Copper has Played a Key Role in the History of Coins
Copper has been used to make coins for currency since about 600BC – see The Timeline of Copper. The ancient Romans recognised the value of this material and used a wide variety of copper coins.
Centuries later, the Gold Standard gave way to the Copper Standard for coins of all values due to copper’s long-lasting properties.
Even today, when consumers are surveyed about copper, the most popular association comes with currency and coins. Anglo-Saxon countries like England and the United States have long used copper for their most popular coins, such as the penny.
Nowadays, copper and its alloys continue to be chosen for coinage. Euro coins have copper as their base.
Copper and its alloys are easily made into coins, thanks to their workability, and have an extraordinary resistance to impact and wear: these features are indispensable to items continuously subject to handling.
Their corrosion resistance is well-known, which is why several ancient objects (many coins among them) have lasted almost unaltered up to the present day, even if exposed to atmospheric agents or submerged in seawater.
Copper alloys, beyond being infinitely recyclable, may offer different colours depending on the percentage content and other metals. For example, the golden-yellow 10, 20 and 50 euro cents coins are 89% copper.
Finally, euro coins must have precise electrical and magnetic features, in order to be recognisable by vending machines. The addition of nickel can modulate the magnetic permeability of the alloys, while the electrical conductivity of 10, 20 and 50 coins is one seventh that of pure copper.
|Coins and Content|
|10, 20 and 50 cent||CuAl5Zn5Sn1|
|1 and 2 euro||CuNi25|
|1 and 2 euro||CuZn20Ni5|
Copper and the Euro
Why was copper chosen?
Its history as a material for currency is just one of the reasons why the adopters of the euro chose to use copper in each of the coins introduced in twelve European countries in January 2002. Copper’s excellent resistance to corrosion made it appealing for the euro designers who required a non-tarnishable surface and an average lifetime for the coins of 30 years.
Copper’s excellent malleability allows clear images and distinct edging on all the coins. The latter is especially important for the visually impaired. Each coin denomination has a separate edge design to facilitate recognition. Copper’s electrical conducting properties, which result in highly specific electronic signatures, are critical to providing the security safeguards necessary for use in the myriad of vending and coin handling machines across Europe.
Another attribute that made copper the metal of choice for the euro currency is its low risk of inducing allergic reaction. In an era of sustainable development, the total recyclability of copper made it ideal for this new generation of coins throughout the euro countries.
Copper’s performance attributes will help preserve the visual appearance and longevity of the coins in everyday use. While the copper blanks are produced at a number of locations, the national mints produce the national coins. Copper is considered to be the most historical coin metal and its unique properties have long proven their worth for mankind. It is no wonder that copper and its alloys continue to be selected for modern coinage throughout the world, and that it was the metal of choice for the historic moment when twelve countries joined together under one currency.
How much copper was needed?
The initial production of blank coins throughout the Eurozone required around 180,000 tonnes of copper. Divided over two years, this quantity represented about 2% of the annual copper usage in Europe. Coin blanks were produced at plants broadly across Europe. The number of coins minted for each country varied based on population and historical usage patterns. For example, Italy needed 13 billion coins, while Portugal needed just 1.2 billion.
Recyclability of copper
Most of the material used for the minting of the coins was new. Only when existing national coins were withdrawn from circulation did the market have material to recycle. Old coins were sent back to various metal refining facilities where the different materials were separated and then re-used in a broad range of applications.
CRU estimated that 85,000 tonnes of copper were recycled. For copper, it is thought that 80% of all the material mined over the centuries is still in use today.
The Euro design
Euro coins have one common side with the same designs across all euro-area countries, and a national side designed by each participating country. Luc Luycx, a graphic designer of the Belgian Royal Mint, designed the European side with basic elements in the design showing a map of the European Union in different forms with a dynamic background composed of stars.
The common sides of the eight euro coins have different designs:
- 2 and 1 euro, 50, 20 and 10 cent show either the European Union before its enlargement on 1st May 2004 or, as of 1st January 2007, a geographical image of Europe.
- 5, 2 and 1 cent show Europe in relation to Africa and Asia on a globe.
|Composition of Euro Coins
(Images courtesy European Central Bank)
|Copper covered steel|
|Copper covered steel|
Weight: 3.92 g
|Copper covered steel|
25% nickel clad on nickel core
Weight: 7.50g (inner 3.71g/outer 3.79g)
5% nickel clad on nickel core
Weight: 8.50g (inner 4.10g/outer 4.40g)
Q1 Are the 1, 2 and 5 cent euro coins pure copper?
No, they are made from steel coated with a thin layer of copper.
Q2 Why are copper and copper alloys used in coinage?
Since ancient times copper has been used in coins; the Romans used copper widely in this application. The reasons for using copper are its excellent corrosion resistance, ease of stamping, good electrical conductivity for vending machines and ease of recycling.