Assessing the Value of a Copper or Copper-Plated Zinc Penny


The question of whether a penny is solid copper or a copper-plated zinc cent is a common one among coin collectors. Prior to 1982, coins were made from metals that accurately reflected their value. However, due to an anticipated rise in the price of copper, the US Treasury Department decided to switch to a copper-plated zinc composition for pennies. Fifty percent of the coins are composed of solid copper, while the other half are copper-plated zinc. This article will provide an overview of how to differentiate between the two.

1. The Best Way to Tell the Difference

Prior to 1982, coins were composed of 95% copper and 5% zinc. However, coins from 1982 onward are either almost entirely bronze or mostly zinc. Nowadays, most coins are made of solid zinc and coated with a copper alloy. Consequently, the question arises: “Is My Penny Solid Copper or a Copper-Plated Zinc Cent?”

Market instability can cause fluctuations in the price of copper, which in turn affects the metal value of coins. When the material is altered, the weight of the coin will also be altered; for instance, a coin composed entirely of copper will weigh more than one made from an alloy of zinc and copper. To differentiate between them, a precise scale should be used.


Zinc coins typically weigh 25% less than copper coins, with a weight of 2.5 grams. However, when weighed on a scale, they will usually register as 3 grams due to the scale’s inability to measure odd numbers, which can lead to confusion when attempting to identify coins. To avoid this issue, it is best to test yourself or use a testing site.

2. Drop Test for Copper and Zinc Pennies

No one can compel Americans to take up coin collecting, yet coins are a reflection of our culture and history, and serve as a reminder of the era in which they were circulated. The question of whether a penny is solid copper or copper-plated zinc can spark curiosity and lead to further investigation. To differentiate between the two, one can drop the coins and observe the sound they make.


Prepare a hard Formica plate or granite countertop and place a copper and galvanized coin on it. Drop the coins one at a time and listen to the sound they make. Close attention to the coins will reveal a melodious, higher-pitched “ringing” sound from copper coins, while galvanized coins emit a “click” sound. This is due to copper’s more ductile texture than zinc.


Once you have become familiar with the distinct sound of each coin, begin to separate the 1982 coins. Listen to the sound they make and use this to differentiate between coins of different metal compositions. Although it may seem imprecise, using a scale can be beneficial in distinguishing between copper and zinc coins.

Note: Only coins in circulation should be tested, as those that are being collected are more valuable. Testing on coins that have been removed from circulation or evidence collected is not recommended. Dropping coins on a hard surface can adversely affect their quality and reduce their collectable value; even a few dollars can diminish the value of an uncirculated coin if it is scratched or distorted at an angle.

3. Cherrypicker’s Tip

Prior to 1982, coins minted contained approximately 95% copper; however, due to inflationary pressures, the price of copper increased, prompting mints to reduce the percentage of copper and increase the percentage of zinc in later coins. Zinc has comprised 97.5% of coins since 1982, with a thin copper coating making up the remaining 2.5%. As a result, the weight of zinc coins is slightly lower than that of their copper predecessors, at approximately 2.5 grams.


An error occurred in the Lincoln Memorial Cents series in 1983, when the mint mistakenly used solid copper to produce a few coins. These coins weighed 3.11 grams, as opposed to the 2.5 grams of the zinc coins that preceded them, and copper was a valuable metal at the time. Owning a monolithic coin made in 1983 could be worth it, so it is recommended to take it to a reputable local coin dealer for testing.


Billy Crawford, a numerologist, developed a fondness for coin rolls in 2006. After testing a series of 2.5-gram coins, he was delighted to discover a 3.11-gram solid copper coin from 1983. This discovery marked the culmination of his search.

In 2013, a PCGS Mint State 62 Red-Brown graded bronze Lincoln Cent coin sold for $23,500 at a Heritage auction. Subsequently, in 2015, Stack’s Bowers sold a PCGS Mint State 62 Brown for $22,325. The prices of 1983 coins are significantly higher than their actual value. To determine if you have a valuable coin, use the methods outlined above or have it appraised. You may be pleasantly surprised by the outcome!

If you possess an antique coin, you can ascertain the year of its manufacture by examining it. If the coin is dated 1982, it is likely composed of 95% copper. This article has provided assistance in distinguishing between copper and copper-plated zinc coins. We trust that it has been of use to you. For those wishing to collect renowned coin sets, our unit is available for reference.

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