The Coin Analyst - CoinWeek.com .....
1982 was the year E.T. The Extra Terrestrial hit the silver screen. The average price of a new home was $80,000, and the Equal Rights Amendment failed ratification. It was also the year the United States Mint began making Lincoln cents from a 97.5% zinc, 2.5% copper alloy instead of the traditional brass composition that had been in use for decades.
The change in the penny’s metallic composition actually unfolded in stages over the course of nine years, starting when the price of copper skyrocketed in 1973. As the intrinsic value of the copper in each Lincoln cent approached the coin’s face value, the public thought it could turn a profit by hoarding brass one-cent coins. This led to a nationwide coin shortage not unlike the situation that occurred in the early 1960s, when the increasing value of silver inspired bullion bugs to hoard silver dimes, quarters, and half dollars by the tens of millions.
The United States Mint experimented with an aluminum one-cent coin beginning in late 1973, but the vending machine industry raised concerns that the new one-cent coins would not be compatible with the millions of vending machines still accepting pennies. Meanwhile, copper prices began falling as 1974 moved forward, causing the U.S. Mint to forego changing the composition of the Lincoln cent. Virtually all of the 1.5 million 1974-dated experimental pennies were destroyed, and the legal status of the few that remain is dubious.
The 1970s would continue on. Runaway inflation as well as the spiking cost of copper forced government officials to revive the talk concerning the penny’s metallic composition. Testing throughout 1980 and 1981 led to the composition in use today, which consists of a nearly 99.2% zinc core and pure copper plating.
The first zinc-based Lincoln cents were struck at the West Point Mint on January 7, 1982. These coins, along with 1,587,245 business-strike zinc cents made at the San Francisco Mint that year, do not contain mintmarks; the Philadelphia Mint would take up production of the new zinc cents early in the year as well.
However, the Denver Mint did not strike the new zinc pennies until October 21 – a little more than one month after the U.S. Mint decided it was time to create a new obverse master hub that resulted in a smaller-sized date.
The metallic composition and obverse master hub changes ultimately led to the creation of seven different types of 1982 business-strike Lincoln cents, including:
- 1982 brass large date
- 1982 brass small date
- 1982 zinc large date
- 1982 zinc small date
- 1982-D brass large date
- 1982-D zinc large date
- 1982-D zinc small date
Add in the 1982-S proof Lincoln cent, which was struck in brass and boasts a large date motif, and the coin collector has eight basic 1982 Lincoln cents to chase after. But how do you tell these 1982 pennies apart?
How to Easily Decipher The Different 1982 Lincoln Cent Varieties
On small-date 1982 cents, the “8” in the date is roughly the same height as the “1” and “2,” meaning a straight line can run across the tops and bottoms of those digits in the date. On the other hand, the “8” on the large-date coin looks relatively fat and is longer than the “2.”
As for telling brass and zinc 1982 cents apart, Charles Daughtrey (http://www.coppercoins.com), the renowned Lincoln cent expert who wrote the foreword to Q. David Bowers’ A Guide Book of Lincoln Cents (2008), says he can tell the two types of coins apart with his eyes closed.
“I listen to the ring,” he says. “The copper cent has a light ring to it that resonates after being dropped. Zinc cents don’t ring – there’s just a ‘thud’.”
There are many other ways to tell the two metallic varieties apart though, including weighing 1982 pennies.
“The best scale to use for weighing your 1982 cents is one that measures down to at least the tenth of a gram,” he says; brass 1982 cents weigh 3.11 grams whereas the zinc cents come in at just 2.5 grams. He says tipping balance scales also make it easy to tell brass cents apart from zinc.
Daughtrey also goes by the look of the coins, which are especially distinct in the case of circulated 1982 cents.
“Worn copper 1982 cents usually have a nice, brown patina. Zinc cents are usually splotched or mottled in color and sometimes have little bumps or other surface defects that are attributed to inherent problems with the zinc-copper metal combination,” he explains. “Uncirculated 1982 zinc cents often do look much like the copper type, and that’s where weighing the coins is useful in telling them apart.”
Which 1982 Cents Are The Most Valuable?
Numismatists who think there is little to get excited about collecting 1982 Lincoln cents should think twice, because according to Daughtrey there are plenty of interesting die varieties (some quite valuable) among 1982 pennies. The most valuable known 1982 die variety, the reverse doubled die zinc small-date cent, was discovered in 2007.
“To date, only three have been found,” he reports. “I facilitated the sale of a brown AU specimen that sold for thousands of dollars. If a choice Red BU exists, it could sell for $15,000.” He adds, “they’re extremely rare.”
The 1982 brass large date obverse doubled die cent is also a significant die variety for the year, though with a value of about $25 in MS-60, it is worth substantially less than its small-date zinc doubled die counterpart.
“There’s strong doubling in “In God We Trust,” Daughtrey says.
He also suggests that coin collectors should examine all of their 1982 cents closely, because while he says there are perhaps 19 or 20 known die varieties for the year, many more likely exist.
“When it comes to die varieties, a lot of collectors just follow what they know exists according to cherrypicking guides.”
He comments that astute coin collectors will pick out the coins that may not have yet been attributed, and that they need to be on the lookout for minor variations in all parts of the design. The Lincoln cent aficionado also says that while it can be a lot of fun looking for the different die varieties, collectors should remember that not all are worth a bundle.
“Normally, only the mainstream die varieties really have a lot of value to them.”
In addition to die varieties, Daughtrey says some ordinary specimens of the seven main 1982 pennies are worth much more than face value alone.
“The Philly small-date zinc cents bring the most money – they’re the toughest, and I’d pay $30 per (50-coin) roll for those in uncirculated. The copper small-date cents are also tough, but they’re not worth as much.”
He says rolls of all the other 1982 cent varieties are worth $2-4 in uncirculated grades.
While the dearth of uncirculated sets and bag collectors have largely made 1982- and 1983-dated Jefferson nickels, Roosevelt dimes, and Washington quarters quite scarce in the uncirculated grades, he says the situation has always been different for the 1982 pennies. “I was in the eighth grade when the 1982 cents came out, and the guys back then collecting these coins were already looking for the small-date Philly cents because they were known to be scarce, and by ’83 or ’84 these coins were tough. So, there was a small bag hoarding craze for the 1982 cents.”
Daughtrey thinks one reason there were so many people collecting bags of 1982 cents back in the day has a lot to do with the 1960 large- and small-date varieties that were released two decades earlier. “In 1982, many of the people who were looking for those 1960 cent varieties, when bag collecting was growing, were still collecting coins in the early 1980s.”
He does say though that most high-grade business-strike coins come from uncirculated sets, which is why finding premium-quality 1982 cents is so difficult. It is among the high-grade Lincoln cents where he has seen a lot of activity these days, especially for the MS-66, MS-67, and MS-68 pieces – the kinds that registry set builders get excited about.
“[Registry set builders] will spend big bucks for these,” he says. “Values for a lot of the 1982-86 Lincoln cents in the MS-67+ grades are going through the roof pricewise.”
Check Your Change
“When we [picked] up a coin like the 1931-S Buffalo nickel, which isn’t rare, people back in the day, when the coin was still new, understood these pieces were kind of scarce. Imagine what happened for the people who in, say 1935 or 1940, picked out every 31-S Buffalo nickel they came across in circulation,” Daughtrey poses. “The 31-S may not have been worth a lot in 1935, but if collectors had the insight to save them, their heirs would have some money from a handful of those coins.”
For the record, the 1931-S Buffalo nickel has a mintage of 1,200,000 and is worth about $15 in Good-4, $25 in Very Fine-20, and $35 in Extremely Fine-40.
So, what does Daughtrey look for in his pocket change? When it comes to Lincoln cents, he keeps his eyes peeled for any 1982 cents that appear to grade AU or higher. “Generally, the lowest grade you’ll find for ’82 cents is XF. I also avoid pulling out damaged coins or those that look like they’re rotting.” As an aside, he says he keeps all the better-looking 1986 cents, too.
You never know. Maybe your heirs will thank you for saving all those 1982 small-date cents.
PCGS-Certified 1982 Lincoln Cents Currently Available on eBay
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