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1982 cents open door to collecting options

Coins do not have to be rare to be fun and interesting. That is certainly the case with the 1982 Lincoln cents, which are really a mini-collection by themselves.

These cents are important for a couple of reasons. First, they came in two different compositions. 1982 was the year of a change that had been brewing for some time. From 1962 to 1982 the Lincoln cent had been .950 copper and .050 zinc. Finally the price of copper was catching up with the cent so a change was authorized, allowing a copper-plated zinc coin with the core being 99.2 percent zinc and 0.8 percent copper with a plating of pure copper.

It was pretty creative. The cent has a long history of being a problem because it is a low denomination. By the early 1850s, the cost of copper was catching up with the large cent and they were destined to be too expensive to produce.

The large copper cents were replaced in 1857 by Flying Eagle cents made of a copper-nickel alloy. That was too valuable  in the minds of the public, and Indian Head cents were hoarded during the Civil War. They were changed to bronze in 1864.

The bronze composition lasted for roughly a century. There was a brief change in 1943 to zinc-coated steel to help conserve copper during the war. However, the different color and steel’s tendency to rust caused the cents to be unpopular, so bronze returned quickly.

The 1982 change showed that someone had learned something from the 1943 experience. With a pure copper plating, the new cents would basically retain the traditional color. The new cents would also be about 20 percent lighter. The public accepted them.

The 1982 mintage included both the old and new compositions. There was also a date modification that resulted in both large and small dates.

With two different compositions and large and small dates, the cents of 1982 became an interesting combination of possibilities. Cents from Philadelphia came in large and small dates of both new and old compositions. It was the only facility with all four possible combinations.

1982 was the first of two years of no mint set offerings from the Mint. Fortunately, there was a lot of private and dealer saving of all the possibilities.

The question remains as to whether that saving will be enough for the long term. We have already seen the new composition small date from Philadelphia move to $9 in MS-65. It may seem like a modest price, but it does suggest a potential shortage in the supply. The Philadelphia new composition large date is also at a premium of $6.

Just where we go from these prices is an interesting question as the supplies are certainly going to be limited. Whatever their price future, it is certain that the Philadelphia cents of 1982 will always be interesting as the issues that marked the transition to a new era of cents.

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