By Paul Malone
Collecting BU rolls was once much more popular than it is today. With fewer roll collectors and fewer roll dealers, there are, obviously, fewer transactions, and those that occur at coin shows fly below the price-gathering radar. This lack of information makes pricing challenging, to say the least.
Some of you may have noticed, for example, that Numismatic News reports in their monthly price guide that BU rolls of 1982-D Large Date Zinc Lincolns are valued at $2.50 per roll. Collectors, however, may have a hard time finding the real thing for less than $12. I can’t remember the last time I saw a BU roll set offered for less than $85, yet the sum of these seven rolls in Numismatic News is $42.25. Arriving at a consensus for BU roll prices is probably an exercise in futility, but a closer analysis may be of some benefit.
Attempting to ascertain approximate mintages can help us determine which varieties are scarcest, but mintage figures alone may have little to do with the value of BU rolls, as some varieties may have been saved at higher rates than others. I am by no means an authority. I have more questions than answers. Please consider this as one collector’s viewpoint. What follows is a list of the seven 1982 Lincoln cent varieties, arranged from most common to least common (well, sort of) in my estimation.º
1) 1982-D Large Date Copper (LDC)
I am of the opinion that slightly more than 80 percent of Denver’s production was copper and slightly less than 20 percent was copper-plated zinc. If the Denver Mint produced an average of 500 million cents per month, and didn’t begin using zinc planchets until Oct. 21, then approximately 4.875 billion LDC coins were produced. BU rolls are easily obtained for about $3.
2) 1982 “P” Large Date Copper
The most “scientific” study I’ve seen was performed by a New York collector. New York is Philadelphia Mint territory. After searching through more than 50,000 pennies, “Snowman24” posted his findings in an online chat room in 2007. Of the 1,973 1982 “P” pennies that he found, 44.5 percent of them were of the LDC variety, which suggests a mintage of about 4.76 billion coins. These BU rolls are also available for around $3.
3) 1982 “P” Large Date Zinc (LDZ)
Snowman’s percentage of 37.8 percent correlates to a mintage of around 4.05 billion. This high mintage might lead one to assume that these are also common rolls, but this, I believe, is one of those cases where there is a slight disconnect between the number produced and the value and/or availability of BU rolls. Numismatic News lists these at $2.50. Longtime Numismatic News advertiser and BU roll specialist, John Wells, prices these at $8. I must add that any prices mentioned in this article are subject to change without notice. Someone sitting on bag quantities of some of these varieties could seriously affect market prices.
4) 1982-D Small Date Zinc (SDZ)
The Denver Mint cranked out slightly more than 6 billion cents, of which 4.875 billion were copper (provided my guess is in the ballpark). The remaining 1.138 billion was divided between the two zinc varieties. By the time I found the first 1982-D Small Date copper cent in 2016, I had searched more than 1 million pennies. Minnesota is Denver Mint territory. I found that these were considerably more plentiful than the Large Date zinc coins from Denver, perhaps more than twice as common, and “guesstimate” the mintage at about 800 million coins. Snowman’s percentage (14.5 percent) was slightly higher than mine, but his “test sample” only had 186 Denver pennies in it. BU rolls are not difficult to find, and Wells prices these at $5, about $3 less than the Numismatic News price.
5) 1982-D Large Date Zinc
I’m going to let John’s pricing determine the last three positions, but I must warn you that the mintage arithmetic appears to support an alternate ranking. So far, I’ve used up 5.675 billion of Denver’s total of 6.013 billion cents. I’m comfortable placing the remaining 338 million here, but I still have 1.885 billion that must be applied to the remaining two Philadelphia Small Date varieties. One of two things must be true; either this variety is scarcer than one of the Small Date “P” varieties below, or Snowman’s numbers aren’t as accurate as I think they are (see #7). John has said that BU rolls of these 1982-D LDZ are “a lot harder to find” than the 1982-D SDZ rolls. Only 2.7 percent of Snowman’s small Denver sample was of this variety (LDZ), which would place the mintage at a paltry 162 million. This variety has long been an enigma to me, as I can’t understand why the Denver Mint made any of these at all. If they didn’t strike any zinc pennies until Oct. 21, and the re-worked “Small Date” obverse dies were first used on Sept. 3 at one or more of the other three facilities, why would Denver make Large Date zinc coins? I suspect that they still had some usable Large Date dies and, not wanting to waste them, continued using them until they were spent. I’d be surprised if LDZ coins were produced there for more than a week or two. It’s possible that this variety is the lowest mintage of the seven, but BU rolls are available. As stated earlier, Numismatic News has these priced at $2.50. I believe these are a bargain at that price, but collectors should not be surprised by a price that’s closer to $12 a roll.
6) 1982 “P” Small Date Copper (SDC)
After searching more than 1 million pennies, I had amassed a whopping total of six rolls of these. Snowman had these at only 4.2 percent of his total, suggesting a mintage of about 450 million. Numismatic News has these priced at $12. Wells has them at $15. Close enough.
7) 1982 “P” Small Date Zinc
Numismatic News has these priced at $12, which is fine, since they don’t buy and sell coins for a living. Wells, who’s in Pennsylvania, says these are $45 rolls. Snowman had these as 13.4 percent of his Philadelphia total (1.435 billion), a sizable amount that would appear to support the price in Numismatic News, if mintage was the sole determining factor. So, where are they? It would be a mistake to assume that each variety was distributed in equal proportion to each Federal Reserve. Perhaps these are so scarce that all of them were delivered to only two or three Federal Reserves, one of which was New York’s, which would skew Snowman’s tally in Syracuse. A similar count would likely yield slightly different percentages in, say, Ohio or Virginia. Have any Numismatic News readers done a Snowman-type count in an eastern state other than New York? I would love to know the result. As previously mentioned, I found six rolls of the SDCs, but I found only a few dozen of this SDZ variety in Minnesota. I suppose it’s possible that Snowman accidentally transposed his percentages for these last two varieties, but regardless of where this one ranks in scarcity, BU rolls of these are without doubt the most difficult to find.
There you have it. Clear as mud, right? I’d like to close by saying that I have no idea who “Snowman24” is, and even though his stated intent was to satisfy his own curiosity, I believe his seemingly mundane record-keeping has made a valuable contribution to our great hobby. We can draw no definite conclusions from his numbers, but we can definitely have fun with them! Thank you, Snowman, whoever you are.
To have your opinion considered for Viewpoint, email submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org.