Copper vs. Zinc Pennies: Here’s How To Tell If You Have A Copper Penny Or A Zinc Penny

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Do you know how to tell a copper penny from a zinc penny?

It’s not as difficult as you might think.

Following are 4 ways to tell if you have a copper penny or a zinc penny…

#1 – Check the date on the penny.

Here’s the rule of thumb:

  • Pennies dated before 1982 were made of copper (technically, 95% copper and 5% zinc).
  • Pennies dated after 1982 were made of zinc (technically, 97.5% zinc and 2.5% copper).

But 1982 pennies are unique — because both copper and zinc pennies were made that year!

So you’ll have to use one or more of the following 3 techniques to see if your 1982 penny is made of copper or zinc.

#2 – Weigh the penny.

You can tell zinc pennies apart from copper pennies by their weight when using a gram scale:

  • A copper penny weighs 3.11 grams.
  • A zinc penny weighs 2.5 grams.

You can see the 2 types of pennies’ weight differences described in this video:

#3 – Look at the color of the penny.

You can tell zinc pennies apart from copper pennies by their color when looking at them side by side:

  • A worn copper penny usually has a chocolate brown appearance or a deep warm, orange hue.
  • A zinc penny typically has more uneven toning — which can often make the surface look somewhat spotted.

#4 – Listen to the sound it makes when you drop it.

You can tell zinc pennies from copper pennies by listening for a ‘clicking sound’ or a ‘ringing sound’ when you drop them onto a hard surface — like a table:

  • A copper penny ‘rings.’
  • A zinc penny ‘clicks.’

You can hear the different sounds that the 2 types of pennies make when they’re dropped in this video:

So there you go!… Now you know how to tell a copper penny from a zinc penny yourself!


I like to help people find unique ways to do things in order to save time & money -- so I write about "outside the box" ideas that most wouldn't think of. As a lifelong dog owner, I often share my best tips for living with and training dogs. I worked in Higher Ed over 10 years before switching gears to pursue activities that I'm truly passionate about. I've worked at a vet, in a photo lab, and at a zoo -- to name a few. I enjoy the outdoors via bicycle, motorcycle, Jeep, or RV. You can always find me at the corner of Good News & Fun Times as publisher of The Fun Times Guide (32 fun & helpful websites).

12 thoughts on “Copper vs. Zinc Pennies: Here’s How To Tell If You Have A Copper Penny Or A Zinc Penny

    1. Hi, gchinsp —

      May I see a photo of this coin? What does it weigh? Based on your description this is an altered coin and in that case is worth only its copper value, or 2 cents. What I want to make sure is that it’s not a Lincoln cent design struck on a dime planchet — that’s worth more than $100.

      I’ll be glad to help more after I find out a few more of those details about your coin.

      Thank you!

  1. I have a 1969 s Lincoln Penny that is large date and it seems to have a doubled date for sure but not sure if small over large or lg over small and also not sure of doubling on In God on obverse or America on Reverse! Could you take a look please?

    1. Hi, Tracy —

      There are no large and small date varieties for 1969, but what I do see here appears to be machine doubling. While the coin is worth a couple cents for its metal content, it’s nevertheless still neat gilding aside.

      Thank you for reaching out,

      1. Thank you Josh for the info on the dates I wasn’t aware of that because I’m very new to this. I appreciate you taking the time to check it out for me.

  2. I had my 1909 S vdb penny wrapped in a paper towel and accidently threw it, in burning garbage. Penny is black! Bt can still see the vdb
    What should I do, Clean it? If so with what? or nothing i can do but to leave penny black? Thank You for your help and all.

    1. Hi, Paula —

      Sounds like you might want to see what a professional conservation can do to help save it. Better to pay a nominal amount to rescue your coin than to clean it and lost half or more of its value and render it uncollectible to many collectors! Here’s more info:

      Good luck, and thank you for reaching out!

      1. Thank You, I hav been looking up coins for years, for many reasons. but never did I come across such a place, as the one u mentioned. Thats GREAT, helped a lot! Thanks again.

    1. Hi, Rachel —

      There are minor tolerances for these coins — a zinc cent might weigh as much as 2.59 or copper 3.24 grams. If it weighs much more still, it’s usually due to added post-mint metals such as pewter or gold plating.

      Hope this helps,

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