Gas Prices Don't Move Much In Good Currencies

Gas is still only $0.20 per gallon…

A gas station in Ashland, Oregon, May 2011

…If you pay with un-debased U.S. currency.

One gas station in Ashland, Oregon, is accepting payment for gas in the old, un-debased version of the currency.

The more prices change, the more they remain the same. At least when the currency is sound.

A gallon of gas was nearing $5 per gallon at the time the above picture was taken. Two old 90% silver dimes were worth about $5.00 of the newer 0% silver dimes and quarters. If you’d saved your money in plain ol’ currency back before the Treasury pulled another fast one, you’d be able to buy about a gallon and half of gas for $0.20.

We often tell people to start saving their nickels. This is why. This isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme. It’s not even a get-rich-slow scheme. It’s a don’t-get-hosed-by-central-bankers scheme.

Note that for all the years that dimes and quarters were 90% made of silver, the price of gas was around two of those (mostly) silver dimes.

Also note that there is a red line that shows the inflation adjusted gas prices. When the currency was sound and stable and the dollar price of gas was stable, people were better able to afford gas. This is because prices were stable as incomes were rising, a condition that Keynesians generally can’t stand.

(And heaven forbid prices actually fall slightly while incomes stay the same or even rise slightly. That sort of “deflation” is to be stopped at any cost.)

But see what happens when the silver is removed from the coinage in 1964? The price trends up a bit. And then after the U.S. dollar is entirely cut from gold in 1971, the price of gas really started to move in dollar terms. There was a spike leading up to 1980, a slight drop and leveling off for years (for various reasons we won’t go into now) and then it was back off to the races.

In 1918, a gallon of gas was about two 90% silver dimes. In 1928 about the same. And in 1948. Fast forward to 2011 and a gallon of gas is still about two 90% silver dimes, despite the rise in price in terms of the debased currency that really got going in 1974.

Even with all the Hunt Brothers drama and attendant price drops after 1980, silver’s price movements in dollars looks suspiciously like that of a gallon of gas…


You see, a gallon of gas isn’t getting expensive. Your currency is getting cheaper. Has been for a long time, since the official closing of the gold window. The speed at which it’s getting cheaper appears to be accelerating, too, as the central bank creates unprecedented amounts of new cash–unbacked by anything commodity or productive activity of course–to inject into the economy.

Meanwhile, the REAL currency is doing pretty well. Largely forgotten the silver version of the currency is keeping its value relative to things you buy. A gallon of gas is still less than $0.20. Twenty REAL cents. Not the forgeries that pass for money in the minds of the unwary.

If you think that’s something, realize that a gallon of gas is just five or six cents in terms of the old dollar bills that were also gold certificates. (One pre-1934 dollar was good for 1/20 ounce of gold, or about 80 of today’s dollars.) That’s an even more impressive holding of value than the silver coins. (Though silver still stands to surpass gold as the winning bet for beating currency debasement.)

Even the lowly penny has gotten in on the act. Say you missed out on (illegally) hoarding gold before 1934…and then again (legally) with silver coins before 1964…if you’d diligently saved your copper pennies before they were replaced in circulation with that shabby zinc substitute, you’d have protected your purchasing power quite well.  The metal in about $1.25 worth of pre-1983 pennies would buy you a gallon of gas today, priced at about $4.75 of today’s dollars.

Again, roughly a $5 gallon of gas in today’s money is five or six cents of the old dollar gold certificate, twenty cents of the silver dimes, a buck twenty-five of the copper pennies. There appears to be a strong correlation between length of debasement and multiplication of purchasing power.

The dollar was partially debased in 1934, the gold it represented made illegal for private American ownership, then completely cut free from gold in 1971. Dimes, quarters and half dollars started being debased in 1963 and were completely de-silverized by the end of the year (40% silver-clad half dollars were available for a few years after that). The penny got the same treatment and was completely de-copperized during 1983.

The old gold certificate dollars are worth 80 times their face value in the current currency…Well, technically they are collector’s items and museum pieces; the gold they represented is what has value today. The old dimes, quarters and half dollars more than 25 times. The old penny only three times.

The same thing that happened to gold certificates, quarters, dimes and pennies is happening to the cupronickel nickel. The value metal in the five-cent piece is staying steadily above the face value of the currency in which it’s minted. Put another way, a five-cent piece is worth quite a bit more than five cents. About 35% more, or 1.35 times face value as of this writing.

We expect all these factors above in bold to increase over time.

A market for pre-1963 90% silver coins is well established. These coins trade for the aforementioned 25x-plus their metallic content. A market for trade has only just begun to develop for pennies like it has for old silver coins. It hasn’t yet for nickels. It will.

The government figuratively took the gold out of the paper dollar. They literallly took the silver out of the dime, quarter and half dollar, and the copper out of the penny. The nickel is the only thing the U.S. has left to debase. It will probably be getting around to doing just that very soon. So now would be a good time to stock up.

This is your last chance to protect yourself from dollar weakening (and perhaps dollar destruction) by merely saving your money in the right form. No premiums attached! Just go to the bank and exchange whatever dollars and cents you have for nickels. They will give you 100% of your money back in nickel form without taking a cut.

Go to any bank right now and hand them $100 and ask for nickels. The teller will gleefully give you back about $135 in metal (as of this writing). We suggest you do this as regularly as you can.

No, you can’t take advantage of that now by turning around and selling these cupronickel pieces (“nickels” are actually only 25% nickel and 75% copper) for an immediate 35% gain. Not yet. But that time is coming. It could take years, but we doubt it will be that long this time around. The pace of debasement is accelerating over time. It’s taking on the classic “hockey stick” form on the charts.

You should still be buying gold and silver because there is plenty of dollar debasing left to go. But you should also be gathering nickels because they are so damned easy to acquire (go to the bank and see) and because they insure against both dollar strengthening (which could still happen) and declining.

In the unlikely event that the dollar gets stronger over the course of the rest of your life, you have merely saved money that you can still use at face value. In the much more likely event that the central bank keeps printing up new money, the metal content of the nickels will continue to climb far above their face value.

When the metal value gets way above the face value, the Treasury will surely do what they always do: issue a new, debased version of the currency with a much cheaper metal (probably zinc). This could happen as early as next year. This opportunity will not last forever. We strongly urge you get on a program of regular nickel-gathering now.

Perhaps best of all, any substantial wealth is virtually theft-proof in nickel form. As I recently noted on the Whiskey Bar Panel: if you have $10,000 in nickels in your house, no one who breaks in is going to get more than about forty bucks of that. At least not without lots of time, help and planning.

Nickels have very low value per unit. So even a fairly tiny amount of purchasing power in nickel form is very heavy. Forty dollars worth is heavy and awkward enough to make the effort and risk to reward ratio low enough to deter most thieves.

Now if a devoted thief plans a competent heist…if he gathers accomplices and makes sure he has a reliable getaway car and plenty of loading time, then you’re probably out of luck. But I suspect that thieves with that level of skill and dedication would be targeting all the gold bugs, not the nickel-hoarders.

You should absolutely be buying gold, silver or both. Silver especially still looks like the best way to multiply purchasing power instead of just protecting it. But you should also hold some cash, just in case, and much of that cash really ought to be in a form that will do just fine whether the dollar goes up or down. It ought to be in nickels.


Gary Gibson
Managing editor, Whiskey & Gunpowder

The Daily Reckoning