A quarter is not magnetic-not in the same way that a magnet sticks to a fridge, anyway.
This article talks about the properties of a quarter to answer why quarters in circulation today are not magnetic.
Then we explore the nature of magnetism and what it means for something to be magnetic to better understand why quarters are not attracted to magnets.
Finally, we compare the composition of quarters minted before 1964 to today–we uncover the magnetic property that is significant to their distinction.
Are Quarters Magnetic? (Explained)
What is a Quarter?
The Washington quarters we find in pocket change today are clad coins, or coins that are composed of multiple layers of different metals stacked atop one another.
Quarters minted from 1965 to the present day have unique properties including:
- Weight of 5.67 grams
- Two primary layers of metal on the outside
- Single solid copper metal core
- 91.67% copper metal composition
- 8.33% nickel alloy composition
- are 24.3 mm diameter
There is only one U.S. coin that is attracted to magnets.
Due to its silver metal steel composition, the 1943 steel penny can be picked up with a magnet.
However, U.S. Washington quarters are composed of other metal elements like copper and nickel.
Unlike steel, copper is not attracted to magnets, but nickel is in fact magnetic. Rather, nickel is fiercely magnetic.
To give some perspective of its strength, nickel is one of the elements making up the Earth’s core–and the Earth’s core is powerful enough that it generates its own magnetic field!
While nickel has strong magnetic properties, a quarter does not contain enough of it to be moved by an everyday magnet.
Therefore, quarters contain nickel, but not enough to be considered magnetic.
Let’s dig a little deeper to find out why a quarter is not magnetic.
What Does Magnetic Mean?
A magnet is an object which produces an invisible magnetic field.
The magnetic field causes some objects to be pulled or attracted to the magnet.
We can observe the effects of a magnetic field on an object such as metal. The observable force is magnetism.
What’s more, we can understand the magnetic properties of a metal object by seeing how it reacts to a magnet.
The metal object may repel or attract the magnet when in proximity to it’s magnetic field.
Not all materials are magnetic.
Materials like plastic, for instance, are not moved one way or another within a magnetic field.
Therefore, materials like plastic are considered non-magnetic.
A Quarter Has Diamagnetic Properties
An object’s magnetic properties determine how it will behave near a magnet.
Some materials require a very strong magnet to observe a magnetic reaction.
Materials may also be repelled rather than attracted.
In other words, a material may be paramagnetic, diamagnetic, or ferromagnetic.
An object has diamagnetic properties when it is repelled by a magnet.
Diamagnetic materials are slightly repelled by magnets and don’t retain any magnetic properties once they are no longer within the magnetic field.
An object has paramagnetic properties when it is weakly attracted to a magnet.
Paramagnetic material is slightly attracted to magnets and does not retain any magnetic properties once removed from the magnetic field. Includes:
An object has ferromagnetic properties when it is strongly attracted to a magnet.
Objects that are ferromagnetic are strongly attracted to magnets and, if placed in a strong magnetic field, can retain magnetic properties for some time after being removed.
For instance, a nail placed in the proximity of a strong magnet will become magnetized for a short time thereafter.
Paramagnetic and diamagnetic materials are considered non-magnetic by everyday standards.
Similarly, ferromagnetic materials are what we commonly observe as magnetic between everyday objects.
But this is not an entirely accurate representation of what is going on at levels which we cannot observe with the naked eye.
At least not without a very powerful magnet.
Why is a Quarter Not Magnetic?
As we’ve learned, quarters contain copper and nickel.
We’ve determined that nickel, while highly magnetic, is not the primary metal in a quarter nor is there enough of it for a magnet to pick up.
But what about copper?
Generally, we would not consider copper magnetic in the everyday sense because we cannot easily observe any magnetism when we attempt, for instance, to pick up a copper penny with a refrigerator magnet.
We would have to use an incredibly strong magnet to observe a reaction.
Furthermore, copper metal is a diamagnetic material.
Copper will repel a magnet rather than attract it.
A neodymium magnet is powerful enough to observe diamagnetism at play in metals like copper.
We can observe a quarter’s diamagnetic properties in action, if only very slightly.
If we hold a quarter at a 45 degree angle and attach a magnet to it, we can observe that the magnet will slide off the quarter slower than if the quarter were composed of non-magnetic material such as plastic.
Because the magnet is moving as it’s sliding off the quarter, it is creating an electrical field. This field slows it down as it slides off.
The current created by a moving magnetic field in a diamagnetic metal is sometimes referred to as an Eddy current.
Metals that are good conductors allow currents to pass through easily and some metals are better conductors than others.
For example, copper is a fine conductor, but silver is better.
While copper will have a diamagnetic reaction to a moving magnetic field, silver will have a stronger one.
When is it Helpful to Know the Magnetic Properties of a Quarter?
We have discussed the characteristics of Washington quarters dating from 1965 to the present day.
But Washington quarters have been in circulation since 1932.
Is the metal composition the same in older dated quarters as those we find in our loose change? Hardly.
Quarters produced by the U.S. mint from 1932 to 1964 are actually made of 10% copper and 90% silver.
In other words, if we stumbled upon a 1963 quarter today, it would contain 0.19 ounces of silver, making it worth a bit over $4.
Currently, silver is valued at approximately $23.68, which is the value of five or six pre-1965 quarters. Not too bad for pocket change!
Knowing the magnetic properties of a quarter can help coin collectors spot fake silver. It’s common for valuable coins to be sold as counterfeits and fake silver coins are often made with a cheap ferromagnetic base metal.
So, if a magnet sticks to a coin, we know it’s not silver.
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