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Penny's worth of copper/ Nickel's worth of nickel

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11284. What is the Weight of a Nickel Coin
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My 5th grade students and I were discussing precious and semi-precious metals. The following two questions came up and we are all curious to know the answers.
1. Suppose a penny were made of pure copper and you melted it down. What would the value of the copper be?
2. Suppose a nickel were made of pure nickel and you melted it down.

What would the value of the nickel be?


Steve Gulian
elementary school - Grosse Pointe, Michigan


Here's some help from the London Metals Exchange [Ed. note: on the date of James' posting in 2003]

Copper: $0.8106/lb
Nickel: $4.5178/lb

Given this info, a scale, a penny, and a nickel, the answer is left as an exercise for the students. I don't know what a 5 cent piece is made of, but pennies are copper electroplated zinc.

James Totter
James Totter, CEF
- Tallahassee, Florida


The London Metal Exchange had the following prices [September 2003]:

Cu = $1786 per metric ton or ~ $0.812 per pound

Ni = $9950 per metric ton or ~ $4.52 per pound

Find out the weight of the penny and nickel in pounds and multiply by the cost per pound to find out how much they would be worth...

Toby Padfield
- Troy, Michigan

Hands-on" learning is fun, maybe try a precision scale? . . .


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I just weighed 50 pennies and got 133.3 grams, and 40 nickels weighed 199.9 grams. (Figure on a nickel weighing 5 grams.) Looking at, it appears that copper is going for about 81 cents per kilogram, while nickel is going at about $9.78 per kilogram.

I'm SURE your class can do the math! Have fun!

lee gearhart
Lee Gearhart
metallurgist - E. Aurora, New York

I did the math, Lee, and it looks like we can expect nickels to become nickel-plated coins pretty soon.

Ted Mooney,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey

Value is what someone else is willing to pay for an item. Assuming you had an old penny, no one would give you anything for a melted down one. If you had a thousand melted down pennies, a scrap metal dealer would give you less than a dollar. As a class project, have someone call two scrap dealers to find out how much a pound they would pay for clean copper. This would be the true value. Contrast this to what some of the early Lincoln pennies sell for. Seems to me one of the mint coins from about 1912 is selling for several hundred dollars.

James Watts
- Navarre, Florida

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First of all, the United States has NEVER produced a single Penny. We make Cents!
As for the Lincoln Cent:
With the exception of the war-time Steel Cents minted in 1943, Cents produced from 1909-1982 weigh 3.11 grams, and are composed of .950 copper, .050 Tin & Zinc.
Those produced from 1982-Present weigh 2.5 grams, and are composed of 99.2% zinc, 0.8% copper, with a very thin plating of pure copper.
Note that in 1982, Cents of both compositions exist.

As for the Jefferson Nickel:
With the exception of the 35% Silver War-Time Nickels minted from 1942-1945, Jefferson Nickels weigh 5 grams, and have been composed of .750 copper, .250 nickel, since 1938.
I hope this helps.

William Massey
- Beltsville, Maryland


maybe 1000 won't be enough to get your $10 worth of materials (from somebody willing to buy just $10 worth of copper)

But then, you aren't thinking on a large enough scale.
According to the NY Times, a cent is worth more than 1 cent and a nickel is worth more than 7 cents in materials.;=business&oref;=slogin

now 7 cents market value for something that you can get for 5 cents, that's a 40% return if you can gather enough material (tons and tons) to interest a buyer

Then again...that article also mentions that there is now going to be a fine of $10,000 for people recycling coins in this way so you'd have to do it on a large enough scale to amortize (to gradually reduce or write off the cost or value of (as an asset)) that fine.

Now that would make an interesting word problem.

If a 5 cents Nickel is worth 7 cents in materials and there is a fine for converting the coin into materials of $10,000, how many Nickels would you have to recycle in order to turn a profit.

It'd be somewhere around 500,000 nickels (of the 20 billion nickels in circulation) to break even.

Stephen Cox
- Gilbert, Arizona

So what happens if you can only come up with 5/7 of the fine. Can you pay in melted nickels and call it even?  :-)

Ted Mooney,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey


Maybe my math is off, but isn't a pre-1982 cent now worth more than two cents in copper value?

The NY Mercantile Exchange lists the value of copper at nearly $3.38 per pound [(1997)]. That's $7.44 per kilogram of copper. Hence, one gram of copper is worth 0.744 cents.

Since pre-1982 cents have nearly 3 grams of copper, the copper value is more than two cents per coin!

Is my thinking sound or have I erred in my calculations?

Francis J. den Dulk
- Kinnelon, New Jersey

Your figures are probably correct, Francis. And the price of all metals is skyrocketing, so they will be worth even more very soon. That's one reason why melting coins is considered stealing from the government. But coin collecting is considered a legitimate hobby so there is probably nothing wrong with selling them for 2 cents each -- as long as you don't sell them in volume to a Chinese "collector".

Ted Mooney,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey

Yes, copper cents are worth about two cents in metal value and Jefferson nickels are worth about 9 cents in metal value. In Canada, the copper cent before 1991 is worth about the same. However, the five cent piece, before 1982, is pure nickel, so it has about twenty cents in metal value.

The U.S. Government puts forth the premise that these coins are the property of the Government and that if you melt them it is theft. This is poppycock. Silver coins have been melted for 30 years in the United States without penalty. Further, both the U.S. and Canadian Governments regard any circulating coinage as seigneurage; in other words, once it was released in circulation, it was never expected to be redeemed. Thus, it becomes property of the circulating public and any restriction on it's use should be regarded as currency control.

Michael Findlay
- Angus, Ontario, Canada


Thanks for the insight on the issue, Michael. But the law is whatever the government decides it is, not what we think it is based on precedent; so when they say there is now a ban on melting and exporting, I wouldn't be too quick to dismiss it :-)

You are surely right that the government will not prosecute a person for melting a handful of copper coins, but I'm sure that if industrial-scale melting of recent US coins is discovered, with the desperately needed nickel going to China instead of staying here, people will be prosecuted.

Ted Mooney,
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey

To get current melt price of US coins you can use this website:

Pat McCotter
- Meriden, Connecticut
June 2, 2009

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