After 34 years, a 1982-D Small Date cent struck on a 95-percent copper-alloy planchet has finally been found and confirmed by me. A Minnesota collector who wishes to remain anonymous discovered it while sorting through 1982 cents by weight to save the copper-alloy pieces for their melt value.
Copper-alloy cents weigh 3.1 grams and the copper-plated zinc cents weigh 2.5 grams.
In effect, what used to be a seven-coin set of varieties for the 1982 cents has just grown to an eight-coin set. Where there is one, there are usually more so I expect additional reports to come in though I expect the coin to continue to be rare.
The 1982 varieties involve the so-called Large Date and Small Date die modification and the two different types of planchets used that year, solid copper-alloy and copper-plated zinc. Between the two planchet types and two styles of dies used, eight different combinations were possible between the Philadelphia and Denver mints involved for business strike production.
The Mint switched over from striking copper-alloy to copper-plated zinc planchets sometime in mid-1982 as a cost saving measure – the copper-alloy planchets were too expensive to strike and the Mint was losing money.
But it didn’t end there. The Mint had trouble striking the new planchets with dies bearing the old die design, (used for a number of years with only the date changing), so they modified the dies to make them more suitable to strike the copper-plated zinc cents.
This modification resulted in what collectors called the “Small Date” and they naturally dubbed the old style design “Large Date.” When all was said and done, it appeared there were seven distinct varieties though some of us continued to believe that the eighth possible variety surely had to exist even if rare. There were Small and Large Date varieties struck on both types of planchets with only the Denver minted Small Date copper cent seemingly never having been minted.
According to the discoverer, when copper hit $4.50 per pound, “I decided that pennies had entered the realm of “not good enough to keep, but too good to spend” and he began hoarding the pre-1982 cents.
He said, “In the beginning I kept none of the 1982 [cents] since I had no way to separate zinc from copper. Then I remembered seeing a balance scale offered long ago by Virg Marshall III – The Penny Merchant. It was a simple see-saw, but I wasn’t sure how it worked. I bought some craft sticks and round toothpicks at the Dollar Store and proceeded to make my own. The trick is in the placement of the fulcrum, which is nothing but a pyramid of toothpicks, so a copper cent will tip the scale but a zinc one won’t. It worked great. It was fast and accurate. I began weighing every 1982 I found.”
On Nov. 23 he searched a $50 bag of cents that yielded the 1982-D Small Date copper-alloy cent. He said it was in the last handful of coins in the bag, saying that he had taken a break from coin sorting in recent weeks and if not for a snowstorm (and nothing better to do) he never would have bought that bag. (He buys his cents from banks before they are shipped out for counting, rolling and being boxed.)
He said, “I believe there are more 1982-D Small Dates in bronze [actually brass Editor] out there, dozens, perhaps hundreds, but probably not thousands. If there were thousands of them it shouldn’t have taken 34 years for the first one to surface.”
The hard-core copper hoarders use sorting machines to separate copper from zinc so any of this rarity in those hoards are lost at least for now and may very well be melted in time.
The reason the Mint changed from what collectors call a Large Date to the Small Date is because zinc does not strike up like copper or a predominantly copper alloy. The Mint struck the copper hard and fast but quickly learned in 1982 that the strike was not satisfactory on the coins minted on the copper-plated zinc planchets. They had to slow down the strike by lengthening the squeeze, which satisfactorily filled the dies. This meant production numbers were down and the only way to rectify the problem was to modify the dies. The “Small Date” moniker is actually something of a misnomer as not only is the date smaller and more delicate but so is LIBERTY and IN GOD WE TRUST and almost assuredly other less noticeable design differences in the portrait. This change meant there was less date, motto and legend to fill during the strike and they could crank up the numbers again by hitting the planchets faster and reducing the length of squeeze. There have been other theories thrown around for the design modifications but none have been verified by the Mint while those noted here are the exact reasons the Mint cited.
So now is the time to start searching! Some veteran collectors are so good at differentiating the solid copper alloy from the copper-plated cents by sight alone that they can very often tell the difference just by color while even examining just the reverse – I know I can 99 percent of the time. But for all practical purposes it is best to weigh the 1982-D Small Date cents to see if you have one of the rare 3.1 gram copper-alloy specimens. You can use the fulcrum style scale described above or you can buy a digital scale – an option that has gotten much cheaper in recent years. I paid over $125 for my first one and I think I paid about $14 for my last one (that I keep as a spare). Nonetheless a fulcrum scale seems like it might be faster and easier (not to mention far cheaper) for this specific task.
How to tell the Large Date from the Small Date? Most writers point to the size of the “8” as being quite a bit larger and taller or the curvature of the “2” being different on the Large Date but in reality it is much easier just to look for the bold larger characters of the entire date and legend and how close they are to the rim for the Large Date and how delicate the characters on the Small Date and the significantly further distance they are from the rim. The “2” of date might be the most obvious; study how close it is to the rim on the Large Date vs. how far it is from the rim on the Small Date. It’s that simple.
In checking with error specialist Fred Weinberg of Encino, Calif., who does the error coin attributions for the Professional Coin Grading Service, I learned that he has never heard of one of these. He noted that there copper planchets known for a few 1983 cents (of which I had reported upon here in Numismatic News for both Denver and Philadelphia in the past. My book “Strike It Rich With Pocket Change” was responsible for the discovery of the 1983-D and several of the 1983 cents). There are also reports of three known certified 1989-D cents and one 1990-D struck on 3.1 gram copper-alloy planchets. And yes, after working in a stamping operation for over 25 years I am firmly convinced that wayward planchets can get lost in a plant for years before being uncovered and worked their way back into production channels.
More information about the error club, CONECA, that potter represents may be obtained from him at firstname.lastname@example.org. An educational image gallery can be found on his website at http://koinpro.tripod.com.
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