What Are Clad Coins: A Beginners’ Guide

Some coin collectors refer to clad coins as “the ugly ducklings of U.S. numismatics.” Do you know what these “ugly ducklings” are? In this guide, we’ll answer the question, “What are clad coins?” and explain whether they make a good investment.

What Are Clad Coins?

Clad coins, also known as sandwich metal coins, are coins made of multiple layers of metal. The vast majority of clad coins in circulation today have three metal layers.

Most U.S. clad coins at present have a core of pure copper surrounded by two identical layers of a nickel-copper alloy resembling silver. The U.S. half dollar, Washington quarters, and Roosevelt dimes are common examples.

The Sacagawea Dollar, the Presidential Dollars, and other “golden” coins are also clad coins. They have a pure copper core with outer layers of copper, manganese, nickel, and zinc alloy.

Note that clad coins are not the same as bi-metallic coins. Clad coins have an inner metal core sandwiched between two or more layers of different metals. Bi-metallic coins also use two or more metals, but their placement in the coin is different — usually, there are visible inner and outer metal rings, like in the Canadian two-dollar coin.

Brief History of Clad Coins

stack coins on the very left side

Throughout the history of U.S. minting, the intrinsic value of the metal has sometimes surpassed the coins’ face value.

A famous early example was the small cent in 1856. Due to rising copper prices, the U.S. Mint reduced the weight of copper pennies from 10.886 grams of pure copper to just 4.670 grams of copper alloy. Otherwise, people would melt the large cents for their copper value, effectively removing them from circulation and causing a small change shortage.

In the mid-1960s, the same economic forces led to a complete overhaul of silver coinage in the U.S. The Coinage Act of July 23, 1965, replaced 90% silver coins with much cheaper, clad composition coins of a pure copper core and a thin copper-nickel outer layer for dimes, quarters, and later half dollars.

Composition of Clad Coins

Most U.S. clad coins consist of pure copper and a copper-nickel alloy.

  • Layers of clad coins. Clad coins are typically made from three layers of metal: an inner core bonded to two identical outer layers.
  • Materials used. Most clad coins circulating in the U.S. today consist of an inner copper core and two outer layers made of a copper-nickel alloy that looks like silver. The copper-nickel layer covers the entire front and back of the coin. There are also coins that feature an outer manganese brass layer made of copper, zinc, manganese, and nickel.

What Are the Types of Clad Coins?

Common types of clad coins include:

  • Copper-nickel clad. Until 1965, the U.S. quarter, dime, and half-dollar contained 90% silver and 10% copper. Today, they are clad coins made of 91.7% copper and 8.3% nickel.
  • Brass-clad. The 1962-1982 “bronze” Lincoln cents were actually made from brass. In 1962, the U.S. Mint eliminated zinc from the original 95% copper alloy due to rising zinc prices.
  • Silver-clad. From 1920 to 1965, U.S. coins had a 90% silver content. After 1965, the U.S. Mint stopped producing silver coins as they were no longer economically viable and replaced them with clad coins, including some silver-clad ones like the Kennedy half dollars from 1965 to 1970 and the Eisenhower dollars from 1971 to 1976. Interestingly, pure silver coins make a higher-pitched noise when you drop them, whereas clad coins sound duller.
  • Gold-clad. Since 2000, the U.S. Mint has struck “golden” dollars. Contrary to what the name suggests, these coins don’t actually contain gold. They feature a pure copper core and an outer layer of manganese brass, which is responsible for the golden color.
  • Platinum-clad. Platinum-layered coins only function as collectible items, especially as replicas of pure platinum coins such as the 1997 American Platinum Eagle or the One Trillion-Dollar Trial Coin.

Advantages of Clad Coins Over Other Coins

hammering a strip of metal

Clad coins have numerous benefits over “traditional” coins, including:

  • Durability. Clad is significantly more durable than silver, which is softer and wears down considerably faster in circulation.
  • Cost-effectiveness. Modern copper-nickel-clad coinage is much cheaper to produce than the older 90% silver coins.
  • Anti-counterfeiting measures. When the U.S. Mint sought to replace the old silver coins in the mid-1960s, it had to ensure they passed counterfeit rejection devices in vending machines. Clad metal composition allowed the Mint to create a coin with the same properties as a 90% silver coin, but much cheaper.

Should You Collect Clad Coins?

Clad coins aren’t just for everyday circulation. Many countries make special collector editions, including proof sets and clad coins with special finishes.

The U.S. Mint makes a proof set of the circulating coins every year. Between 2005 until 2010, the Mint also made satin-finished coins for the Uncirculated Mint Sets. In 2014, the Mint made a special anniversary Kennedy half-dollar coin set, followed by the 225th Anniversary Enhanced Uncirculated Coin Set in 2017.

Clad coins also appear in commemorative coin series. The half dollar commemorative coin is usually a clad coin and comes at a reasonable price.

Error coins, or coins that are missing a clad layer, are very rare and valuable coins that may sell for hundreds to even thousands of dollars apiece.

Are Clad Coins Considered Good Investments?

a chest with gold coins

Investing in collectible or rare clad coins can be a great way to diversify your portfolio. Of course, like with any investment, you need to know what you are doing and what you are buying. It’s always best to seek advice from a professional financial adviser who specializes in coins.

Invest in Clad Coins With Oxford Gold Group

Now that you know the answer to the question, “What are clad coins?” you may want to take the next step and look into clad coin investing.

Our free investment guide is a great way to get started and learn more about investing in coins and precious metals. If you have questions or want to learn more about our coin investing services, call Oxford Gold Group at 833-600-GOLD.

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