How Long Does US Coinage Last?

I ask because in looking at my pocket change, I see nothing minted earlier than 1977. I know that coins are pretty sturdy buggers…theoretically, a US quarter should last centuries.
I know that Lyndon Johnson recalled virtually allof pre-1968 silver coinage (the US mint melted down most of the silver coins), so it is unlikely that you will see US silver coins still circulating. But, take pennies…I haven’t seen one of the old Lincoln pennies in years…there must be jillions of these things out there. How about those S. B. Anthony dollars-they seem to have disappeared, as have the “Sackies”.
And, I havent seen one of those steel -wartime pennies in a while.
What is the “half life” of coinage…has the mint figured out how long a given date will last in circulation?

I can’t give you a detailed number of years, but it’s perfectly possible for coins to physically last many decades. I’ve often seen (in pre-Euro times, of course) 1949 and 1950 coins here in Germany, and I don’t see any reason why it should be different for US currency (from my last stay in America, I still have some change left, and there’s a 1963 penny among it).
I guess rare coins with some historical value, such as wartime coins, get taken out of circulation by collectors. For pennies, according toCecil they tend to disappear myteriously, never to be seen again into penny jars, falling under your bed and whatever, or being lost and not considered worthy to be picked up by anyone, or whatever. Quote:
“The mint makes something like 13 billion pennies a year, accounting for two-thirds of all U.S. coinage. Half of these pennies will disappear from circulation within a year, having been squirreled away in penny jars and who knows where else. The U.S. General Accounting Office estimates that of the roughly 170 billion pennies currently in existence, two-thirds have been effectively withdrawn from circulation by people who think they’re too much trouble to carry around.”
Concerning the dollar coins, I’ve heard they’re still around in America, but people dislike them, preferring greenbacks, and that’s why the project or replacing oen dollar bills with coins has been discontinued. But presumably you can get them at banks if you explicitly ask for them.

From the US Mint home page:

Some coins left circulation before the end of their lifespan because they were made of silver.

If you look at your quarters regularly you will find lots of 1965s. That was the first year they made quarters after switching from silver and they made over 1.8 billion that year.

You should be able to find many 1960 pennies too. And you can probably find nickels from the 50s too.

The key to this is when people start taking them out of circulation and storing them away because they feel it’s worth something.

1¢ - Wheat backs are taken out.
5¢ - 30s & 40s are taken out when people notice them. Especially the silver wartime nickels with the mint marks on the back over the Jefferson memorial.
10¢ - Everything from the silver days is gone (that is 1964 and earlier. If you do find any know that it was most likely stolen from somebody’s coin collection. Everything afterwards is still in circulation.
25¢ - Same as the dime.

Silver coins still seem to turn up once in a great while, though I haven’t seen one lately. What amazed me was getting an Indian head nickel in my change about a year ago.

A serious coin collector can indicate what coins have special value and will be withdrawn from circulation – I know that the 1955 double-struck and 1960 small-date pennies were rare and promptly went into collections and stashes. But we’ve used the same shape of all change-for-a-dollar coins since before the Vietnam War. Here’s a brief runthrough:

Lincoln cent: replaced the Indian Head in 1909; moved to Lincoln Memorial reverse (from wheat ears surrounding “ONE CENT”) in 1959.

Jefferson “nickel”: Replaced buffalo nickel in late 30’s (1938 sticks in my mind, but I’m not sure that’s accurate)

Roosevelt dime: Replaces “Mercury” (actually Liberty with winged hairpiece) in 1946, commemorating “March of Dimes” originally for polio

Washington quarter: Replaces Standing Liberty quarter in 1932 (Washington’s 200th birthday). 1998 adoption of state-specific reverses is first change in $0.xx coinage since 1964.

Kennedy half dollar: Replaces Franklin half in 1964; Franklin replaced walking Liberty in 1948.

I don’t need to rehearse the vagaries of the dollar coin here, I don’t think.

U.S. coins for general circulation over $1 were all gold, and were terminated early in the Roosevelt presidency. They included the $2.50 quarter eagle, the $5 half eagle, the $10 eagle, and the $20 double eagle – the last arguably the most beautiful American coin ever minted.

Nope! Johnson didn’t recall anything. And the US MInt didn’t melt down anything.

Before 1965, US dimes, quarters and halves were 90% silver. Halves only from 1965-1970 were 40% silver.

I would estimate that less than half of all silver coins made from 1930-1964 were melted. There’ll always be enough to go around.

I used to collect coins so as a habit I look at the dates on my change. This year alone I have received a handful of 1941 nickels, a few dimes between 1950 and 1955, lots of 40’s pennies, and three weeks ago, a 1918 penny. I especially like silver quarters when they turn up. I like to make rings out of them. My grandfather used to do it with a spoon, but I lack the patience and use a small hammer. When it gets to size you carefully cut out the inside and then the inside rim of the ring usually still shows the date.

I really enjoy the 1918 penny. It is so incredibly worn that it is almost a slug. I know it was never in a collection so I look at it every couple of days and wonder where this thing has been and who may have carried it. I have a very good condition 1909 VDB that isn’t nearly as interesting.

There are a lot of old coins still out there but not many people look at the dates, and even fewere really care if they notice. It’s just old metal to them. The worn ones I will usually recirculate as they aren’t worth anything, but the penny I’ll always keep.