Usually when errors happen during the production process, they lead to a decrease in value of the manufactured item. But when they happen at the U.S. Mint, they could lead to an item ballooning in value by a factor of 2 million or more. That’s what happened to several pennies produced in 1982, which pushed their value up from 1 cent to nearly $20,000.
The penny in question is the 1982-D Small Date Copper Alloy Lincoln Cent, which sold at auction in 2016 for $18,800, according to Numismatic News. At the time, that lucky penny was believed to be the only one in circulation. But a second one was discovered in 2019 — which raised hopes among collectors that more could be out there. Because of the possibility that more of the coins exist, current values for those in good condition might have slipped back to “only” $18,000 or so.
One reason these coins are so valuable has to do with what they are made of. As GOBankingRates previously reported, any penny minted before 1982 contains 95% copper. Copper pennies are a relatively common find in a penny roll, which lowers their value.
But the U.S. Mint switched over from “striking copper-alloy” to copper-plated zinc planchets sometime in mid-1982 as a cost-saving measure, Numismatic News reported, adding that the copper-alloy planchets were “too expensive to strike and the Mint was losing money.”
There was a problem with the new planchets, however: The Mint had trouble striking them with dies bearing the old die design, so they modified the dies to make them more suitable to strike the copper-plated zinc cents. That modification resulted in what collectors called the “Small Date.”
“The Mint struck the copper hard and fast but quickly learned in 1982 that the strike was not satisfactory on the coins minted on the copper-plated zinc planchets,” Numismatic News’ Ken Potter wrote in a 2019 blog. “They had to slow down the strike by lengthening the squeeze, which satisfactorily filled the dies. This meant production numbers were down and the only way to rectify the problem was to modify the dies.”
If some of those terms spin your head around, suffice it to say that out of all the pennies minted that year, only a few have error characteristics that can push up their value.
“Any surviving 1982-D Small Date bronze cents are transitional alloy errors, cousins to the famous 1943 bronze cents,” Potter wrote.
You probably won’t discover the errors by simply looking at the coin. Instead, Potter recommended weighing the1982-D Small Date cents to see if you have one of the rare 3.1-gram copper-alloy specimens. It’s best to buy a digital scale for the job.
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