Wednesday 12 July 2023

How big is a million?

This big:

The Reyes were clearing out the family home in Pico-Union, LA County, CA when they found a handful of early 20thC US cents secreted in a basement crawl-space. Further investigation revealed A Lot more: a whole hape, indeed. It seems like their immigrant ancestor had bought a tonne of 1¢ coins when he heard that the US treasury planned to debase the coinage from bronze [95% copper, 5% tin and zinc] to zinc-coated steel in 1943 as a wartime copper-shortage measure. Not very patriotic and The UK Daily Mail pointed out that the hoarder, Fritz, was, like, German. In WWII California, German immigrants [b/c white] were treated with a lot more respect than their Japanese immigrant neighbours.

This is a happy story that helps news outlets sell product, so it was widely reported that a) there were 1 million coins in the hoard b) that the face value was, therefore $10,000 c) that the finder family were hoping to have someone with cheap time take them all off their hands for $25,000. I had a lot of questions:

  1. Does the NBC picture above contain 1 million cents?
  2. What is the pile's value as copper?
  3. How big is a cent anyway?

After the War, the Feds went back to bronze pennies = 1¢ and held the line until 1982, when they switched to copper-clad [2.5%] zinc [97.5%] coins. The reason that Euro 1¢ became as small as shirt-buttons [before being de-circulated] was to keep the cost of minting below the face value. Not to mention that if the melt value of copper exceeds the face value then entrepreneurs [go capitalism!] will siphoning all the coins out of circulation and retailers can't make change for their fatuous $19.99 prices.

Q3, first. The 1942 US 1¢ was 19mm ⌀ and 1.5mm thick. A dollar roll of pennies is therefore 15cm long and 20mm across and weighed 3g. In the photo at Top, part of the hoard is boxed rolls valued to $50 or $25. $50 box volume is 50 x 2cm x 2cm x 15cm = 3 lt. There are 22½ of them which is worth, as indicated, just over $1,000. The crates behind the boxes look like standard US 24 quart = 6 gallon size. Which are functionally equivalent to our "Tesco" crates.  I suppose that 8 of the cardboard boxes could snuggle down together in each crate?  A US quart being very close to a litre tho only 16/20th of a British "Imperial" quart.

Q1. And I s'pose that the whole heap is about 10x the proportion boxed up. So that's the million cents.

Q2. The price of copper spiked at the turn of the century and is currently about $4/lb or 2.4c/g. That's where the finder-family is getting the $25,000 valuation on their windfall.

In 2007, the Feds passed legislation making it illegal to export or profit from the melting down of nickels 5¢ and pennies 1¢. "Pursuant to this authority, the Secretary of the Treasury has determined that, to protect the coinage of the United States, it is necessary to generally prohibit the exportation, melting, or treatment of 5-cent and one-cent coins minted and issued by the United States. The Secretary has made this determination because the values of the metal contents of 5-cent and one-cent coins are in excess of their respective face values, raising the likelihood that these coins will be the subject of recycling and speculation." So the melt-value of the Pico-Union pile is moot? It is, however, within the rights of residents & citizens to deface, deform and hammer flat small US coins. If you want to make a pair of ear-rings for your nibling from cents minted in their birth-year, that's fine.

I'm glad we sorted that out, so.

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