.
  9. ^ "History of Bimetallic Coins". Retrieved 2019-04-09.
  10. ^ New York Times Archives (1939-06-04). "COINS OF STEEL ALLOY FOR ITALY". New Netherlands Coin Co. Retrieved 2010-04-23.
  11. ^ Roe, Jay; Roe, Marieli (1992-02-17). "World's Coinage Uses 24 Chemical Elements (Part 1)". World Coin News. pp. 24–25.
  12. ^ Roe, Jay; Roe, Marieli (1992-03-02). "World's Coinage Uses 24 Chemical Elements (Part 2)". World Coin News. pp. 18–19.
  13. ^ Wuerst, E. A. (1868). Die Münzen und Medaillen Bonns. pp. 51–.
  14. ^ Frank, René. "List of all Palladium coins (1966-2019)". Heusenstamm, Germany. Retrieved 5 May 2021.
  15. ^ World Firsts. Pobjoy Mint
  16. ^ Schwankner, Robert Josef; Eigenstetter, Michael; Laubinger, Rudolf; Schmidt, Michael (2005). "Strahlende Kostbarkeiten: Uran als Farbkörper in Gläsern und Glasuren" (PDF). Physik in unserer Zeit. 36 (4): 160. Bibcode:2005PhuZ...36..160S. doi:10.1002/piuz.200501073. S2CID 119838407.
  17. ^ "The collection Dave Hamric in the Periodic Table".
  18. ^ "92U Depleted Uranium 'element coin' token made by Dave Hamric (Metallium)". Omnicoin.
  19. ^ Шиканова И.С. Денежные знаки Российско-Американской компании первой половины XIX в. (Памятники денежного обращения XVIII — XX вв.) // Труды ГИМ. — Вып. 53. Нумизматический сборник. Ч. 7. — 1980. — С. 159—169
    Шиканова И.С. Новые материалы о денежных знаках Российско-Американской компании. (Новые нумизматические исследования). // Труды ГИМ. — Вып. 61. Нумизматический сборник. Ч. 9. — 1986. — С. 44—47.
  20. ^ "ФАРФОРОВЫЕ ДЕНЬГИ. Словарь нумизмата".
  21. ^ Normatov, Nodir; Sirtsowa, Yulia, eds. (2009). "Silk Money from Khorezm". San'at. No. 4. Translated by Davidova, Adelia. Academy of Arts of Uzbekistan.