Tuesday, September 23, 2008

How Much An Old Penny Is Worth [Update]

Back in August 2007 I wrote a blog titled Stealing Copper Wire and How Much an Old Penny is Worth. Watching my blog stats I see this is one of my most popular posts - there are lots of people searching on the price of scrap copper. In the blog I calculated the value of a pre-1982 penny using scrap copper prices.

I thought it would be interesting to see what an old penny is worth a little over a year later. Watching Kitco Metals (see 1 year spot chart ), the price of scrap copper has been bouncing around a bit over the past year, peaking at over $4.00 a pound in June 2008. At the moment I'm writing this, scrap copper is at $3.2391 per pound.

Let's use this to work the same calculations I made back in August 2007.

A new US penny has a mass of 2.5 grams but.... new pennies minted after 1982 are 97.5% zinc core with 2.5% copper plating..... not much copper. However, before 1982, their mass was 3.0 grams and they were 95% copper.

Let's take a look at the value of a pre-1982 penny based on the $3.2391 per lb copper scrap cost.

1 lb = 453.59237 grams - we can use this to calculate the value of 1 gram of copper:

Value of 1 gram of Copper = ($3.2391/lb)/(453.59237 grams/lb) = $0.00714099/gram = .714099 cents/gram

A pre-1982 penny weighs 3 grams and is 95% copper:

Amount of copper in a pre-1982 penny = (.95)(3 grams) = 2.85 grams

Based on .714099 cents per gram for scrap copper:

Value of a pre-1982 penny as scrap = (2.85 grams copper/penny)(..714099 cents/gram copper) = 2.035 cents/penny

So, a pre-1982 penny is worth .1 cents less today as scrap when compared to its value on August 27, 2007.

Last year I questioned whether it was legal to sell pennies as scrap and referenced a U.S. Treasury FAQ:

Question: Is it illegal to damage or deface coins?

Answer: Section 331 of Title 18 of the United States code provides criminal penalties for anyone who “fraudulently alters, defaces, mutilates impairs, diminishes, falsifies, scales, or lightens any of the coins coined at the Mints of the United States.” This statute means that you may be violating the law if you change the appearance of the coin and fraudulently represent it to be other than the altered coin that it is. As a matter of policy, the U.S. Mint does not promote coloring, plating or altering U.S. coinage: however, there are no sanctions against such activity absent fraudulent intent.

If melting down pennies is considered to be mutilation - I would say it is illegal!


Laurie said...

What about those machines at various educational establishments, such as the Mystic Aquarium. A person pays a quarter to have a penny squashed and defaced with a sea animal? I was saving pennies from before 1982 for the copper, but didn't consider it would be illegal.

Gordon F Snyder Jr said...

I agree Laurie and have wondered the same thing - those machines do destroy the coins.

Daniel said...

It isn't fraudulent mutilation, so it's legal. Turning a penny into a dime, for instance, would be fraudulent. Turning a penny into a metal image of a dolphin is not. I wouldn't be trying to deceive anyone with the dolphin image, pretending it is still a coin of value.