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Nickel.  A metallic element, of silver-gray color and often alloyed with copper and other metals for a coinage metal. Numismatic items have been struck in pure nickel, but as such it is very hard and difficult to strike. Coins with high nickel alloy do have one interesting characteristic – they are magnetic (the magnetic quality diminishes with the reduction of nickel in the alloy below 45%, however). Nickel is most useful as an alloy with copper, to form copper-nickel, or with zinc and copper to form nickel-silver. Even as little as 20% nickel in a copper-nickel alloy effects the color: it is gray (from the nickel) to supersede the copper red color. Nickel appears in a wide number of coinage alloys.

Nickel is also widely used in electroplating where it applies a hard, durable briht gray surface, closely resembling silver in an electroplated surface. Nickel was infrequently plated on dieshells in the 1930s for additional hardness when it was known the dieshells would be used a number of times. The Canadian Mint experimented with plating their coining dies with nickel, but ultimately choose chromium as a more satisfactory technique.

Nickel coins.  Switzerland, Canada and a few other countries have issued high nickel-content coins. So much, in fact, the coins are magnetic. Also, two each U.S. 1875 and 1876 nickel three cent pieces were struck in pure nickel (which were presented to Joseph Wharton, and since disappeared). Coins of these dates should be tested with a magnet.

Nickel medals.  Award medals in pure nickel have been struck for the International Nickel Company but such medals are always low relief attesting to the difficulty of striking or coining a high relief pure nickel medal.  See composition (2).


excerpted with permission from

An Encyclopedia of Coin and Medal Technology

For Artists, Makers, Collectors and Curators


Roger W. Burdette, Editor

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