Geek Trivia

Which U.S. Coin Has A Value Equal To Its Mass?

Cats And Other Animals Used In Genetic Research Gain What Novel Ability?

Answer: Nickel

Among all U.S. coins there is one coin that has a curious intersection of mass and value: the nickel. The coin weighs exactly 5.000 grams per U.S. Mint specification and has a value of exactly 5 cents.

That intersection is largely due to chance as no other U.S. coins share the arrangement and the weight of the nickel has fluctuated significantly over the last two-hundred-odd years. The original nickel, known as the “half dime” was established by the Mint Act of 1792 with a weight set at 1.2 grams of pure silver (pennies back then weighed a whopping 17.1 grams and were made of pure copper).

In 1866 the nickel was overhauled and weight increased to 5 grams; this had little to do with any practical consideration or novelty of having a five cent coin weigh five grams and everything to do with the influence of Joseph Wharton on the congress of the day. Wharton had a near monopoly on nickel production in the United States and wanted the U.S. Mint to buy up as much of his nickel reserves as possible. Although the physical size of the nickel has changed since then, the weight has remained the same.

Although the official value of a nickel has remained five cents for over a century, be careful to examine your nickels closely before dumping them in a vending machine. The rarest of nickels, the 1913 Liberty Head Nickel, has sold for $3,737,500 at auction; using our worth-it’s-weight analogy that makes the value of the Liberty Head Nickel 74.75 million times its weight.

Image courtesy of the U.S. Mint.