Current Copper Count: 1187
The Copper Count is the number of Lincoln Memorial Pennies made of 95% copper from the years 1959 to 1982 that I have found and retained during coin searches, after receiving change at a store, from being gifted by a friend, or after having picked them up from the ground.
Pennies minted during these dates are made of 95% copper.
Pennies minted from 1983 on are made of 97.5% zinc.
While pennies from 1958 and earlier (wheat cents and so on) are also made of copper, they are much more clearly identifiable and harder to come by. A 1959 penny has essentially the same design as a 2008 penny, and as such are more often found mixed in with current coins despite being a fair amount more valuable.
How much more valuable?
On the day I write this, copper is selling for $0.19 per ounce.
A 95% copper penny weighs 3.1 grams.
95% of 3.1 is 3.04, so for the sake of argument, let’s round down to 3 grams in one of these pennies.
There are 28.35 grams in an ounce.
28.35 divided by 3 is 9.45.
Therefore, it takes the metal in 9.45 pennies to cover the cost of an ounce of copper today, but it would cost you 19 pennies to buy that ounce.
The metal in a copper penny is worth a little more than double the face value of the penny.
Makes sense they would need to change the formula, yeah?
So how does this calculation work out for zinc?
It’s slightly harder to figure, since I can’t get a price per ounce.
A 95% zinc penny weighs 2.5 grams.
The current price of zinc per pound is $1.14 and there are 16 ounces in a pound.
1.14/16 = 0.071, so just over 7 cents per ounce (28.35 grams).
28.35 divided by 2.5 rounds up to 11.5.
So it would take you 11.5 zinc pennies to buy enough zinc to make 7 pennies.
Not the best deal you can find.
I suppose eventually the price of zinc could rise to the point that pennies would, as with copper, be too expensive to mint. My guess is that, like Canada in 2012, our government would decide to phase out pennies altogether by the time that happened.
None of what is written above takes into account the fact that many of the pennies minted from 1959 to 1982 may have a numismatic value of much more than the value of the metal itself. There are varieties and errors from within those dates that are sought after by collectors. The price of the copper proper is simply a starting point for valuing these coins.
One should also note that it is currently not legal in the United States to melt down copper pennies.
It’s even more illegal than ripping those tags off of mattresses, which isn’t actually illegal anyway.
There is reason to think that this will change at some point in the future, especially if the price of copper continues to rise and/or if pennies are phased out. It can’t hurt to hold onto them in the meantime.
The bottom line is, I recently realized that every time I have used a ’59 to ’82 penny to pay for anything, I have technically overpaid.
No more of that!
Below is a list of all the videos on my YouTube channel in which I add to the Copper Count.