In 1999 the Royal Canadian Mint
began striking coins made from a steel
core plated with nickel
. The new process for manufacturing these coins was developed by the RCM. It involves no cyanide
and is more environmentally friendly
than previous processes. The new coins are lighter and more durable.
All coins struck in this new composition have a small "P" below the profile of the Queen
on the obverse side.
While these coins did not come into common circulation until 2001, a small number of "P" test tokens were struck in 1999 and 2000. The tokens were given to vending machine
companies and transit authorities
to allow them to modify their machines to accept the new weight of the coin. A fair number of these test tokens are available on the collecting market, and (as of 1/21/2004) their price can range from US$2 - $10. The 2000 test tokens are scarcer than the 1999 tokens.
In late 2000 the Mint began the changeover to steel plated blanks, intending to begin striking the "P" coins for 2001. However, a shortage of 5-cent coins in Alberta
late in 2000 forced the Mint to issue an emergency supply of new nickels, which were struck with the new steel plated blanks. Approximately 2 million of these 2000P nickels are in circulation.
The 2001 "P" 25-cent coin is the first coin of that denomination to be issued with the well-known caribou profile since 1996.
The occurrence of errors such as die cracks and hairlines has increased since the mint began using the new plated steel composition. In fact, noticeable delays have occurred in issuing new coins and it is thought that the Mint is having difficulty mass producing
coins with the new composition.
"P" Coin Composition
50-cent: 93.15% steel, 4.75% copper, 2.1% nickel
25-cent: 94% steel, 3.8% copper, 2.2% nickel
10-cent: 92% steel, 5.5% copper, 2.5% nickel
5-cent: 94.5% steel, 3.5% copper, 2% nickel
1-cent: 94% steel, 1.5% nickel, 4.5% copper
The composition of the $1 and $2 coins was not changed.
Update, on the meaning of the "P"
Vending machine companies requested a way to identify the new coins and some say that is the reason for the P mark on the coins, although this doesn't seem very plausible.
Other sources say the P indicates "plated", which seems more plausible since this type of coin is steel plated with other alloys.
The Royal Canadian Mint
2002 Charlton Catalogue