By Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez for PCGS ……
You may have noticed it’s getting harder to find bronze Lincoln Memorial cents in circulation these days. In the last few years, they’ve been getting notably scarcer in circulation. A lot of folks want to know why – especially given that Lincoln cents don’t see as many transactions in circulation as they used to.
Bronze Lincoln Memorial cents were issued for circulation from 1959 through 1982, the year the United States Mint switched the composition of the one-cent denomination from 95% copper and 5% zinc to a less-expensive copper-plated zinc format. The differences between the two compositions are pretty clear, particularly when it comes to planchet weight. The bronze planchets of yesteryear register on the scales at 3.11 grams (with a .13-gram tolerance more or less), while the zinc-based planchets weigh 2.5 grams, with a .09-gram tolerance.
The very thing that drove bronze planchets into obsolescence in the early 1980s is what motivates many to hoard bronze Lincoln cents today: value. Increasing copper prices during the 1970s and very early ’80s led the United States government to change the content of the one-cent coin. The transition from copper to zinc occurred in circulating Lincoln cents throughout the course of 1982.
The typical pre-1983 bronze Lincoln Memorial cent is now worth around two cents for its metal value alone, even in circulated grade. And while that may not seem like much, this bullion premium is prompting many people, including people who may not classify themselves as bona fide coin collectors, to look for and pull any and all Lincoln Memorial cents dated 1959 through 1981 (the latter being the last full year bronze cents were issued) from circulation and to weigh 1982 Lincoln Memorial cents to hoard those that meet the bronze planchet weight of around three grams.
Readers may wonder why some people are doing this, especially when it’s presently illegal to melt United States one-cent coins for their bronze metal content. Ultimately, much of the hoarding activity comes from those who are speculating in the bullion value of their Lincoln cents, especially when and if the United States repeals the ban. Meanwhile, bronze Lincoln cents are already trading at a premium, with some coin dealers offering to pay anywhere from 75 cents to $1 for a roll of 50 Lincoln cents dated 1959 through 1981.
Where the bullion-driven zeal for bronze Lincoln cents goes from here is anyone’s guess. But there’s no reason to believe that there will be any less interest among collectors and non-collectors to save these older pennies anytime soon. The news has been out for years that bronze Lincoln cents have a speculative metal value above their face value, and rising bullion prices across the board inspire many others to look for these old coins and stash them away with hopes of metal values to continue rising.
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