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Understanding the Composition of Coins

Instructor: Andrew Coley

Andy is an instructional coach and curriculum specialist. He's working on a Masters of Educational Leadership and is also an aspiring author for kids.

Do you ever think about what those coins in your pocket are really made of? In this lesson you will learn about the alloys used to create coins in Australia, and how the composition of coins has changed over time.

When you are baking a cake, you usually mix flour, sugar, a couple eggs, milk, butter, and other ingredients in a big bowl, then put it in the oven, and out comes a cake! What if I told you that coins are not that much different from cakes in the way they are made? Sounds a little crazy, but it's true!

Composition of Coins

The composition of a coin tells you what kinds of metals are found in a coin, and how much. Around the globe, coins are made up of all different types of metals in varying amounts. Today, coins in Australia are made using alloys, or mixtures of elements of which at least one is a metal. But it was not always this way.

History of Coins

In the late 1700s, traders in Australia were using coins from Europe, including Britain and Spain, to do their business. The first official coin of Australia was the British cartwheel penny, which was a copper coin made in 1797. After gold was discovered in Australia in the 1850s, gold coins were produced by mints throughout Australia. When Australia became a commonwealth, it started using the pound, shilling, and pence system, like they did in England. In 1966, the currency system was converted to a decimal system, which is still used today. But even what goes into these coins has changed a lot over time.

These pennies were used before the conversion to the decimal system.
Pennies

Why the Change?

Coins look a lot different today than they did 100 years ago. The recipe used for today's coins serves the purpose of making sure that the coins will be around for a long time, and it took a while to get it just right. But what was wrong with using copper, silver, and gold for coins? For one thing, the prices of these metals changes constantly. That means that a coin could cost more to make than it's worth today. Making coins out of alloys also makes coins stronger, so that they last longer. Coins made of alloys are also less likely to be affected by corrosion, or the deterioration of metal due to exposure to water and air.

Composition of Coins in Australia

Let's pretend that you have a pocketful of coins. What metals and alloys would you have in your pocket? Let's find out.

What are these coins made of?
Like these coins.

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