If you have ever wondered what your coins are worth just based on the metal value, this is the site to go to. For example, if the bottom fell out of the U.S. Dollar, and people had to trade coins based on their intrinsic values alone, there was a point in time when the metal in a U.S. nickel was worth more than a Presidential Dollar!
Coinflation keeps a running total of U.S. and Canadian coin melt values calculated from the actual market values of the precious metals and bullion in them. They track current coins as well as older coins, so you can look up your Morgan Dollars, too. The site is run by Alec Nevalainen as a hobby, but to me it's essential daily reading, especially his coin-value-related news aggregator.
Why Does the Metal Value Matter?
For base metal coins, coins made from copper, nickel, zinc, aluminum, etc., this is usually not important. Unless the prices for these metals experience some sort of market fluctuation that drives the price unusually high. For example, in 2011 a pound of nickel was selling for over $14.00 USD per pound. In 2016, it dropped to less than $4.00 USD per pound. Copper was experiencing a similar peak in price at this time also.
A United States nickel is made with 75% copper and 25% nickel. In 2011, a United States nickel contained more than five cents worth of metal. Add the additional costs of labor to the manufacturing cost and it was costing more than five cents to make United States nickel. In other words, the United States was losing money on every nickel they minted.
Can You Melt Pennies and Nickels?
Because of the rising price of nickel and copper that began in 2005, the United States passed a law that made it illegal to melt pennies and nickels for their metal content. Additionally, it is illegal to carry more than five dollars worth of pennies and nickels outside of the United States when traveling. This also extends to shipments that are limited to $100 of the coins abroad "for legitimate coinage and numismatic purposes."
"The nation needs its coinage for commerce," U.S. Mint Director Ed Moy said in a statement. "We don't want to see our pennies and nickels melted down so a few individuals can take advantage of the American taxpayer. Replacing these coins would be an enormous cost to taxpayers."
Is It Legal to Melt Other Coins?
Currently (Feb. 2021), you can melt any other United States or foreign coin (with the exception of U.S. pennies and nickels). Many coin dealers buy old silver coins and gold coins strictly on their melt value. They then send these coins to refiners to be melted and made into bullion. Alternately, some bullion dealers will sell bags of $100-$1,000 of face value 90% silver coins as investments. This makes it very easy to trade between dealers and investors. Many of them use CoinFlation to calculate the value of silver in the coins that they are trading.
Many gold coins are specifically manufactured to be traded as bullion. For example, the South African Krugerrands, the Austrian Philharmonic gold coin, and the United States Gold Eagle. Before 1933, gold coins circulated regularly as a means of completing commercial transactions. Paper money was not widely accepted and only gold coins were worthy of completing large financial transactions.
In 1933, President Roosevelt recalled all gold coinage with the exception of "collectible gold coins" that have a numismatic value. Many people did not surrender their gold coins and claimed them as being part of their coin collection. This saved them from being melted down into gold bullion and eventually stored at Fort Knox.
When the spot price of gold starts rapidly increasing, many "generic" gold coins are traded for their bullion value and not for their numismatic value. For example, there is approximately three cents worth of copper in a pre-1982 United States penny. However, if it is in 1909-S VDB Lincoln cent, even in well-circulated condition, this coin is worth hundreds of dollars more than its intrinsic copper value.
This same concept holds true for gold coins. When the price of gold rises to the point that the bullion value of the coin exceeds its numismatic value, dealers will tend to sell these coins to gold refineries that will melt these coins into gold bullion. Therefore, some collectible gold coins will be lost from the numismatic community forever.
Edited by: James Bucki