The U.S. Mint made the most significant switch in the composition of circulating coinage since 17 years earlier, when silver was removed from the U.S. dime and quarter and drastically reduced in the half dollar.
In 1982, the value of copper actually began to exceed the face value of the cent. For well over a century (except for certain, short composition changes as seen with the 1943 steel cents and "shell-case" cents of 1944-1946), the U.S. Mint had been striking cents which had a composition of 95% copper and 5% zinc and tin.
Everything changed nearly with a complete reversal in copper prominence in cents during 1982, when the U.S. Mint started striking cents with a core 99.2% comprised of zinc and .8% copper, with the cent bearing a thin outer coating of pure copper. In fact, the entire coin had become almost entirely made from zinc — 97.5% zinc, to be precise. Copper now comprised just 2.5% of the total metal content in the new Lincoln cents.
The interesting thing about the cents released in 1982 is that not all of them were struck in the now-current zinc-predominate composition.
In fact, billions of 1982 cents struck from the old copper composition were struck; zinc cents were first struck in October 1982.
Furthermore, modifications to the die led to some 1982 cents bearing so-called "large dates" and others having "small dates."
Large Date vs Small Date Cents
"Large date" 1982 cents can be distinguished from "small date" 1982 cents rather easily, with a good eye and a magnifying glass.
A close look shows the tops of the numbers all align on a "small date," whereas the large date variety shows the "2" and "8" looking both particularly fuller and also rising a little higher than the "1" and the "2."
Copper vs Zinc Lincoln Memorial Cents
It is fairly easy to tell the difference between a mainly zinc and mainly copper 1982 cent.
The copper cent weighs 3.11 grams, whereas the zinc cent weighs 2.5 grams. If you can find a really sensitive scale which measures weight to the hundredths, you should have no problem differentiating between the two types of cents with such a device.
If you cannot get access to a scale that will read the weights accurately, I have heard of something called the "drop test." I don’t particularly like this method, because dropping coins subjects them to the chance of damage. However, as 1982 cents are worth only face value ion circulated and very slight premiums in average uncirculated grades, I suppose the only thing you lose when dropping 1982 cents is adherence to the old numismatists’ adage "never drop a coin."
Copper cents create a thud sound when dropped, the zinc cents hit the surface with a quieter tone, when dropped for the same height and upon the same surface as the copper cents.
7 Varieties of 1982 Lincoln Memorial Cents
All in all, among the different large date and small date changes, as well as the copper and zinc switch-up, there were 7 different regular-issue cents resulting from all the variations:
1982 Copper Large Date
1982 Copper Small Date
1982-D Copper Large Date
1982 Zinc Large Date
1982 Zinc Small Date
1982-D Zinc Large Date
1982-D Zinc Small Date
Value of 1982 Lincoln Memorial Cents
As of today, no extra monetary value is placed on any worn 1982 cents.
The only increase over face value you will find among 1982 cents comes in those which are uncirculated.
Generally, the copper issues sell for 30-50 cents in average-quality uncirculated. The zinc varieties range a bit higher, between $1-3 in typical uncirculated grades — depending on the mint mark and date-size combination.
To Find Out More
There are many websites where you can go to discover more information about 1982 Lincoln cents. Among the ones I like the best is an article on 1982 Lincoln cents on the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC) website.
I also like this article that talks about science projects which can be done with Lincoln cents, discussing in great detail the copper versus zinc properties, and even a bit about dropping the cents to discern which are copper and which are zinc.