First of all, we’re not really friends with the U.S. Mint because it’s not a person and besides, we’ve never met it and thus have no idea if it would even laugh at all our jokes or if it likes a nice glass of wine. Everyone likes money though — unless that money looks funny. Say, a brown nickel? Would that throw you off, would you reject it as a currency? Because the Mint would like to know.
Judging by the reaction of Fortune reporter Caroline Fairchild when she was confronted with a brown nickel at the Mint’s research and development lab, weird coins might not go over so well.
“I am immediately thrown off by both its light feel and dark hue,” she writes. “There is no way anyone would ever think this is a real, I keep thinking.”
Making it seem real is the goal of the Mint’s research, as officials keep trying to figure out alternative metals they can use to bring down the production costs at the agency..
Scientists have narrowed down the metals to six potential metal alloys for pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters that could trim $30 to $40 million off the government’s costs every year. That brown nickel — really a copper-plated zinc coin — is just experiment.
Before you’re confronted with a strange currency, the Mint is now starting a study this year to see if the look, feel, and color of coins actually matters much. You can’t see a bitcoin and yet people use it, so what’s the difference? Maybe not much in theory, but when confronted with weird coins, the Mint doesn’t want people to flip out and reject them.
“There could be a new metal that could work that would have transition costs, but it is really all about how people use their coins,” Deputy Director Richard Peterson explains. “What will people say when you feel what you felt [in that lab]? That’s what we need to go and figure out.”
We’ll give you a start, Mint. Just because we’re nice.
Is America ready for a brown nickel? [Fortune]