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What Metal are Pennies?

Pennies are commonly thought to be primarily Copper due to their distinctive color and for most of our nation’s history, that was true. However, contemporary pennies are zinc discs with a thin Copper shell. This composition became the standard in 1983. There were periods in our nation’s history when pennies were produced of other materials, such as during World War II when steel cents were used. If you are interested in obtaining Copper in the form of older U.S. pennies, it is important to know pennies minted in 1982 may be of either a 95% Copper alloy or zinc with Copper plating. It is also good to know the current melt value of a Copper one-cent piece is just about $.02.

Penny Composition by Year

Years Material Weight (grams)
1793 - 1795 ~ 100% Copper 13.48
1795 - 1857 ~ 100% Copper 10.98
1856 - 1864 88% Copper, 12% Nickel (NS-12) 4.67
1864 - 1942 Bronze (95% Copper, 5% tin and Zinc) 3.11
1943 Zinc-coated steel (1943 steel cent) 2.72
1944 - 1946 Brass (shell case Copper) 95% Copper, 5% Zinc 3.11
1947 - 1962 Bronze (95% Copper, 5% tin and Zinc) 3.11
1962 - 1981 Brass (95% Copper, 5% Zinc) 3.11
1962 - present Brass (95% Copper, 5% Zinc) 2.50

You can see that pennies were never struck in Silver, although there are urban legends about Silver pennies. Perhaps these stories were born of the steel cent, which was grayish in color.

Copper Penny Values

There are pennies that command great numismatic interest and premiums to match, but most casual collectors are interested in owning beautiful Copper pieces that speak to our nation’s history. The melt value is also of interest to some investors. While $.02 seems like a tiny sum, it is important to remember this melt value is literally double the face value.


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