Billon (alloy)

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Billon dirham of Abbad II al-Mu'tadid, dated 439 AH (1047-1048 AD) Dirham almotadid 20320.jpg
Billon dirham of Abbad II al-Mu'tadid, dated 439 AH (1047–1048 AD)

Billon ( /ˈbɪlən/ ) is an alloy of a precious metal (most commonly silver, but also gold) with a majority base metal content (such as copper). It is used chiefly for making coins, medals, and token coins.


The word comes from the French bille, which means "log". [1]


Billon bawbee coin of James V of Scotland (coined between 1538 and 1543) Post-medieval , Coin (FindID 188060).jpg
Billon bawbee coin of James V of Scotland (coined between 1538 and 1543)

The use of billon coins dates from ancient Greece and continued through the Middle Ages. During the sixth and fifth centuries BC, some cities on Lesbos used coins made of 60% copper and 40% silver. In both ancient times and the Middle Ages, leaner mixtures were adopted, with less than 2% silver content. [2] [3]

Billon coins are perhaps best known from the Roman Empire, where progressive debasements of the Roman denarius and the Roman provincial tetradrachm in the third century AD led to declining silver and increasing bronze content in these denominations of coins. Eventually, by the third quarter of the third century AD, these coins were almost entirely bronze, with only a thin coating or even a wash of silver. [4]

Billon nickel from 1942-45, with "D" mintmark and unusual color. War Nickel.jpg
Billon nickel from 1942–45, with "D" mintmark and unusual color.

An example of a United States coin that is considered to be billon are the Jefferson nickels issued from 1942 through 1945. In order to save nickel and copper for the war effort, the composition of the nickel was changed to an alloy of 35% silver, 56% copper, and 9% manganese. These coins are easily identifiable by their color and by the presence of a large mintmark on top of the dome of Monticello.

See also

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Alloy</span> Mixture or metallic solid solution composed of two or more elements

An alloy is a mixture of chemical elements of which at least one is a metal. Unlike chemical compounds with metallic bases, an alloy will retain all the properties of a metal in the resulting material, such as electrical conductivity, ductility, opacity, and luster, but may have properties that differ from those of the pure metals, such as increased strength or hardness. In some cases, an alloy may reduce the overall cost of the material while preserving important properties. In other cases, the mixture imparts synergistic properties to the constituent metal elements such as corrosion resistance or mechanical strength.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Brass</span> Alloy of copper and zinc

Brass is an alloy of copper (Cu) and zinc (Zn), in proportions which can be varied to achieve different colours and mechanical, electrical, and chemical properties, but copper typically has the larger proportion. In use since prehistoric times, it is a substitutional alloy: atoms of the two constituents may replace each other within the same crystal structure.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bronze</span> Metal alloy consisting of copper and tin

Bronze is an alloy consisting primarily of copper, commonly with about 12–12.5% tin and often with the addition of other metals and sometimes non-metals, such as phosphorus, or metalloids such as arsenic or silicon. These additions produce a range of alloys that may be harder than copper alone, or have other useful properties, such as strength, ductility, or machinability.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Coin</span> Small, flat and usually round piece of material used as money

A coin is a small object, usually round and flat, used primarily as a medium of exchange or legal tender. They are standardized in weight, and produced in large quantities at a mint in order to facilitate trade. They are most often issued by a government. Coins often have images, numerals, or text on them. Obverse and its opposite, reverse, refer to the two flat faces of coins and medals. In this usage, obverse means the front face of the object and reverse means the back face. The obverse of a coin is commonly called heads, because it often depicts the head of a prominent person, and the reverse is known as tails.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Electrum</span> Alloy of gold and silver

Electrum is a naturally occurring alloy of gold and silver, with trace amounts of copper and other metals. Its color ranges from pale to bright yellow, depending on the proportions of gold and silver. It has been produced artificially, and is also known as "green gold".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Copper</span> Chemical element, symbol Cu and atomic number 29

Copper is a chemical element with the symbol Cu and atomic number 29. It is a soft, malleable, and ductile metal with very high thermal and electrical conductivity. A freshly exposed surface of pure copper has a pinkish-orange color. Copper is used as a conductor of heat and electricity, as a building material, and as a constituent of various metal alloys, such as sterling silver used in jewelry, cupronickel used to make marine hardware and coins, and constantan used in strain gauges and thermocouples for temperature measurement.

Cupronickel or copper-nickel (CuNi) is an alloy of copper that contains nickel and strengthening elements, such as iron and manganese. The copper content typically varies from 60 to 90 percent.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Roman currency</span> Currency of ancient Rome

Roman currency for most of Roman history consisted of gold, silver, bronze, orichalcum and copper coinage. From its introduction to the Republic, during the third century BC, well into Imperial times, Roman currency saw many changes in form, denomination, and composition. A persistent feature was the inflationary debasement and replacement of coins over the centuries. Notable examples of this followed the reforms of Diocletian. This trend continued into Byzantine times.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Orichalcum</span> Fabulous metal mentioned in ancient writings, such as the story of Atlantis in the Critias of Plato

Orichalcum or aurichalcum is a metal mentioned in several ancient writings, including the story of Atlantis in the Critias of Plato. Within the dialogue, Critias claims that orichalcum had been considered second only to gold in value and had been found and mined in many parts of Atlantis in ancient times, but that by Critias's own time orichalcum was known only by name.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Two-cent piece (United States)</span> Coin of the United States (1864–1873)

The two-cent piece was produced by the Mint of the United States for circulation from 1864 to 1872 and for collectors in 1873. Designed by James B. Longacre, there were decreasing mintages each year, as other minor coins such as the nickel proved more popular. It was abolished by the Mint Act of 1873.

This glossary of numismatics is a list of definitions of terms and concepts relevant to numismatics and coin collecting, as well as sub-fields and related disciplines, with concise explanations for the beginner or professional.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Silver coin</span> Form of coinage

Silver coins are considered the oldest mass-produced form of coinage. Silver has been used as a coinage metal since the times of the Greeks; their silver drachmas were popular trade coins. The ancient Persians used silver coins between 612–330 BC. Before 1797, British pennies were made of silver.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Corinthian bronze</span> Highly valuable metal alloy in classical antiquity

Corinthian bronze, also named Corinthian brass or aes Corinthiacum, was a highly valuable metal alloy in classical antiquity. It is thought to be an alloy of copper with gold or silver, although it has also been contended that it was simply a very high grade of bronze, or a kind of bronze that was manufactured in Corinth. It is referred to in various ancient texts, but no certain examples of Corinthian bronze exist today. However, it has been increasingly suggested that a number of artefacts previously described as niello in fact use a technique of patinated metal that may be the same as Corinthian bronze and is similar to the Japanese Shakudō.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Colored gold</span> Various colors of gold obtained by alloying gold with other elements

Pure gold is slightly reddish yellow in color, but colored gold in various other colors can be produced by alloying gold with other elements.

Metals and metal working had been known to the people of modern Italy since the Bronze Age. By 53 BC, Rome had expanded to control an immense expanse of the Mediterranean. This included Italy and its islands, Spain, Macedonia, Africa, Asia Minor, Syria and Greece; by the end of the Emperor Trajan's reign, the Roman Empire had grown further to encompass parts of Britain, Egypt, all of modern Germany west of the Rhine, Dacia, Noricum, Judea, Armenia, Illyria, and Thrace. As the empire grew, so did its need for metals.

The coinage metals comprise, at a minimum, those metallic chemical elements which have historically been used as components in alloys used to mint coins. The term is not perfectly defined, however, since a number of metals have been used to make "demonstration coins" which have never been used to make monetized coins for any nation-state, but could be. Some of these elements would make excellent coins in theory, but their status as coin metals is not clear. In general, because of problems caused when coin metals are intrinsically valuable as commodities, there has been a trend in the 21st century toward use of coinage metals of only the least exotic and expensive types.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Conservation and restoration of copper-based objects</span>

The conservation and restoration of copper and copper-alloy objects is the preservation and protection of objects of historical and personal value made from copper or copper alloy. When applied to items of cultural heritage, this activity is generally undertaken by a conservator-restorer.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Two-cent billon</span>

The two-cent billon was a pattern US coin struck in 1836 and initially proposed as part of the Act of January 13, 1837. Versions exist with either a reeded edge and coin orientation or a plain edge and medal orientation; however, those with the former tend to be original strikes, whereas the latter are always proof restrikes.


  1. "Billon". (Unabridged (v 1.1) ed.). Random House, Inc. Retrieved 25 September 2009.
  2. Harl, Kenneth (19 March 1998). "Early Medieval and Byzantine Civilization: Constantine to crusades". Tulane University. Archived from the original on 15 October 2009. Retrieved 25 September 2009.
  3. Munro, John (15 January 2007). "Earl J. Hamilton, American Treasure and the Price Revolution in Spain, 1501–1650". Book Review. Economic History Services. Archived from the original on 18 September 2009. Retrieved 25 September 2009.
  4. Christiansen, Erik (2004). Coinage in Roman Egypt: The hoard evidence. Aarhus University Press. pp. 135–141.