What is a pound of copper pennies worth?

Quick Answer

A pound of copper pennies is worth approximately $1.82. This is based on the current melt value of the copper content in one pound of pennies, which is about 95% copper. At recent copper prices of around $4.50 per pound, the melt value of a pound of 95% copper pennies is about $1.82. This means that if you melt down pre-1982 copper pennies for their copper content, they are worth slightly more than face value. However, it is illegal to melt down pennies and sell the raw copper metal for profit.

Calculating the Copper Value in Pennies

Here are the details on calculating the copper value in a pound of pennies:

  • There are 454 grams in one pound.
  • Pre-1982 pennies are 95% copper. The remaining 5% is zinc.
  • Copper has a density of 8.96 g/cm3.
  • Using the density, we can calculate there are 50.7 grams of copper in each pre-1982 penny (0.95 * 5.4g weight of a penny).
  • In one pound (454g) there are 454/5.4 = 84 pennies.
  • 84 pennies x 50.7g copper/penny = 4,259g copper = 4.259 kg copper
  • With copper prices around $4.50/lb right now, 4.259kg copper is worth about $1.82.

So the total copper value of a pound of pre-1982 95% copper pennies comes to approximately $1.82 at recent copper prices.

Pennies are Still Legal Tender for Face Value

While the copper content in pre-1982 pennies is worth more than $0.01, it is still illegal to melt down pennies to sell the copper. Pennies are still considered legal tender with a face value of $0.01 per penny. If you melt down pennies or alter them, they are no longer considered legal tender coins.

The Coinage Act of 1965 prohibits the altering, melting, and exporting of all legal tender coins, including pennies. There is a fine and jail time associated with melting and debasing U.S. coins. Even though the melt value of the copper may be higher than face value, pennies are still federally protected coins.

So while the copper content in pre-1982 pennies is worth about 1.82 cents if you extract it, the pennies themselves must still trade at face value of 1 cent as long as they are in circulation. If you melt down pennies, you are destroying legal tender coinage, which is illegal.

Why Pre-1982 Pennies Contain More Copper

Prior to 1982, pennies were minted from a 95% copper and 5% zinc composition. This was the traditional bronze alloy that had been used for pennies for many decades.

However, with the rising prices of copper in the early 1980s, the composition was changed to the current 97.5% zinc and 2.5% copper, coated in copper plating. This significantly reduced the cost of making pennies by reducing the metal value.

The composition change occurred in 1982, which is why pre-1982 pennies have the higher copper content and current melt value of over 1 cent, while post-1982 pennies have very little metal value.

Key Dates for Composition of Pennies

  • 1793-1837 – Pure copper pennies
  • 1837-1857 – Bronze (95% copper, 5% tin & zinc)
  • 1857-1864 – 88% copper and 12% nickel
  • 1864-1962 – 95% copper and 5% tin & zinc
  • 1962-1982 – 95% copper and 5% zinc
  • 1982-today – 97.5% zinc core coated with 2.5% copper

So if you have a big jar full of old pennies, the ones dated pre-1982 will have the most value based on metal content.

Is Hoarding Copper Pennies Profitable?

Because it is illegal to melt down pennies, the only way to benefit from the copper content is to hold on to them at face value and hope that copper prices rise high enough in the future to make melting them legal again.

For example, if copper prices doubled to $9/lb, the melt value of a pre-1982 penny would be around 3.6 cents, making it potentially profitable and legal to melt them down. However, copper prices are very unlikely to double when considering inflation, so pennies gaining enough value to be profitable is very unlikely.

The other consideration is the hassle and legality of accumulating enough pennies to make it worthwhile. To make just $50 in profit if copper doubled, you would need to gather and store around 1,389 pounds of pennies!

So realistically, hoarding copper pennies in hopes of future metal value increases is generally not a wise investment or profitable endeavor. You are better off keeping any pennies you receive in circulation for purchasing power at face value.

What to Do If You Have a Large Amount of Pennies

The most common reason that people end up with a large stash of pennies is simply saving up loose change over time. Other people sometimes go to the bank and request penny rolls or boxes for personal collections.

Here are some recommendations if you have ended up with a large copper penny hoard:

  • Take them to a bank – Many banks will exchange boxes of pennies for dollars bills with no fee.
  • Use them – Pennies can still be used at face value, so spend them on small purchases.
  • Recycle them – Coinstar machines will count your coins and give back bills, less a processing fee.
  • Donate them – Charities may accept penny donations and handle the counting and exchanging.
  • Collect them – Create a vintage penny collection for a hobby or educational activity.

The key is to respect the legal tender status of the coins and not try to melt or sell them based on metal content. Find ways to exchange, recycle, donate or use your extra pennies responsibly.

Current Copper Price Per Pound

The price of copper fluctuates daily based on global markets. At the current time of writing, the price per pound is approximately:

$4.50 per lb

To get updated current and historical copper prices, you can check sites like Kitco Metals and the London Metals Exchange.

Here is a 10 year price chart showing copper prices peaking around $4.50/lb in recent years:

Year Copper Price Per Pound
2023 $4.50
2022 $4.08
2021 $4.23
2020 $2.80
2019 $2.72
2018 $2.96
2017 $2.80
2016 $2.20
2015 $2.49
2014 $3.11

So you can see copper prices fluctuate over time, but are still well below the $9+/lb range where melting pennies may become legal again. This makes hoarding pennies for their metal content an unwise investment for most people.


To summarize the key points:

  • Pre-1982 pennies contain 95% copper and have a melt value of about 1.82 cents per penny, based on current copper prices around $4.50/lb.
  • However, it is still illegal to melt down or alter US pennies to sell the raw copper metal.
  • Pennies are federally protected legal tender coins and must trade at face value regardless of metal content value.
  • Hoarding large amounts of copper pennies is generally not a profitable investment.
  • If you have a large supply of pennies, it is best to exchange them at a bank, donate, recycle, or just use them for purchases at face value.

In conclusion, a pound of copper pennies is technically worth a small premium based on its melt value. However, the legal status of US currency overrides this metal value, so pennies can only legally trade at face value of 1 cent as long as they are in circulation as official tender.

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