The most common type of cents or pennies in pocket change are the current issues, zinc coins, that have a thin copper plating on them. The next most common in pocket change is the older, solid copper pennies. Also available but seldom seen in pocket change are the 1944 - 1958 "brass cents", and the 1943 steel cents. If you are like most collectors, chances are you'll prefer pressing solid copper pennies commonly called "pre '82's" by elongated coin collectors. These solid copper pre 1982 "pennies" make stronger, more easily polished and cleaned souvenir collectibles when compared to the newer zinc type cents. The good news is that pre '82 cents are not hard to find in circulated condition. Matter of fact, they can often be gleamed from pocket change. If you prefer "shiny" elongated coins over the darker copper color of circulated pennies, you can clean copper cents you find before pressing them or purchase pre '82 BU, Bright Uncirculated, solid copper cents from a coin dealer. Common date BU copper cents can be purchased in tubes or rolls of 50 or mint bags of 5,000. These bright shiny solid copper bits of numismatic history can then be mercilessly mutilated into an excellent, durable, long-lasting souvenir treasure in most any one of the ever growing number of souvenir penny presses here in the United States. Fun! Related: Links to testimony and US Mint plans about The Future of the US cent.
How Many Pennies are in a Pound? Types, Metals, Weights
A good way to be sure if a 1982 penny / cent is copper or zinc is to weigh it. Zinc is much lighter. Collectors can use most any scale from a simple "teeter-totter" style balance scale made from Popsicle sticks to a top-of-the line electronic scale. All work fine. If you have a keen ear you can drop the pennies on a table top and tell them apart by the sound. High ring for copper cents and a dull ring for zincs. Also, a sharp eye can sometimes spot copper and zincs by a slight color difference.
The Future of the US Penny...
Steel Cents and Steel Nickels?
Chart with the current value
of one pound of copper
Given the price of copper, it's not likely we'll see newly minted copper cents again any time soon... Matter of fact, we may even see the end of the one-cent coin in the United States.
Many readers have heard the perennial debates between The United States government, the public, and special interest groups over ending production of the penny. Often the cost of production vs. the face value of the "penny" is sited. (At only $2.90 a pound for copper, pre 1982 copper cents have a metal value of about twice their face value! $2.90 / 145 pennies per pound)
In 2008, because the profit from minting coins or "seigniorage" had turned into a substantial loss, there was even talk of using steel for cents in H5512 [again] and in 2010 as the losses continued to increase, the Coin Modernization, Oversight, And Continuity Act of 2010 addressed this issue [again] to evaluate the replacement of the copper-plated zinc used to mint cents. Ironically, copper-plated zinc is the current substitute for the more costly copper it replaced in 1982.
Note: Estimates are for new coins without any wear. *Please see 1982 details on this page.
How many pennies are in a pound? It's a question often stated in emails to ParkPennies.com. To be complete, there are really two main questions, " How many copper pennies / cents are in a pound?" and " How many zinc cents / pennies are in a pound? ". The chart above covers the different types of pennies and the various numbers of cents in a pound. Hey! I didn't know steel cents / pennies weigh less than copper!
Seems on-line auctions offer some elongated coins and pennies by the pound. Based on our "research and experience", in other words, "our guess" is that there are about 145 pennies in a pound. For the purists, there are about 145 copper cents / pennies in a pound. On the other hand, post 1982 "zinc" cents which have a copper plating over a much softer, much lighter zinc planchet. So there are about 180 zinc cents / pennies per pound. Those numbers of pennies per pound are of course for new, "uncirculated", zinc or copper cents. When minted, new copper cents weigh about 3.11 grams each and new zinc cents about 2.5 grams each and that is our basis for the number of pennies in a pound. However, once they are put in circulation, they start to ware thinner and thinner. Ever seen a well-warn 1918 cent? Sometimes it's hard to tell heads from tails! So, after years of circulation, most all coins, will of course, weigh less and there will be more pennies per pound. Please note that Tokyo Disneyland Medals and Hong Kong Disneyland Magical Coins are not pressed on "pennies", so these estimates do not apply to them. Also, quarters weigh about twice as much as cents at about 80 uncirculated quarters in a pound. Well, we hope this is of help when you see a pound of elongated coins or wheat cents up for auction or you are doing your best to figure out the new postal rates. What's the best kind of penny to press? Which cents do elongated coin / pressed penny collectors generally prefer? Given a choice, many "pressed penny" collectors choose Pre-1982 solid copper cents. The copper-plated zinc pennies, minted primarily after 1982, are to many elongated coin collectors, a second choice. Although these newer (zinc) cents may look nice and shiny today, the thin layer of copper on the surface of the coin may stretch thin when elongated in the penny press and expose the silver-colored zinc beneath. Also, if they are cleaned, one must use extra care. That is not to say all collectors shun zinc cents. In the defense of zinc cents, I remember that the highest priced elongated coin I've seen sold to date, was pressed on a zinc penny. Also, pressing a penny dated the same year as it's pressed is preferred by a good number of collectors and some Christmas pressed pennies can look really neat pressed on zinc.... sorry, more digression!
How can I tell copper pennies apart from zinc pennies in pocket change? Pennies that look like copper and are dated before 1982 are probably copper. Well, to be more correct, they are most likely about 95% copper with a little zinc and tin added in to make them "bronze". That is, unless we are talking about the cents minted during World War II in 1943, which are steel and are plated with zinc(!) There are also the pennies minted between 1944 - 1946 which were made at least in part from World War II reclaimed shell casings. They can of course be spotted by the date (Dah!) or by their color which shows more of a brass tone..... But I digress.
Bottom line, if you are looking for "pennies" to press in a penny press machine and you don't want to see any zinc showing through copper plating, pre '82 copper cents are a good way to go. I'd say 1982 and earlier cents, but, as you can see in the image above, 1982 cents are a little iffy, some are copper and some are not.
In defense of zinc cents, they will often "roll" or press better in machines that do not have enough pressure to press harder, solid copper pennies.
The example above shows only a slightly short roll. Some poorly adjusted machines will produce coins missing the bottom 20% of the coin image.
Sometimes a short roll can be corrected by rubbing the coin, before it is pressed, with a cloth that has barely enough oil in it to leave a film on the coin. Care must be taken. More oil can cause surface damage to the elongated coin or may cause the coin to stick inside the machine.
How can I tell if a pressed penny is copper or zinc?
Copper elongated cents when dropped on a hard surface will "ring". Elongated zinc cents usually will have more of a dead, soft, or hollow sound when dropped on the same hard surface.
- Zinc elongated cents often show "silver streaking". The streaking is caused by the zinc metal from the center of the original coin, which shows through breaks in the copper plated surface of the original cent.
- Elongated copper cents are heavier than elongated zinc cents. They can be sorted by use of a simple teeter-totter balance scale. Just balance a Popsicle across a pencil with a copper cent at both ends, then swap one of the copper cents for the unknown (possibly zinc) pressed pennies. If the unknown pressed penny is lighter, it was probably pressed on a zinc cent. Yes, ParkPennies.com does have high-tech solutions for today's challenges!
"Copper(s) A United States cent dated before 1982, the year in which the metal used to make cents transitioned from copper to copper-plated zinc. Also used to refer to the elongated coin rolled from a copper cent. Elongated coin collectors, most generally, prefer copper or "Pre ’82" cents that include wheat cents. See also Zincer and BU. Note that even though copper cents may be preferred over zinc cents, a full roll is also important and copper cents generally will press shorter than zinc cents. Many machines are set to press the harder copper cents to full length. However, some machines might not. Here is an example of two cents one copper and one zinc pressed at that same time in the same machine.
Sometimes people need to know how many pennies are in a pound. It’s handy to know if you are shipping coins or if you are offered coins for sale by the pound. Do keep in mind that often older circulated coins are a bit lighter from wear. Here are some estimates of weight... New, unused or uncirculated copper cents weigh about 3.11 grams each or about 145 copper pennies per pound. New zinc cents are much lighter and weigh only 2.5 grams each yielding about 180 zinc pennies in a pound. And there are about 80 uncirculated quarters in a pound. Hope this is of help when you see "a pound of elongated cents" for sale. )
It’s not always hard to tell a zinc cent from a copper cent, once you see them side by side. Often there are surface breaks that show a silver-zinc color below. Other times, it is easy to differentiate copper and zinc cents by the high "ring" an elongated copper cent makes compared to more of a dull click made by an elongated zinc cent, when the coins are dropped on a hard surface. Additionally, zinc cents often have a different, lighter surface "copper color". Rest assured, in time you will be able to tell zinc from copper 90% of the time without even holding the coin."
"Zinc, Zincer, Zincie A US cent minted after mid 1982 that has a zinc metal core coated with copper to make it look like a copper cent. This "penny" is often described as "Nice new and shiny" as zinc cents often are the newest least circulated cents found in circulation. However, when rolled these cents can expose their "silver-colored" zinc core in streaks that break through the copper plated surface of the coin. The silver color may oxidize and turn black. Attempts to remove the black oxide often results in damage to the coin. Of note, copper cents weigh about 3.11 grams each with about 145 per pound. Zinc cents are much lighter and weigh only 2.5 grams each with about 180 in a pound. If there are no surface breaks that show a silver-zinc color below, it is easy to differentiate copper and zinc cents by the high "ring" of and elongated copper cent compared to more of a dull click of an elongated zinc cent, when the coins are dropped on a hard surface. Additionally, zinc cents often have a different, lighter surface "copper color".
It should be noted that some collectors prefer to press currently dated cents, to commemorate the time the elongated coin was pressed. However, the majority of elongated coins collectors prefer pre 1981 solid coppers for use in pressing elongated cents." "Steelie or Steel Cent A 1943 US cent made from steel to save copper during WW II. These cents, when free of rust, have a silver color to them from the zinc plating on their surface. Not to be confused with a post 1982 zinc cent that is copper coated."
Writer's note: OK, maybe "penny" isn't the best word and "pressed penny" may be a bit "casual" for some too. As you may know, many numismatists prefer to call pennies, cents and pressed pennies, elongated cents or elongated coins. Here at ParkPennies, we think of "pressing pennies" as a fun, casual hobby, so penny is our word of choice though we do use the terms interchangeably. However, the choice of words is probably not as important as the choice of penny type when you plan to make an elongated coin souvenir. We hope the notes we've cobbled together above about penny types, metal composition, weight, number of pennies per pound, and types of "pennys" er... ah... cents will be helpful. There is a variety of types listed, with several kinds of pennies among them that could make great elongated coins.
Editor's note: We are often reminded that the preferred numismatic term is "Elongated Coins". However, as the rebellious, risk taking, devil may care ParkPennies.com contributors that we are, temptation often gets the better of us. As a result, you may see the more casual, fun terms like: pressed pennies, flattened pennies, and souvenir coin medallions to describe these fun pressed coin souvenirs. :-)
*Boomer ParkPennies is a fellow collector and author / contributor of news, articles, and elongated coin guide updates for ParkPennies.com.