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What's in a nickel (hint: not just nickel)

New U.S. nickels are shown on display at an unveiling ceremony January 12, 2006 in Washington, DC.

When a nickel is worth five cents, but costs ten cents to make, the U.S. Mint has to consider an update.  As extracting, transporting and engineering metals like copper and nickel gets more expensive, the Mint is weighing changes to composition of coins. 

"It's the same way that we absorb in music," said Garrett Burke, a coin enthusiast who designed the concept for the California state coin. "It used to be vinyl, then it went to digital, now we do downloads.  We can't expect the composition of the coin to remain the same, particularly when the costs go up."

For business owners who make their trade in change, some of these proposals are nervewracking. 

Roni Moore is vice president of marketing for the National Automatic Merchandising Association, which represents vending machine operators.

"We need the mint to understand that a redesign of currency would change the alloy content of coins, likely in a way that would force our vending companies to upgrade or replace coin acceptors," Moore says.

According to Moore's calculations, the process could cost between one hundred and five hundred dollars per machine, a formidable cost to small business owners.

About the author

Noel King is a reporter for Marketplace's Wealth and Poverty desk.

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