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Alterations In Lincoln Cent Composition

By Michael Zielinski

The Lincoln Cent is one of the most familiar coins, as the one cent denomination in the United States. The front of the coin depicts a portrait of Abraham Lincoln and the reverse has depicted wheat ears, the Lincoln Memorial, and recently the Union Shield. Over the course of the series, the composition of the coin has undergone many changes.

The composition of the Lincoln Cent when first issued consisted of 95% copper and 5% tin and zinc. This predominantly copper composition gave the coins a familiar red color for uncirculated issues, which would eventually tone to reddish brown or brown after the years spent in circulation.

In 1943, the first composition change took place for the Lincoln Cent. The need for copper due to the war prompted an act of Congress approved on December 18, 1942, which would remove the copper content from the one cent coin. Instead the composition would be low grade carbon steel with a coating of zinc. Since the coating of zinc did not cover the rims of the coins, sometimes rust would develop on pennies found in circulation. More than one billion Steel Cents were produced during the single year of issue.

In 1944 the mint resumed the standard copper based composition. Notably, for the years 1944 to 1946, the source of the copper was from expended shell casings used during the war and the zinc component was removed. The zinc was restored from 1947 to 1962 before being removed once again to make the new composition 95% copper and 5% zinc.

In 1982, the rising cost of copper resulted in another compositional change for the Lincoln Cent. The predominantly copper composition was replaced by predominantly zinc. The new composition was 97.5% zinc and 2.5% copper, which resulted in a lower cost of manufacture and intrinsic value. With the cost of all base metals rising in recent years, the composition of the penny has been revisited once again. Will another change be taking place soon?

To find out more about Lincoln Cents, visit the site for complete series history and highlights. Learn about key date coins like the 1909-S VDB Lincoln Cent and others.

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Article Citation
MLA Style Citation:
Zielinski, Michael "Alterations In Lincoln Cent Composition." Alterations In Lincoln Cent Composition. 7 Jul. 2010. 2 Feb 2015 <>.

APA Style Citation:
Zielinski, M (2010, July 7). Alterations In Lincoln Cent Composition. Retrieved February 2, 2015, from

Chicago Style Citation:
Zielinski, Michael "Alterations In Lincoln Cent Composition"

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