How do I sell my pennies and nickels? … part 1

We follow up our discussion on selling circulated silver coins with one on how to sell your old copper and nickel coinage.  Although these base metal coins don’t command as high a dollar value as your 90 percent silver, they are worth more than you think, especially better dates and many Indian Head cents.

In this first blog of our 2-part series we help you organize your saleable copper pennies, including the zinc-coated steel cent shown above.

Organizing your pennies for sale is easy.

Although we often refer to our 1-cent coin as a penny, technically speaking, it is a “small cent.”  The only reason it is considered “small” is because in 1857 the U.S. copper cent was downsized.  Starting in 1793 the U.S. 1-cent coin was made of 100% copper, weighed 13.48 grams and had a diameter between 26 to 27 mm.  By 1796 its weight was reduced by nearly 20 percent to 10.89 grams.  At the time it was just a cent.  With the introduction of the small cent in 1857, these early cents would forever be referred to as “large cents.”

The new smaller cent weighed 4.67 grams, had a diameter of 19 mm and was 88% copper and 12% nickel.  The diameter of our small cent has remained the same although its composition has changed over time.  The most common small cents found in a typical family collection are Lincoln Wheat Cents (bronze and zinc-coated steel), Indian Head Cents, and Lincoln Memorial Cents.  We buy all small cents except circulated Lincoln Memorial Cents dated 1959 and later.

Your typical circulated Wheat Cent will look like the one you see to the far left.  These coins are usually brown in color due to years of exposure to the environment.  New copper coins are always red like the one to the near left.  While common circulated Wheat Cents are worth 2¢, there are a few rare or key dates that are worth much more.  These are 1909-S, 1909-S VDB, 1909 VDB, 1914-D, 1922, 1924-D, 1931-S, and 1955 doubled die. 

The doubling effect of the 1955 is quite obvious and is discernable to the naked eye.  If you have one, it will look like this.

You may also find Indian Head Cents in your collection of coins.  The image to the left illustrates a very nice one in uncirculated condition.   Yours may may look more like this circulated example to the right.  Unless they are are corroded or badly damaged your Indian Cents will all have good value.

Lincoln Memorial Cent

Our most common 1-cent coin is the Lincoln Memorial Cent shown to the left.  It has been in circulation since 1959.  Since 1864 small cents have been made of bronze.  People who are unfamiliar with U.S. coinage are often surprised to learn that, since 1982, these coins are made of zinc and only copper plated so that they look familiar.  Otherwise, they would look like the 1943 Steel Cent shown at the top of this article.  At present, these coins have no additional value.  You will have to remove any Memorial Cents from your Wheat Cents before we can buy them.

To summarize,

    • remove and spend (or deposit with your bank) any Memorial Cents from Wheat Cents you would like to sell
    • combine all your Wheat Cents with zinc-coated steel Wheat Cents of 1943
    • combine in a separate group any Indian Head Cents and any U.S. copper coins that you want special attention including the better dates mentioned above

In part 2 we explore 5-cent nickels.

About Robert Minichino

Robert Minichino is owner and full-time numismatist at Central Jersey Rare Coins. He is a Life Member (#3485) of the American Numismatic Association (ANA) and has submission privileges with coin grading services of PCGS, NGC, and CAC. He supports local coin clubs including Watchung Hills Collectors Club and the Garden State Numismatics Association.
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12 Responses to How do I sell my pennies and nickels? … part 1

  1. jmadkins says:

    I have a tarnished 1902 Indian head penny that has been buried for what I’m guessing about 100 years. I am not sure where to begin looking for a coin dealer to do an appraisal. According to other sites I am not sure that it would even be worth my time. Almost all of the markings are still visible, it’s just pretty tarnished due to being buried. Any ideas or recommendations?

    • Chances are your Indian Head cent is corroded. It probably would not be worth appraising although you could try bringing it to a coin dealer near you. Estimated value is between 25 cents and $1.

  2. Nancy Shearer says:

    Just checking, if I have a bag of wheat pennies, do you have a counting machine, do you weigh them or how do you handle large amounts?
    Also are they always 2 cents each? Is there a limit on how many you will purchase?
    Thanks in advance,

    • We have coin counting machines to handle bulk coins. We pay two cents each for common dated circulated wheat cents in bulk although you could search through your coins for better dates before you sell them. We would pay more for better dates. There is no limit on the number we would buy.

  3. Tamara says:

    I have a 1914 lincoln cent , and two of the 1943 silver pennies, and I was just wondering if anyone had any information on what they’re worth and if they are worth anything where I could sell it.

  4. Krystie5 says:

    I have a 1955 dd wheat penny? How should I go about getting a good deal?

  5. sissy hooper says:

    i have the 1943 and lots other i would like to sell them all together not just pennys

  6. Mary Lain says:

    We have a badly tarnished Indian head cent. We cannot determine the mint city or complete date. It looks like 18_7. How do we determine the date/ mint without cleaning the coin?

    • Mary,

      If the date is worn off there is nothing that can be done and it won’t really matter. For sure, the coin was minted at Philadelphia but no amount of cleaning will help to determine the date.

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