Copper pennies have recently become the new “precious” metal, worth a whopping 2 cents per coin. It’s nothing like the high value of gold, nor the lower value of silver, but copper has many desperate investors turn to the lowly penny for potentially huge future profits. But what the copper penny collector finds frustrating is that the last cent made of copper was minted in 1982, and many others were minted with zinc the same year.
Among the 18 billion pennies minted in 1982, copper and zinc cents are still the largest number of cents in circulation. So, how does a copper penny collector tell if a 1982 cent is made of copper or zinc?
As an experienced coin sorter, I usually open a roll of pennies and begin examining the dates. Lincoln/Memorial pennies minted from 1909-1982 are made of copper; the ones minted in 1983 to now are made of zinc. When I pick out the pennies made in 1982, I’ve tried to test them by dropping one on a table to hear the sound they make when they hit the surface. Since copper pennies weigh more and are denser than the zinc ones, they make a lower metallic “thud.” When a zinc penny is dropped, the sound it makes is a lighter pitch. However, I have yet to tell a difference between the sounds a copper and a zinc make after dropping them on a hard surface.
A few solutions are available that will accurately determine the content. If you have a jewelry scale, you can easily weigh them. Each copper cent weighs about 3.11 grams while one zinc weighs 2.5 grams. I would use a simple copper penny sorting machine to do the job. If you’re not pressed for time, the “E-Z Copper Penny Sorter” is a small device that allows the user to insert a few pennies at a time. The copper ones are dropped from the right opening while the zincs fall from the left. These sorters sell on eBay for $25 to $60, depending on the seller. If you buy lots of boxed rolls of pennies each week for $25 each, you may need a bigger machine that lets you load 18,000 pennies per hour. The Ryedale Apprentice Penny Sorter is the best and biggest known separator, but it costs a hefty $500.
Nothing in copper penny collecting or hoarding is more frustrating than determining if 1982 pennies are made of copper or zinc. Testing for composition by dropping them and hearing a difference in tone doesn’t determine which one is which. Using a small jewelry scale will indicate the different weights in grams. To sort pennies more easily, you need a small “E-Z” or a large Ryedale Copper sorter to get the job done. Until you buy one of these gadgets, I would simply keep those 1982 pennies separated by putting them in a jar or box. Whatever device you choose, your 1982 pennies can be accurately sorted.