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Questions About 1982 Cents Continue
By Alan Herbert, Coins Magazine
June 28, 2011

This article was originally printed in Coins Magazine.
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This is the 100th “Numismatic Mysteries” column. Thanks to all the readers who have enjoyed it. It’s been almost 30 years since the 1982 cents were struck, meaning that a whole new generation of collectors are beginning to ask questions about them. Here are some of them.

What do “Lg” and “Sm” refer to in ads for the 1982 cents?

The Lg and Sm refer to the large- and small-date varieties for the different mints and different metals. The “large” date is the same size as the 1981 dates, while the small is the same size as the 1983 dates, with beveled edges on the letters and digits on the obverse.

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1982 was rich in varieties. There are no small-date brass cents from Denver. The varieties that are found are the large- and small-date brass cents without mintmarks; the Denver large-date brass, the large- and small-date copper-plated zinc cents without mintmarks; or with the D for Denver, plus the proofs, which are a brass large date. This makes eight. The 1982 production began with the large-date dies, and the change to the small-date dies was made at differing times through the year. At Denver, there was a one week gap in production between the brass and zinc cents, and the small-date dies were not introduced until the zinc production began.

Is there any hope of finding a small-date 1982 cent on a brass planchet?

There is a remote chance that a small-date Denver cent on brass exists, if one of the old planchets was accidentally mixed in with the copper-plated zinc, but the only way you can tell for certain is to weigh the coin, as the zinc coins are 20 percent lighter than the brass.

How do you tell the difference between the small- and large-date 1982 cents?

Many new collectors are rediscovering the fact that there were two different size designs used for the 1982 cents. The old, or large date design, is the same as the 1981 cents, while the new design has been used on all cents since 1982 so you can use those for comparison.

The point to look for is that the small-date design has the upper edges of all letters and digits beveled, whereas the old design has the edges of the highest relief rounded. The letters in “LIBERTY” are a good place to look as the old design has thick, heavy looking letters while the small-date “LIBERTY” has straight edges and slim design elements. Check the 8 in the date as it is slightly smaller.

Don’t be confused by the atomic weights of zinc and brass. At least one reader based identification on them and had not weighed the coin. Actual weight is the key element.

Production was halted at Denver for a week before the small-date dies and zinc planchets were introduced. Hope of a repeat of the “leftover planchet” tales of the 1943 cents keeps hope springing eternally, but so far nobody has come up with one. If you find a small-date 1982-D cent which weighs about 48 grains, call me.

You will find dealer ads and even albums with a hole for 1982-D small-date brass cent, but none were struck. There was a week’s gap between the end of the brass and the beginning of the copper-plated zinc cents to ensure that all the old planchets were cleaned up. The 1982 proof cents were struck with large date dies on the brass, 95 percent copper, 5 percent zinc alloy. Beginning in 1983, proof cent production switched to the new standard copper-plated zinc planchets. Part of the 1982 cent production for circulation was on brass planchets, the remainder on copper-plated zinc planchets, which have been used for all cent production since.

A common mistake is to refer to both as “copper” 1982 cents. The brass cents are a copper alloy—95 percent copper and 5 percent zinc. The others are copper-plated zinc, so none qualify as copper cents. This is as hard to kill as the use of “penny” for the cent.

Is there some simple way to distinguish the 1982 brass cents from the copper-plated zinc?

The zinc cents are approximately 20 percent lighter than the brass, so the simplest method of checking the 1982 cents is to make a crude balance scale. A ruler or tongue depressor will work, with a pencil or something similar for a fulcrum. You can even glue an earlier date brass cent to one end, but use a known brass (which weighs 48 grains) to balance against the 1982 brass. The zinc cents, being lighter, will not balance. The official weight is 38.58 grains, plus or minus 1.54 grains.

The small-date dies, designed for the copper-plated zinc planchets, were tried experimentally at San Francisco, but all of the trial strikes were destroyed, according to the Mint. All of the 1982-S proof cents are struck on the old brass planchets.

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Comments
On June 28, 2011 ALAN HEPLER said
Brass does not have an atomic weight! It is not an element, but a metal alloy.
On June 30, 2011 Aardvark said
"Is there some simple way to distinguish the 1982 brass cents from the copper-plated zinc?"

Yes!  Balance the coin on the tip of your finger and tap it with another coin.  If it is brass it will ring.  If it is zinc it will go thunk.
On August 19, 2012 Anita said
Found an all zinc non-copper coated,but cannot find info on it.How rare is it and what would be the value?

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