last updated on : 03.01.2011 - Select Items Listed Your Satisfaction And Value Guaranteed
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Copyright:  Mike Sillett


1. Intro
2. Tools
3. Materials
4. Procedure / technique

Photo of a pile of copper pennies and zinc penniesLeft - Copper pennies = 3.11 grams each - 146 pennies per pound..
Right - Zinc pennies = 2.5 grams each - 181 pennies per pound.

1. Intro

This tutorial is NOT geared toward those individuals with expensive coin sorting equipment / comparitors and that already sell copper pennies in a quasi-business type venture.
It IS geared toward the average person wishing to delve into 'Copper Penny Sorting' to get a feel for it all.

If you have financial resources similar to what I have you will more than likely never buy gold or silver bars or bullion to hoard away as an investment. Gold and silver is just way too far up there in price per ounce to buy and stash away.
However, you CAN take advantage of rising metal prices by hoarding copper.

No, I don't mean that you have to become a junk man or start tearing apart machines, motors and old electronic equipment ( although that could be lucrative if you have access to such things ).

What I am am referring to is the copper in regular U. S. one cent pieces. Those things that many people consider a pain in the butt, that many people won't even bother to bend over and pick up when found.

As of today - 2/28/2011 - copper is $4.47 per pound. U.S. Copper pennies have 95% copper. That makes a pound of copper pennies worth $4.25 in copper ( 95% of $4.47 ). Since there are 146 copper pennies to a pound that makes each copper penny worth .0291 cents ( almost 3 cents ).
The other 5% of the copper penny's make-up is zinc.
Zinc is $1.13 per pound as of 2/28/2011. Five % of $1.13 is .0565 cents. Slightly more than 5 cents of zinc in an entire pound of copper pennies - pretty much worthless.
We do not care about the zinc value in copper pennies.
We especially do NOT want to hold on to zinc pennies after sorting. Get rid of them and exchange them for fresh rolls.
Here are some ideas on how to spend, or cash-in, zinc pennies without incurring any cash-in fees.

Sometime in 1982 the U.S. Mint got wise and stopped minting copper pennies and started minting zinc pennies!

With the economies of China, India and Brazil taking off copper will probably continue to rise in price. The worst case scenario is that the pennies you have or those you buy will always be exchangeable for at least .01 cent. Where can you invest in something and be absolutely certain that you will not lose anything?

If you can put away $1.00 in copper pennies a day ( it takes about 1/2 hour of sorting 2 to 4 rolls from the bank. Do it while watching the news ) you will have $365.00 in copper pennies in one year.
By the time that year is up that $365.00 can easily be worth $1095.00 ( when each penny is worth 3 cents [ 3 x $365.00 ] ).
Check on eBay. Penny bullion is regularly selling for 2 cents per penny, other times it's more. I have seen ' $100.00 Face Value ' listings of copper pennies sell for slightly over $200.00 + S & H charges.
Also ' 250 pound listings ' have sold for $749.00 + $69.00 S & H. ( that's 36,500 pennies ). A dollar a day of pennies is 36,500 pennies.
' Penny Bullion ' is a regular listing on eBay. Check it out.

2. Tools

Penny Sorter ( You can buy them on-line from a low of $34.00 for a simple penny slot-machine converted comparitor to $500.00 for a Ryedale ) or you can make a simple home made one for nothing )
Magnifying glass ( optional )

3. Materials

Penny rollers.
Zip-Locks ( optional )

Photo of a penny sorting set-up. The containers that are labeled and the home made penny comparitor at the far right.

Penny sorting set-up. A few Zip-Lock bags for oddities, some labeled containers, penny rolls and a copper / zinc comparitor.

4. Procedure

Gather the pennies you have already accumulated or those few rolls you bought at the bank to sort and spread them out on a flat surface.
If you are using the kitchen table put paper underneath. Coins are dirty. Save the table. Wash your hands every time you take a break.

Separate the very obvious different pennies, that is, those that are :
' Wheat Backs'
' Lincoln Sitting On A Split Log' backs
' Log Cabin' backs
' Capital Building' backs
' Lincoln At Illinois Legislature' backs
' Union Shield' backs
' Canadian cents '
' Euro 2 cent pieces '
' Bermuda cents '
' Dimes ' ( yes on occasion you will find dimes in a roll [ clean or dirty ] )
' Filed down ' dime sized' pennies
' corroded / filthy ones '

Those 'newer' pennies with reverse sides different than the standard Lincoln Memorial Building are ' premium pennies ', that is, they are already worth more than a penny and some may be worth quite a bit more. Those that you will find while sorting will look like this.

In addition, some of the coins don't belong in the pile, such as the 2 Cent Euro, Canadian pennies, U.S. Dimes, Filed Downers, silver dimes, other foreign cents, etc.

Once the obvious ones are separated it's time to start separating the rest.
We are looking for copper pennies so we want those prior to 1983. Put them in a container labeled COPPER.
In 1982 the government decided that it was too expensive to continue minting copper pennies at a large loss and started minting zinc pennies ( 97.5% zinc, 2.5% copper ). As a result you will find copper 1982's and zinc 1982's. Put the 1982's in their own container for later separating with a 'Penny Sorter'.

I made my own penny sorter, like those 3 different types shown below, in about ten minutes with some stuff laying around the workshop area.
    A couple of magnets and some Krazy Glue attached to the platform for the upper one,
    A bolt, nut and some washers for the middle one.
    Just a washer taped on to the platform behind the fulcrum in the bottom one.
They're just a simple teeter-totter balance scale calibrated by moving the weight, or adding / subtracting weight, until the copper pennies make it dip and zinc pennies just sit there.

You can even use a credit card and a soda straw. Just cut the straw to be a bit wider than the credit card, cut a slit in the straw wide enough to push the credit card into and keep adjusting with two known penny types until the copper goes down and the zinc does not.

Photo of a home made penny sorter with a zinc penny at the front of the scalePhoto of a home made penny sorter with a copper penny at the front which dipped own

Photo of a home made penny sorter with a zinc penny at the front of the scalePhoto of a home made penny sorter with a copper penny which dipped down.
Photo of a very simple home made penny sorter with a zinc penny at the front.Photo of a very simple home made penny sorter with a copper penny at the front which dipped down.

LEFT - The penny on the front of the sorter is not heavy enough ( zinc penny ) to dip the Penny Sorter down.
RIGHT - the penny in this photo is a copper penny so it is heavy enough to dip the Sorter.

In fact, the Penny Sorter can be used to separate copper from zinc pennies for all those pennies you have accumulated or the penny rolls you purchased.
It is especially effective while watching television. While using it you won't have to keep looking at the date of each penny. All you need to do is gently set the penny on the front of the platform, rear side of penny up, so you can verify what type of rear design penny it is, and let the little scale / teeter-totter do the rest.
If the penny goes down throw it in the container labeled COPPER. If it stays up throw it in the container labeled ZINC. When you do it that way the 1982's that are zinc pennies will automatically be purged.

It won't take too long before your COPPER container starts getting loaded up.
I like to fill a 20 ounce plastic Pepsi bottle with copper pennies. The empty plastic bottle weighs 1.1 ounce. It is sturdy and water-tight.
I fill it with enough copper pennies ( which weigh 3.11 grams each ) to tally 8 pounds + 1.1 ounces. One pound of copper pennies weighs 453.59 grams. So 8 pounds of copper pennies is 1166 pennies ( 8 X 453.59 grams = 3628. 72 grams / 3.11 grams per penny = 1166 pennies = $11.66 cents ).
It is what I consider my copper ingot.
In fact, if you do $1.00 a day it will take slightly less than 12 days to fill the 20 ounce pop bottle. If you keep at that rate you will have almost 32 bottles full at the end of 1 year - slightly over an eighth of a ton of copper pennies ( actually 256 pounds ).

Photo of a 20 ounce Pepsi bottle filled with copper pennies - 8 pounds.

An empty 20 ounce Pepsi bottle filled with 8 pounds of copper pennies.

Now let's consider the other bonus's involved in Penny Sorting.

Wheat pennies. These are sought by collector's so the date and condition are of primary concern. You will find wheat cents on a pretty regular basis. Not a lot but enough to keep the mystery going for each new roll. I have already opened penny rolls that were entirely filled with wheat cents. That is a real bonus.
In ' Penny Year 2009' ( Fall 2009 - Spring 2010 ) there were well over 700 wheat cents in the hundreds of rolls sorted.

Dimes. They show up on occasion. When dirty they are regularly mistaken for pennies by the people that roll up their pennies.
Some times the dimes that were mistaken as pennies turn out to be silver dimes dated 1964 or before. Although silver dimes usually do not get real dirty, on occasion they do.
In ' Penny Year 2009' ( Fall 2009 - Spring 2010 ) there were over 86 dimes found - 11 were Silver Dimes.

Canadian cents ( 1858 to 1941 at least 95% copper - 1942 to 1996 is 98% copper ) and 2 Euro Cent pieces are found on occasion.
In ' Penny Year 2009' ( Fall 2009 - Spring 2010 ) there were 1114 Canadian pennies found. The 2 cent Euro's numbered 23 ( 7 different countries of origin ).

Photo of a sample of some the various pennies found in penny rolls.

Some of the other coins found in Penny Rolls on occasion.

Sell the wheat cents separately or in rolls of 50.

Gather together the Canadian cents that are 98% copper ( 1942 to 1996 ) in a separate container. Bundle together to groups of $1.00 and sell those separately. They are worth just a bit more than U.S. pennies because of the higher copper content. You will find more Canadian pennies in penny rolls the closer you are to Canada.

DImes of course are used as found. Dirty dimes spend the same as clean ones.
Put the silver dimes away in a stash. Silver coins keep going up yearly with the rise in silver prices.

The 2 cent Euro ( mostly steel with a copper coating ) is interesting in it's own right because, although the rear of the coin is the same for all countries in the European Union, the front is specific to the country of origin so you can have many different designs.
In addition, since the current exchange rate favors the Euro - a 2 cent Euro coin is worth more than 2 U.S. cents.
Gather 50 of the 2 cent Euro's and you will have 1 Euro = $1.39 U.S.
You won't find many, which is good. It's hard to get rid of them, unless you're going to go to Europe or know someone that will.

Same thing applies to other foreign cents / coins, like Bermuda or German Pfennigs found in penny rolls. Banks are not keen in exchanging foreign coins. However, if they are copper, like the Canadian pennies, than you are in luck since copper is copper no matter what.
I have however seen some foreign pennies sell on eBay from .30 cents each to a dollar or more so don't forget about that as an option.

What are the Copper vs Zinc percentages you can expect to find sorting penny rolls from the bank?

After several years of Penny Sorting I decided to see, just for curiosities sake, what the copper penny results are now as compared to prior years. There seemed to be a bit less copper pennies per roll now than there used to be.
Well, I kept track of several rolls I sorted that were bought at 4 different banks around my area during a 12 day period.
Here are the results:

Photo of a chart showing results of a penny sorting session from rolls purchased at 4 different banks from 2/25/2011 to 3/8/2011.

Chart of 'FINDS' during penny roll sorting.

At the current percentages it can be surmised that, on the average, that for every three rolls of pennies ( $1.50 ) sorted you will recoup 1 roll ( .50 cents ) of copper pennies and some various other pennies and coins.
Therefore to save a dollar a day of copper pennies, which is what this write-up is all geared to, you will need to sort 6 rolls ( $3.00 ). After sorting and getting your $1.00 in copper pennies get rid of the other $2.00 in zinc pennies at some other bank or store NOT near to your neighborhood so that you don't end up getting the same pennies again from rolls bought at your bank.

For some ideas on how to rid yourself of Zinkers ( zinc pennies ) at no cost read - Conversion of Zinc Pennies To Regular Income.



I sell Sell U.S. copper pennies on my site regularly - either as bullion or the wheat cents to collectors.

For me, the penny sorting season is during the harsher weather time of year, usually Fall through Spring. It is something to do while watching television. For me, it's relaxing and it helps satiate the old treasure hunting urge I acquired during my metal detecting days 20 years ago.
In fact, when it's cold out and I am watching something on television that does not require my full attention, I get a bit antsy just sitting there not doing anything.

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