Double Your Money Selling Old Pennies by the Pound

PenniesBenjamin Franklin once said that a penny saved is a penny earned. Save the right penny, though, and it's worth more.

Take a look on eBay (EBAY) and you'll find hundreds of listings for auctions selling pennies. Yet despite the huge number of coin collectors who use the auction site to buy and sell collector-grade coins, most of the auctions you'll find aren't about quality. Instead, an increasing number of people are trading dull, well-worn 30-year-old pennies by the pound.

The reason? Their metal content happens to be worth more than their face value.

What's a Penny Worth?

Over the years, inflation has hit the penny hard. As Motley Fool contributor Rich Smith noted earlier this year, it costs the U.S. Mint about two-and-a-half cents to produce each penny, even as it has steadily degraded the metal content of each coin.

Currently, pennies are 97.5% zinc and 2.5% copper, and at current prices of those metals, each new penny has a theoretical "melt value" -- what you'd get if you melted down pennies and sold the zinc and copper -- of about half a cent.

But throughout most of their history, pennies were made up of 95% copper, with the remaining 5% being either zinc or tin. As a result, with only a few wartime exceptions, any penny from 1981 or earlier -- and some made in 1982 -- have a high copper content.

At current copper prices, the melt value of older pennies is well over two cents.

Bagging Them Up, Not Melting Them Down

Melt values are theoretical because actually melting down pennies is illegal. But just as coin collectors did with quarters and dimes after 1964, when the coins went from being 90% silver to a copper-nickel blend, some intrepid entrepreneurs have now started bagging up old pennies and selling them as unofficial copper bullion.

Currently, auctions are asking between $2 and $3 per pound for quantities of 10 to 25 pounds of coins. One auction featured 100,000 pennies -- weighing about 680 pounds -- that sold for $1,500 plus $125 in shipping charges. That's less than the melt value of more than $2,000, but a nice profit for those who kept their penny jars around.

Final two cents on the penny

Earlier this year, Canada finally decided to call it quits with its penny, citing manufacturing costs. The U.S. has been surprisingly resistant to giving up the penny, though, with new designs having come out in just the past few years.

With current budget issues forcing the government to look for cost-cutting measures, though, the penny could be one of the casualties -- and the rush to save them could get even stronger.

Motley Fool contributor Dan Caplinger had fun going through pennies with his daughter over the weekend. He doesn't own shares of the stocks mentioned in this article. Motley Fool newsletter services recommend eBay.

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Julua Ayuso

To sell a1887 penny

March 23 2014 at 4:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Stefanie Carter

until I looked at the paycheck 4 $9178, I didnt believe that my cousin could realey receiving money in their spare time at there labtop.. there great aunt haz done this 4 only 14 months and just now repayed the morgage on there apartment and got a brand new Alfa Romeo. read more

December 06 2012 at 3:50 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Copper companies in Ameirca were swallowed up by bigger copper companies unitl Freeport Mcmoran swallwoed the biggest fish Phelps Dodge in 2005 or so.. Now there is only one copper company left around. Copper prices jumped from around 60 cents in 1980 to around $3-4 a pound now. Zinc doesnt jump as much and is now around 90 cents a pound. Zinc is intensively used to galvanize steel to protect against rust from moisture. When you see a galvanized nail, you will know what I mean. Aluminium is oddly kept so low in price for decades.. Aluminium used to be similar to copper in price for years . Aluminium is still the biggest laggard metal left in town now.. Do you think that aluminium will someday catch up with copper.. Look, the world production of aluminium is only double of copper ( 40 millon tons vs 18 millon tons) Aluminium is fast replacing copper in many uses.. China is producing over 40% of the world's alumiium every year now.. China will not keep on growing aluminium output forever.. Once China levels off, then aluminum prices will start going up in price. Stay tuned, investors!

December 05 2012 at 6:19 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Gumby's comment

I remember growing up as a kid collecting cans in the 80's and early 90's because it was an easy way to get money. Prices were much higher for aluminum then. I bought my first car with the cash I got just from collecting cans roughly for 14.5k. Good luck trying to do that now days.

December 05 2012 at 11:51 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

and fire him!

December 05 2012 at 5:49 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Daily Finance,, find the $#$%# guy who keep blocking me from posting fairly!

December 05 2012 at 5:48 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

the reason I post so many same comment sis becaue someone is blocking me from posting only my single comment in the first place... I am really mad !! cant help it!!

December 05 2012 at 5:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The way the Obama economy prints dollars from air, and piles debt on our kids, the simple fix would be to stop printing the dollar, and call each penny a dollar, the change would make everyone rich, and then you could tax the hell out of everyone.

December 05 2012 at 12:59 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply


December 05 2012 at 10:29 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

With the value of the dollar falling at a fast pace, it won't be long until copper in considered a precious metal. Save those pennies.

December 05 2012 at 10:27 AM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply

We should eliminate all pennies, & nickels. Maybe even dimes, although they are smaller, and less problematic. But for a country that refuses to eliminate the 9/10 of a cent for a gasoline price, I don't think we'll succeed in doing anything else that makes sense.
Our post offices should only deliver twice a week, Congress should meet online, and if driving laws and licenses were federalized, we would save billions.

December 05 2012 at 10:14 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply