Have a Silver Penny That’s NOT a 1943 Steel Cent? Here’s How to Find Out What You Have

silver pennyA lot of people leaving comments here at The Fun Times Guide to Coins have been asking me about their silver pennies.

Of course, many of these silver one-cent coins are 1943 pennies, which really aren’t silver pennies. They’re actually made with zinc-coated steel.

However, many of these inquiries about silver pennies have nothing to do with 1943 Lincoln cents or even the highly rare 1944 steel cent (a mint error caused by leftover steel coin blanks getting accidentally getting stamped with the 1944 coin die).

I’ve had a lot of people ask me about their 1961 silver penny. Or their 1978 silver penny. Or their 1986 silver penny.

Since I’ve been getting questions about silver pennies on a regular basis, I’ve decided that it’s time to write a post about them and hopefully help answer some readers’ questions.

First of all, there are many reasons why a penny could appear silver.

Silver pennies can be caused by:

  • An error at the U.S. Mint
  • Plating with silver, pewter, or mercury
  • A common science experiment

Of course, determining what might have caused your penny to look silver means digging a little deeper. Any of the causes listed above could apply to your penny, so to figure out what’s going on, you’ll need the help of a trusty coin scale. However, any scale that can measure items by the gram or the fraction of a gram will work.

 

Is My Penny Silver Because of a Mint Error?

OK, the most valuable circumstance for your coin would be if it was struck on the wrong planchet (coin blank). Such is the case for 1944 steel cents, as mentioned earlier in this post. Approximately 35 1944 pennies were struck on the zinc-coated steel planchets used for the iconic 1943 steel cent.

1944 steel cents, like their 1943 steel penny siblings, can stick to a magnet, and they weigh decidedly less than their copper counterparts, at 2.70 grams versus 3.11 grams. Yet, they are worth substantially more; a 1944 steel cent can auction for upward of $75,000, whereas a typical 1944 copper Lincoln cent is worth around 5 to 10 cents.

Another reason some pennies may look silver would be because they were struck on dime planchets. These types of errors, though not as rare or valuable as the 1944 steel penny, are still highly unusual and sought-after by coin collectors – especially those who prize error coins. You can tell a penny on dime planchet error relatively easily.

First, part of the design (likely the rim) would be cut off because, as a dime planchet is smaller than a penny planchet. Also, the coin would weigh less. Silver dime planchets (made before 1965) weigh 2.5 grams, and copper-nickel clad planchets (made since 1965) have a weight of 2.27 grams.

If you think you have such a piece, you will want to send it to a third-party coin grading company to have it authenticated, since penny on dime planchet error coins are worth around $300 and up.

An additional cause for pennies made since the 1980s to appear silver is that, in some instances, the copper plating on zinc-based Lincoln cents (produced since 1982) isn’t fully articulated. In other cases the plating is completely missing. These error pennies are worth approximately $50 or more.

Modern zinc-based pennies that appear silver should be carefully evaluated, since some of these coins have had their copper coating chemically removed post mint. Only a coin authentication firm or metallurgist could determine whether the coin was chemically altered.

 

Pattern Coins and the 1974 Aluminum Penny

Another U.S. Mint-derived cause of a silver penny would be in the case of pattern coins.

Over the years, the U.S. Mint has tried striking pennies using other metals to lessen production costs (as of today, it costs the U.S. government nearly two cents to make a penny). One such experimentation happened in 1973, when the U.S. Mint began striking more than 1.5 million 1974-dated aluminum pennies. These aluminum Lincoln cents, weighing in at less than a gram each, had a brilliant silvery color.

While many were provided to government representatives, the coin failed to gain traction. Opposition toward the coin came from several groups, including pediatricians, who were concerned the aluminum composition of the coin would not be picked up by X-ray machines. The vending industry also scoffed at the coin over concerns that they would cause mechanical failures in vending machines.

Though the U.S. government eventually recalled all 1974 aluminum pennies, about a dozen are still missing. All are considered government property and subject to seizure by the U.S. Secret Service.

 

Turning a Penny Silver

So if your silver penny isn’t a 1944 steel penny, penny on dime planchet error, or U.S. Mint pattern coin, what might you have?

In all likelihood, you have a penny that has been plated with silver, pewter, or mercury.

Countless pennies have been altered in appearance with the application of silver-colored (as well as gold-colored) metals. Whether done as a science experiment in school or purely for the sake of novelty, plating pennies has long been a popular thing to do — especially for those who have no numismatic interest in coins and are unaware that plating coins is considered post-mint damage (PMD, as we coin collectors acronym it) and can actually lessen the value of a coin.

You can tell a coin has been plated by weighing it. If your penny was made after 1982 and weighs greater than 2.5 grams, it was likely plated; and, remember, pennies made before 1982 (with the exception of some mid-19th century one-cent coins) shouldn’t weigh more than 3.11 grams.

Always treat plated pennies with caution, since there is a very strong likelihood the substance of choice for the plater was mercury – a poisonous element that can be absorbed through the skin and cause neurological injuries.

 

What Kind of Silver Penny Do You Have?

Have you been able to determine what type of silver penny you have from reading this post?

While my intention is to educate whether than to burst the bubble on the value or mystique of your silver penny, I hope you have one of the scarce error coins that I mentioned early in this article. Rare coins can be and are found in pocket change, and many turn up in estates and even while combing the ground with a metal detector.

Good luck! And, if you have any questions, remember that you can always drop a line here in the comments below.

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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  • http://www.facebook.com/whitney.danielle.5454 Whitney Danielle

    I have a tiny silver penny it weighs .5 grams and is dated 2010 can you help me figure out what it is?

    • JoshuaTheFunTimesGuide

      Hi, Whitney –

      It almost sounds like you are describing a type of replica, like the type used with doll playlets. These are fairly common but are still interesting pieces nevertheless.

  • jose gutierrez

    i have a silver color 1977 D penny, it doesnt stick to a magnet, why is like that??

    • JoshuaTheFunTimesGuide

      Jose,

      It sounds like your 1977-D Lincoln cent was probably dipped in mercury or coated in another silvery colored, non-magnetic metal. This is something that has been commonly done with pennies after they leave the mint.

  • http://www.facebook.com/beverlypopa.flees Beverly Popa Flees

    I have a 1981 silver penny. I took it to our local coins company and they were not able to prove or disprove what I may have and want me to spend $35 to have the penny sent out and looked at from a third party company. I am wondering if I should do such a thing or would I be wasting $35 for a penny? what do you think?

    • JoshuaTheFunTimesGuide

      Hi, Beverly –

      Great question. It is true that the best way to determine the origin of an apparent error, such as silver coloration on a penny. A mint-caused error involving a silvery color might have to do with the coin being struck on either a dime planchet or a foreign coin planchet. It could also be due to a plating of pewter or mercury.

      Here’s some more info on coin authentication: http://coins.thefuntimesguide.com/2009/01/slabbed_coins.php

  • Chelsea Kasnoff

    Hi Joshua,

    We found a 1976 silver penny that has a bell and the USA stamped in it…Got any ideas??

    Thanks

    • JoshuaTheFunTimesGuide

      Yes, Chelsea! You have a popular type of novelty coin; back during the nation’s bicentennial in 1976, many Lincoln cents were counterstamped by a private minting company with an image of the Liberty Bell to commemorate our nation’s 200th birthday. These coins are worth around $1 to $2 each.

      • Chelsea Kasnoff

        Thanks Joshua! I didn’t realize this before but the back has a circle in the middle and some of the lettering is messed up. Could this affect anything?

        • JoshuaTheFunTimesGuide

          I am afraid that would affect the value, Chelsea.

  • Brooke

    I have a half penny with a sail boat on one side and nothing on the other side. Is this worth anything??

    • JoshuaTheFunTimesGuide

      Hi, Brooke –

      It sounds like you have an altered British half penny. Most British half pennies are worth less than a dollar if they are well worn, but given yours was apparently altered (probably for the sake of being used by an illusionist), yours would really only have monetary value to novelty coin collectors.

  • Rochelle

    I have a 1943 Steel penny . It does stick to a magnet . It has the wheat emblem on the back . It is not in mint condition by any means, but you can tell what all the details on it are . Is it worth anything ?

    • JoshuaTheFunTimesGuide

      Hi, Rochelle –

      A 1943 steel cent with an average amount of wear is worth between 10 cents and 25 cents – and is a novel little treasure to hold on to!

  • jonik

    We found a 1986 penny (no mint city marking) with the raised rim, not the outside edge, on both sides, being shiny metallic, like silver, pewter or something. Descriptions here don’t exactly seem to fit. Close looks have it perfect…not painted or anything. What is it?

    • JoshuaTheFunTimesGuide

      Hi, Jonik –

      It is highly possible that the zinc core of the coin is exposed either due to a mint error (the blank may have not been coated with copper) or because a science experiment resulted in its copper coating being removed by exposure to chemicals. It is highly probable that the latter is the situation, given the commonality of such experiments.

      • jonik

        Thanks. A close look at this penny shows silvery (zincky ?) metalic color exposed in places on the coin faces, not just the entire rim on both sides….as if the “copper” coating has been worn off a bit. And there’s some small black smudges…which I will not try to remove without expert advice.
        We all love a mystery. Solutions good too.

      • jonik

        What kind of experiment would focus on just the raised rim? Outside edge is copper color…as is most of the faces, except where wear rubbed off some of the coating. If the copper was entirely rubbed off, would we have a “silver” coin?…like a ’43 penny?

  • robert

    I found a 2002silver penny marked with a D its bigger than a normal penny but smaller than a nickel. Also marked on the back next ed to the Linkin memorial is the letters fd, I can’t seem to find anything on it can u help

    • JoshuaTheFunTimesGuide

      Hi, Robert –

      It sounds like your Lincoln cent was silver plated by somebody outside of the U.S. Mint. The “FG” on the reverse, near the Lincoln Memorial, stands for Frank Gasparro, who designed the Lincoln Memorial design in 1959.

  • Paul

    my 1977 silver penny weighs in at 3.09 grams on a jeweler’s scale. looks to be same thickness as control 1984 penny. if it is plated, it certainly has retained a great deal of detail; if the coating has been been chemically tampered with, they did a good job getting rid of all the copper. next step? i live and in the nyc area.

    • JoshuaTheFunTimesGuide

      It is still possible that your 1977 silver penny was thinly plated, but you may want to take your coin to a local coin dealer to have them look at it in-person and see what they think.

      Here’s some info on finding a reputable coin dealer: http://coins.thefuntimesguide.com/2009/12/coin_dealer.php

      • Paul

        Thanks much. I’ll give it a shot. Shouldn’t be hard to find someone in NYC.
        All the best,

        Paul

        Sent from a rotary phone. Top that!

        • JoshuaTheFunTimesGuide

          You’re welcome, Paul! Take care.

    • bobbie

      Did u ever find out value of this penny??

  • Janet Davis

    All I cans see is 19? Kinda look like 1991. Its faded. Just the round edges are Silver. I’ve never seen nothing like it. It Looks real
    Didn’t know what to do with it?

  • delani taylor

    Hi robert, I am a cashier at a Pharmacy and a customer came in with a silver looking penny that seemed to be dated in the 1950s if I remember correctly. He decided to keep it but I was just wondering how much that could be worth?

    • JoshuaTheFunTimesGuide

      Delani,

      A silver-colored 1950s penny is almost assuredly one that has been plated with another metal. Such pieces are only considered novelty coins (altered coins), and has no numismatic value.

  • Brendon

    I have a very shiny silver penny I saved for like 25 yrs.( Just because it was pretty and different) It says 1974 d on the front. and its magnetic?? could it be one of those “missing” aluminum pennies?? Im not a fan of the Secret service or the Men in Black showing up at my house…

  • Mark

    I have five 1974 D pennies. Are you able to tell me if they are aluminum?

    • JoshuaTheFunTimesGuide

      Hi Mark,

      You can tell if your 1974-D pennies are aluminum by their weight and appearance. If they weigh less than 1 gram and are silvery in appearance, they are aluminum.

      • Mark

        Here are for you to look at to see if they are aluminum? I also have a 1936 Buffalo head nickel and a 1930 dime. Are they worth anything?

        • JoshuaTheFunTimesGuide

          Hello, Mark –

          From the photo, I can tell these are all regular copper Lincoln cents. However, your 1936 Buffalo nickel and 1930 Mercury dime do have extra value. The ’36 Buffalo nickel is worth around $1 and the the ’30 Mercury dime has a value of about $4. Thanks for your question and for posting that great photo!

  • Caitlyn

    Hi Joshua!

    I have a 1947 wheat penny that is silver in color and holds slightly to a magnet. I haven’t been able to find any information about it. Do you think it could be plated, or something else?

    • JoshuaTheFunTimesGuide

      Hello Caitlyn,

      Given your description of the 1947 wheat cent, I venture to say the coin was plated with steel by somebody outside the U.S. Mint attempting to replicate the novelty of the 1943 steel pennies.

      Thank you for your question!

  • Larry Freeborn

    i have a penny thats wore badly. a magnet wont stick to it. think it could be silver.

    • JoshuaTheFunTimesGuide

      Hello, Larry –

      Would you please post a photo of the one-cent coin you think may be silver?

      Thank you!

  • John Green

    I have a 1986 Lincoln Cent that is silver in color, no copper anywhere on the coin. Under magnification cannot see anything different than a normal coin. The coin’s weight is 2.52 grams. Any ideas?

    • JoshuaTheFunTimesGuide

      Thank you for providing me with the weight of your coin, John. Given he weight is 2 100ths over the typical weight of the coin, I suspect that could be due to a thin coating of silver-colored metal on the coin (possibly zinc). Further metallurgical tests could verify or invalidate this theory.

  • Melissa Ellison

    Hi, i work in retail and i found a 1961 silver in color penny, it has a d under the date, i dont know much about coins but it was different. do you think it may be worth anything?

    • JoshuaTheFunTimesGuide

      Hello, Melissa –

      While your 1961 silver-colored penny may look different, it sounds like that’s because it was plated with another metal to mimic the appearance of a 1943 steel cent. While your coin is worth face value, it is still an interesting find nonetheless!

      Thank you for your question!

  • David Pink

    Hello Joshua, I have come across a 1973 silver colored penny. It has no mint mark anywhere. It is dated 1973. It is the size of a penny, I am unsure of weight. It also does not have groves around the outside like a penny or a dime. It is flat on the outside like that of a nickel. Do you think I have something special?

    • JoshuaTheFunTimesGuide

      Hello, David –

      Well, your Lincoln cent WAS minted around the time that the U.S. Mint was experimenting with aluminum compositions and other metals to help lower the cost of striking the one-cent coin. However, knowing the weight of your coin would be important to deducing the cause of its color. If it weighs less than 3 grams, you u MAY have something, but in all likelihood, it is a coin that was coated in zinc or another silver-colored metal to mimic the appearance of the distinctive 1943 steel cent.

      • David Pink

        Ok im sorry i wrote 1973. But, its a 1974. Its non magnetic and it weighs exactly 3 grams. If that means any extra.

        • JoshuaTheFunTimesGuide

          Hi, David –

          Given the weight of your coin, it sounds to me that your coin is a regular copper Lincoln cent that was plated with pewter, silver, or zinc to mimic the experimental 1974 aluminum cents.

          Thanks for your question!

  • Laticia

    1954 silver penny with two leaves on the back side.

    • JoshuaTheFunTimesGuide

      Hi Laticia,

      This coin appears to have been plated by somebody with zinc to resemble the appearance of the novel 1943 steel cent. While this piece is worth a few cents, it is still a neat find nevertheless!

  • john

    Hello Joshua,I have a 1991-D Kennedy half dollar that I came across.It is smooth around the edges and the silver color seems to be flaking off and where it is it looks gold.Can you tell me anything about it.Thank you in advance ,John

    • JoshuaTheFunTimesGuide

      Hello, John!

      Hmm… Sounds interesting. If you could, would you mind posting a photo of your 1991-D Kennedy half dollar here so I can take a look and see if I can figure out what’s going.

  • Tineessa nelson

    1990 no mint mark silver penny any ideas no discoloration ffrom chemcals either

    • JoshuaTheFunTimesGuide

      Hello, Tineessa,

      Those are great photos. It’s very possible that your coin was not properly coated with its copper outer layer, and such a piece could be worth around $50.

      HOWEVER, I would not rule out the possibility that it was altered, as there are chemicals that can completely dissolve the copper and leave the zinc behind, seemingly untouched. Therefore, I suggest authentication.

      Here’s a link that discusses authentication and lists out some of the reputable coin certification services: http://coins.thefuntimesguide.com/2009/01/slabbed_coins.php

  • Tineessa nelson

    1990 no mint mark silver penny any ideas no discoloration from chemcals either

  • NoNonsense

    I found a 1976 no P penny in a bicentennial mint cent. It has the marks like someone cleaned or removed the coating, but at the same time, it has almost a silver like mirror appearence. I’m taking it to my coin shop today just to confirm. I’m guessing it’s mercury or zinc, but I would like to know what you think. The rim is also the same color and shows no copper coloring. It is not attracted to a magnet and it also has a different sound when dropping it.

    • JoshuaTheFunTimesGuide

      Hi,

      I have a 1981 mint set with a Philadelphia penny of similar appearance. I do know that a metal wash the mint used in the case of the 1981 cent caused some one-cent coins from the Philly mint that year to have a much lighter appearance than others. Given that your coin is roughly from the same era, I’d suggest a similar situation happened in the case of your cent.

      Thanks for your question!

      • NoNonsense

        Thanks. Looks like it was a science experiment. At least that’s what other coin collectors were saying on a forum.

  • NoNonsense

    Sorry. Guess my file size was too big.

  • dennis949

    i have a 1982d large date without any copper plateing or color. just zinc

  • Chan Navie

    Hi i have stumbled upon a silver 1943d penny..wheaty.. and i have no idea about it . Any suggestions? Thx

    • JoshuaTheFunTimesGuide

      Hi, Chan –

      In 1943, the U.S. Mint chose to make Lincoln cents out of steel to ration copper for the World War II effort – we needed copper for artillery and other crucial materials. Steel cents are common and are generally worth 10 to 25 cents for worn specimens.

      Thanks for your question!

  • Tonya J.

    Hello. I have a 1974 silver colored penny. No mint mark. Magnet does not stick to it. Not sure how much it weighs. Thoughts?

    • JoshuaTheFunTimesGuide

      Hello, Tonya —

      Hmm… without knowing the weight I can’t say for certain what you have, but it’s very possible that your coin may have been silver plated to resemble the 1974 aluminum penny, which was an experimental piece that was struck back when the U.S. Treasury was looking for a cheaper metal to use for our one-cent coins besides copper.

      Of course, it’s also possible that you could have the actual 1974 aluminum penny, of which only a few are thought to exist. You could tell the difference because the aluminum pennies weigh only about 1 gram — 3 times less than copper pennies of the era.

      If you can get a weight and/or a photo, I can tell you more!

      Thanks for your question!

  • Bob S.

    Hello. I have a 1955 wheat penny. Silver in color, double stamp on the outside. any thoughts.

    • JoshuaTheFunTimesGuide

      Hi Bob,

      I will venture to say the coin was plated in silver or mercury (very common back in the day), but without seeing an image I can’t say for certain.

      If you wouldn’t mind posting an image, that would be great, thanks!

  • kennella

    I have a 1943 silver penny it sticks to the magnet wat can it mean where in Chicago Illinois can i take it to b examined

    • JoshuaTheFunTimesGuide

      Hello, Kennella —

      Since your 1943 penny DOES stick to a magnet, you have a regular steel cent that’s worth between 10 and 25 cents.

      Nice find! These are historic coins that tell part of the story of the World War II era.

      Here’s some more info on these really cool 1943 steel pennies: http://coins.thefuntimesguide.com/2008/09/1943_lincoln_cent.php

  • Anna Ortiz Gurule

    Hi there. I have this penny that is “silverish”. Any comments on it?

    • JoshuaTheFunTimesGuide

      Hello Anna –

      Would you mind posting a photo of your silverish coin so we can see what the cause of the coloration might be?

      Thank you!

      • Anna Ortiz Gurule

        I posted the photo a couple of times. Did you see it?

  • Anna Ortiz Gurule

    I’ve tried posting a photo but it doesn’t show up. I’m thinking it might be too large. What size does the photo need to be?

    • JoshuaTheFunTimesGuide

      This photo looks good to me! It looks like somebody treated your coin with a stain to accentuate the design/devices on the coin.

  • Anna Ortiz Gurule

    Trying a smaller size

  • Lissa C Della

    Hi again Joshua, I was looking at this 1993-D Lincoln penny. Is it just me or does it looked doubled? Especially in date/mint mark area, LIBERTY, and Lincoln’s bust and bow tie… I am still learning how to identify between machine doubling and actual double die. What do you think?

    • Lissa C Della

      Here’s another picture of the same coin. I made it b/w to better highlight the doubling. What do you think?

    • JoshuaTheFunTimesGuide

      How’s it going Lissa? Thanks for checking in. The doubled appearance on your 1993-D cent is indeed very striking (pun intended), but the flattish, shelf-like appearance of the doubled, or ghost, image, lends this to be machine doubling.

      Die doubling usually results in a secondary image that has a pronounced, rounded edge much like the primary design. If you need any further explanation please let me know!

      You’re making some really neat-looking finds at any rate!

  • Stefanie Foster

    i have this penny it sounds funny when mixed with other pennies and it is bigger and concave too… it also looks to not have copper coating….what is it?

    • JoshuaTheFunTimesGuide

      Hi Stefanie,

      When this coin was hallowed out, the deformation spread the metal out, making the diameter wider than original. Presuming this to be a piece made for novelty presentation (such as part of jewelry), it was either pewter coated or chemically altered to remove the thin copper coating.

      I hope this info helps!