How to Tell If a Penny Is Copper

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Pennies can be either copper or copper plated zinc, and you may want to know what you have. It is actually pretty easy to find out, so read on to learn a few different ways that you can tell if a penny is copper.

Look at the Date

Basically, if a penny has a date that is earlier than 1982, it is made of 95% copper. If it is made in 1983 or later, it is made of 97.5% zinc and plated with a thin coating of copper. Both kinds of pennies were made in 1982, so you will need to try another method to find out if these pennies are copper or not.

In the 1970s, copper was becoming more expensive. In fact, it cost more than a penny to make a penny. The cost dropped, but it increased again in the 1980s. At that time, the United States Mint decided to change the composition of pennies. The United States had found that when the melt value of a coin was greater than the face value, people would sell the raw material, which took coins out of circulation. Changing the composition prevents this from occurring.

Weigh the Penny and Check the Color

You can use this method for any penny, although checking the date works for any penny with a date on it, as long as it wasn’t made in 1982. You will need a scale that can measure down to tenths of grams. A solid copper penny will weigh 3.11 grams, but zinc pennies weigh 2.5 grams. This is why you need to have a scale that measures tenths of grams. If you don’t have this kind of scale, both pennies will round to three grams.

You can often tell the difference between two pennies by looking at the color. Older copper pennies will look to be a brown color overall. They might have a deep orange tint as well. If the penny is zinc, it often is colored unevenly and looks splotchy.

Try the Drop Test

If you want to try the drop test, you will need a countertop with a hard surface, such as granite or Formica. You should collect two pennies: one that is copper and one that is zinc. You can drop each one onto the surface and listen to the sound it makes. The zinc penny will make a flatter clunking noise, whereas the copper pennies make more of a ringing noise.

Now that you know what the difference is in the sounds, you can take the unknown pennies and drop them on the same surface. You should be able to tell the difference based on the sound they make. This test is less reliable than weighing them, but if you don’t have a scale, you can use this test to tell the difference.

If you have a collection of old pennies, you may want to sort them out to see if any of your older coins have value. Pennies made before 1982 are copper, whereas those made after 1982 are mostly zinc with a copper coating. Pennies made in 1982 can be either type.

There are mint errors that happen when they transition from one composition to the next, and this happened in certain 1983 pennies. There are pennies in the Lincoln Memorial Mint series that used copper blanks by mistake. You can use the weight or sound test to find out if you have one of these rare coins. You might be able to sell it to a dealer if you do.

Pennies can be made of copper or zinc, and people often want to know what they have. Fortunately, you can use any of these easy tests to find out. Be sure to look at the date, weigh it, or drop it and listen to the sound it makes to find out.

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