The 1982 cents

The 7 Business Strike Varieties:
  • 1982 Large Date Copper
  • 1982 Large Date Copper plated Zinc
  • 1982 Small Date Copper
  • 1982 Small Date Copper plated Zinc
  • 1982 D Large Date Copper
  • 1982 D Large Date Copper plated Zinc
  • 1982 D Small Date Copper plated Zinc

There is also a 1982 S Large Date Copper Proof

Not surprisingly, our government makes a handsome profit when it creates coins and paper
money.  This profit on coins, less the cost of production, is called "seigniorage" and of great
concern to the government.  For example, it might cost a few cents to make a quarter, so
Uncle Sam pockets the rest as profits.
In the early 1980's, with the increasing costs of labor, dies, and metals, it was costing the
government nearly a penny to make a penny.  This low profit situation became intolerable.  
Unable to get Congress to approve eliminating the cent, the mint decided to make it out of the
cheapest junk metal that would still work in toll machines and other applications.  In addition,
mint officials didn't want to upset the public in any way.  Thus, the metal decided upon was to
be zinc and the cents were to have the very thin copper plating.  The mint was especially
happy to get away from copper because the public tended to hoard cents when copper prices
were up.
1982 was chosen as the transition year to put this change into effect, and many millions of
solid copper and copper-coated zinc cents were produced in 1982 so as to discourage saving
or hoarding by the public.  Stashing and hoarding of coins is always the greatest fear of mint
officials, and one of the reasons why they are sometimes called before Congress to explain coin

Why did the mint Create 7 Varieties?
They didn't.  The die varieties were noticed by coin collectors, and since collectors normally
relish small details, these varieties became popularized and now show up in coin albums that
way.  Remember, the mint stays away from anything that causes the public to hoard coins
and disavows all varieties, even if collectors see the obvious.  The mint's job is to keep coins
moving in and out of jars, desks, etc.  

Identifying the 7 Varieties
The term copper, bronze and brass are all used interchangeably, but not necessarily correctly,
to describe our cents.  I will use the word "copper".    Remember, all cents before 1982 are
solid copper and cents after 1982 are copper-coated zinc.  Cents of 1982 are the only ones in
First of all, 1982 cents can be Philadelphia mint (no mintmark) or Denver mint (D mintmark).   
Secondly, 1982 cents can be a large date or a small date.  One of the best ways to distinguish
is to look at the number "2" in the date.   The large date "2" has a thick, fat base with no
curve.  The small date "2" has a delicate base with a slow curve at it's base.
Thirdly, the solid copper cents weigh approximately 3 grams, while the copper-coated zinc
ones weigh 2.5 grams.  For this you would need a scale to weigh the difference.  


Build your own Coin Scale - it's easy!!!

You can make your own scale that will differentiate between ZINC and COPPER 1982 cents.  All
you need is a tongue depressor, a wooden rod, glue, and cent dated before 1982 and a cent
dated after 1982.  

Place the round wooden rod under the tongue depressor as shown.  You must find the
correct position to place the rod using the two cents (one copper dated before 1982, and one
zinc dated after 1982).   The rod must be place in a spot that makes the depressor go up
when a copper coin is placed on the end, and say put when a zinc coin is placed on the end.  

See Below:

Once you have calibrated the scale, use the glue to attached the wooden rod.  Test your two
cents again, and draw a line at the best spot to place the cents.  

Now, try some 1982 cents.  The 1982 cents that make the scale go down are copper, and the
ones that do not make the scale go down are zinc.  

Article and Scale Design by Gabe of Gabe's Coins.  Pictures by LCR