Melting old pennies

I know it is illegal to melt U.S. coins down, but I am just curious as to how someone would know if the metal is from coins. It’s pretty well-known that the copper weight of U.S. pennies up until 1982 is worth more than one cent. I’m just curious as to whether or not it would be in anyway difficult to sell a large amount of copper from melted down pennies to a scrap merchant. I don’t know anything about melting/ smelting, but I would assume that a large amount of melted pennies would just turn to a liquid and then cool and just look like a big chunk of metal with no way of being able to tell the source of the copper. (I have no intent of doing this or anything, I am just generally curious.)

Yep. Pre-1983 US pennies and every goddamned US nickel (75% copper, 25% nickel) in the world is worth more than face value at scrap value, not even counting production cost. There is no way to trace the elemental metals from coins in any practical way. It’s not a high profit enterprise to begin with, but it could be profitable on a large scale. Which is why it’s illegal.

The Secret Service isn’t going to bust your door down for melting down a few thousand coins a year, but they do look for trends that indicate large scale coin scrapping. Pre-1965 US quarters and dimes are 90% silver and very worthwhile to melt down.

Post-1982 pennies are mostly zinc and mostly worthless, but they still cost more than they’re worth to produce. I’d like to see all of them gone. Is anyone really going to miss change of a quarter?

They’re going to be some sort of bronze alloy, rather than pure copper, as the pure metal would be very soft and would wear out quickly.

I expect the alloy is specific enough in its composition that an ingot of it would be reasonably identifiable as having come from coins, but an ingot made from a mixture of melted coins and copper pipes maybe wouldn’t - but nonstandard ingots of unspecified copper alloys are probably going to raise suspicions beyond that you’re just melting pennies.

200 U.S. “pennies” contain slightly over an pound of copper. Therefore, at a scrapyard, with copper currently worth $3.80 U.S., you could bank the cents at face value($2.00) or scrap them, but most scrap yards proably wouldn’t pay you much over the $2.00 figure. It’s not like they’d pay 80+ % of the final melt price. Not worth it.

You also have to factor in the cost of the fuel, equipment and labor needed to melt them.

I depends on how long you are willing to save them and turn them in later. I often get enough in change to store and then return to my bank every 2 months or so to the tune of $20. That’s $120 a year. Chump change maybe, but I’d rather have $120 in spending money than to throw it away on the street.

EDIT—that comes out to 33 cents a day. Maybe a bit high, but it is close anyway.

I wouldn’t want to just give that change away either - but assuming transactions were rounded down as well as up you’d be even in the long run, without the hassle of dealing with small change.

I occasionally sell off a little of this and that, old plumbing fixtures, etc. With the current traffic is stolen metals, they want your drivers license, photograph you, make you fill out a form saying where the stuff came from etc. I also doubt it is easy to find much in the way of real metal coins in circulation. Could be partly because when there were more of them, somebody beat you to it. I would expect that yes coins are made from a distinct allow. Yes throwing in some copper pipe might distort it. Yes it is illegal. I don’t remember any news stories of anybody being busted for it.

I get pre-1982 US pennies on a fairly regular basis. I usually just put them back into circulation.

I’ve tried Googling but I can’t find it. A few years back some guys were buying up nickels to export them, where they could be melted down outside of US jurisdiction. I think they got busted, IIRC.

A newish law makes exporting non-trivial amounts of pennies and nickels illegal.

DIY melting and then a trip to a metal recycler is something else. Given the large number of people making a living stealing copper pipes and aluminum, there must be scrap dealers who aren’t all that fussy.

Referring to samclem (posting #4 - 200 pre-1982 pennies ≈ pound of copper.)

Well, I decided this was a nerdy calculation I just had to do.

Pre-1982 penny - Mass 3.11 grams 95% of which is copper.

Mass of copper in each pre-1982 penny = 2.9545 grams

There are 453.59 grams in a pound so it takes about 153.5 pre-1982 pennies if you want one pound of copper.

So, with the new calculation, this scheme becomes slightly more profitable.
(Yes, I know I wasn’t consistent with the significant figures.)

Bank of America and probably other banks have this nice add-on where they round all your debit card purchases up to the nearest dollar, placing the difference between the charged price and that dollar into your linked savings account. Cashless society, man, cashless society.

Jake Jones, that one cent and five cent coins cost more to produce than their face value would be a problem if they weren’t circulated for decades. I’m all for getting rid of one dollar bills and using dollar coins.

The melting point between zinc and copper is pretty big. If you were to take a bunch of pennies, both pre-1982 and post-1982, and melt them down, you could pour most of the zinc out or take the copper out before it melts.

Or, if your crucible had a plug in the bottom, you could pull that and just drain the zinc. Then, melt the copper and drain that. You’d then have them mostly separated and who’d know?

If you were to use a waste-oil burner, and you got your waste-oil for free, you might turn a profit. But, this would be pennies on the dollar.

It’s late, someone can check my math, but I don’t think you could even make minimum wage by cashing in pennies for scrap.

According to this thread at a coin collectors site, somewhere around 20% of pennies may be pre-1982. Copper prices can vary from $.50 to $3+ depending on the type of copper you have, but pure copper is obviously more. Let’s assume you separate the copper and double their value.

So if you have $300 worth of pennies and 20%, or $60 worth, are pre-1982, you could take them in and get $120 back, but you’d be out the original $60 it cost to acquire the pennies so you’d just be $60 richer. That’s 8.26 hours of minimum wage.

But, to go through that $300 and separate the pre 1982 pennies, you’d have to check one penny per second for 8.5 hours.

I’m pretty sure that’s impossible, and it would still be slightly below minimum wage and it doesn’t even include time spent getting the pennies, unwrap/wrapping them (I assume you want to take the “worthless” pennies back to the bank), melting or going to recycler.

I have seen bags of silver bags sold for more than the silver value, so it seems like they are worth more left in coin form. “$1000 face” is a common bag weight.

You don’t have to melt them. Just accumulate them and sell them to people who do. I’ve been watching ebay ads, and there are coins changing hand north of face value.

As an experiment, I bought a dozen rolls of “old” pennies at the bank. I yielded about 25% pre-1983 coins, and even found several wheat cents. :slight_smile:

This is all academic, but one could technically make money exchanging pennies.

My brain did not read that as pennies… Oh, the horror.


This makes me wonder about other nations’ currencies. The 1 yen coin in Japan I imagine to be pretty worthless as scrap.

Are there any treaties against melting down coins?

Rob

NO.