Zincolns: Collecting The Lincoln Zinc Penny

100_4365.JPG Zincoln cents… er… Lincoln cents.

Well, ever since the United States Mint began striking Lincoln pennies with a primarily zinc composition back in 1982, some coin collectors have jokingly been referring to modern zinc Lincoln cents as Zincolns.

Check out the story behind zinc Lincoln cents, what are these pennies worth, and how many zinc Lincoln cents have been made in recent years!


The Story Behind The Lincoln Zinc Penny

When the plans came to change the metallic composition of the Lincoln cent, it wasn’t the first time the penny would have undergone a significant overhaul.

In 1943, steel pennies were made to save copper for ration efforts during World War II.

In 1974, aluminum pennies were proposed to combat rising copper prices.

In 1982, with the 95 percent copper and 5 percent tin & zinc composition costing too much to produce, the United States Mint was approved to use a new metal composition for the penny:

  • 97.5 percent zinc
  • 2.5 percent copper
  • A lighter weight of 2.5 grams (versus 3.11 grams for the copper cent)

That combination results in a zinc core for the cent with a pure copper coating. This copper coating is what makes the zinc-based coin still look similar in color to earlier, copper pennies.

Interestingly, zinc is what coats the 1943 steel pennies.

By the way, due to the rising cost of copper, many people now hoard copper pennies!

How Many Zinc Lincoln Cents Have Been Made?

You might be surprised to learn just how many zinc Lincoln cents are floating around out there. In fact, there are more than plenty to go around for every United States citizen.

Over 200 billion zinc Lincoln cents have been made since 1982. With 310 million people living in the U.S. in 2011, that means there are easily more than 645 zinc Lincoln cents for every man, woman, and child living in the country!

Zinc Penny Minting Issues & Errors

The United States Mint does a pretty good job minting billions of coins every year, but the U.S. Mint isn’t perfect.

You’ll likely notice that many zinc Lincoln cents, especially from the early- and mid-1980s, seem to have tiny bubbles. These bubbles are due to an issue where the copper didn’t adhere to the zinc core as well as it should.

Unless drastic, zinc pennies with bubbles aren’t worth anything more than their regular value and, often, are viewed as imperfections that actually diminish the value of uncirculated zinc Lincoln cents.

There are also several notable error Lincoln cents made since the transition to zinc in 1982.

Here’s a list of some of the most important zinc Lincoln cent errors and varieties and their approximate values:

  • 1983 Doubled Die $300
  • 1984 Doubled Ear $250
  • 1990 No-S Proof $3,000
  • 1992-D Close AM $500
  • 1995 Doubled Die $45
  • 1998 Wide AM $25
  • 1999 Wide AM $500
  • 2000 Wide AM $5

Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez

Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez

My love for coins and numismatics began when I was 11 years old. I primarily collect and study U.S. coins produced during the 20th century. I've also been studying meteorology and watching weather patterns for years. I enjoy sharing little-known facts and fun stuff about coins, weather, travel, health, and living green with others.

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Fun From Around the Web

  • Sydbergin

    I have an error penny that has a large clump of metal on it. (face-side) I don’t remember the year, but it was in the 70’s. We were offered $ 60,  20 years ago. Who should I take it to to get it evaluated? Sydney

    • JerryM

      I have 2 2008 pennies with a large clump of metal,but never found ay more.JerryM

      • JoshuaTheFunTimesGuide

        Hi, Jerry –

        Would you mind posting a photo of your 2008 Lincoln cents with the clumps of metal here so we can see what’s going on with them? Thank you!

  • Beck

    I found a 2004 Wide AM… has anyone found such a Variety?
    I also found a 1995 Wide AM,the Letter AM have a clear space between them,has anyone found one?

  • statham

    i have a 1982 lincoln with wy in a square above date  is this rare statham

  • Adam

    I have a 1981 D penny that is not copper. I can’t find it on-line and I also called the US Mint and did not get any help on how much this was worth and all… If you know what I would like to know Please get back to me…

    • JoshuaTheFunTimesGuide

      Hi, Adam –

      Is your 1981 cent silver in color? Gold? Without seeing the coin in hand, weighing it (copper one-cent coins should weigh around 3.11 grams), or knowing what color it is, it most likely was plated by somebody outside of the U.S. Mint.

  • Gordon Au

    I have a 2004 Proof Set with on copper plating on the penny. The penny is a white proof zinc color.

    • JoshuaTheFunTimesGuide

      Hi, Gordon –

      Ordinarily, a zinc-based Lincoln cent without its copper plating would have a value of $50 to $100. It seems unlikely that U.S. Mint inspectors would have let a proof Lincoln cent escape without its copper plating, so if this is to be the case with your coin, I’d suspect it to be relatively scarce and thus more valuable. You may want to consider having your coin authenticated by a third-party coin grading company. Here’s some more info: http://coins.thefuntimesguide.com/2009/01/slabbed_coins.php

      Good luck!

  • Terry Spencer

    I was given a penny that was the end of a run it is heavily pitted and has no copper at all it is only zinc. Rough estimated on value?

    • JoshuaTheFunTimesGuide

      Hi Terry,

      It sounds like the coin may have been subjected to a chemical wash given the description of the coin, but I’m not sure without a pic. If you could, would you mind submitting one, please? Thanks!