Reader Question: What Makes Pre-1983 Pennies So Special?

If you want to start hoarding pennies, it makes sense to start with the pre-1983 pennies.

Not too long ago, I received the following question from a reader:

What’s so special about pennies made before 1983? Why are these pennies preferred by coin hoarders and penny investors?

The answer is in the composition of the pre-1983 pennies. If you want to start hoarding pennies for the copper value, it makes sense to understand the metal content of the cent through the years.

Should you hoard pennies?

Composition of the Penny: A History

We think about pennies as being made from copper, but the reality is that, today, the cent is mostly made up of zinc. Throughout the history of the penny, there have been different compositions. The United States Mint offers a history of the penny’s composition:

  • 1793 – 1837: Pure copper
  • 1837 – 1857: Bronze (a mixture of 95% copper and 5% tin and zinc)
  • 1857 – 1864: 88% copper, 12% nickel
  • 1864 – 1962: Back to bronze (the only exception was the 1943 penny, which was steel coated with zinc; there were a very small number of copper pennies minted in 1943, and if you can find one, it’s fairly valuable)
  • 1962 – 1982: 95% copper, 5% zinc

In 1982, the United States Mint began making pennies composed of 97.5% zinc, and 2.5% copper. There were pennies minted in 1982 that had the 95% copper content as well as the mostly zinc makeup. In 1983, though, all pennies were made up of copper-plated zinc.

Pre-1983 pennies are popular because they have a higher copper content. As a result, many investors are interested in using these coins as part of an effort to invest in tangible base metals. While it’s illegal to melt down US coins, and while you can’t take large amounts of pennies outside the country, many coin hoarders are convinced that, at some point, pennies will become more valuable, particularly those with a high copper content. The thought is that the penny might disappear from circulation, making it legal to melt them down for copper, or that there might be an economic collapse and any tangible metals will be valuable.

Money TreeIf you decide to hoard pennies (or other coins), make sure you understand which are more likely to be valuable. Pay attention to the composition of the coins, and carefully consider what is most likely to help you reach your goals. In some cases, you can find rare pre-1983 pennies (like a copper 1943 penny) that have value to collectors, so it’s about more than just the metal composition.

Written by Miranda Marquit

Miranda Marquit is a freelance writer and professional blogger, specializing in personal finance, small business, and investing topics. She writes for a number of financial web sites and blogs, and has been featured in numerous media. Read about life as a freelancer at MirandaMarquit.com and in her book Confessions of a Professional Blogger.

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