How to Cash In Your Pennies for More Than a Cent

by Jamie Simmerman · 56 comments

Did you know that those hundreds of pennies lying under the couch cushions and on the car floor could be a source of income?  You have several options that are far more favorable than rolling and cashing them in at the bank.

Recycling Pennies
Recycling pennies may sound a bit like a late night infomercial, but there is some merit in the concept.

Pennies minted before 1982 are comprised of nearly 95% copper.  As of the date this post was written, recycled copper was selling in my area for $4.13 per pound (and the price has been rising steadily for several months thanks to a crappy economy).

You’ll need about 151, pre-1982 pennies to make a pound of copper. Yep, your $1.51 could yield $4.13 for the work of sorting through a few pennies and driving to the nearest scrap yard.

“But wait! Can I just bag my pennies and haul them in?” Nope, there are a few catches.

  1. Since most of these copper pennies are only 95% copper (and 5% zinc), technically they are considered brass in recycling terms. Brass is currently selling for between $2.61 and $3.03 in my area (depending on the quality of the brass), not nearly as high as $4.13 for copper.
  2. The majority of scrap yards will NOT take a bag of pennies for recycling because it’s against federal law to deface U.S. currency (see USA Today’s article for more information). While I’ve heard stories of people melting down pennies and separating the copper to place in extruders or molds and make it look like copper wire or scrap pieces, this is still highly illegal and most scrap yards question where you got the scrap. If they think the origin is fishy, they’ll refuse it on the spot and may call the authorities to investigate. Melting your own pennies is NOT recommended.

Looks like recycling pennies is a bust at this point, but you do have options to still cash in on your old pennies.

David’s Note: Doh! Reading this got me excited there for a moment!

Viable Options for Getting More from Your Pennies

  1. Sell them on Craigslist or Ebay. Many people are hoarding these old pennies in bulk. Some of them believe these stashes will be an asset when the economy collapses, some are waiting for federal laws to change to allow the melting of coins for recycling, and some of them just like old coins, but most will pay high dollar for small to moderate quantities of old pennies.
  2. Check out your pennies for rare and valuable coins. Many of us have probably held a valuable coin at one time in our lives and never even noticed. Making a habit of studying up on what coins are valuable and sorting through your pocket change every night could prove to be a wise financial move. A good place to start learning about valuable coins is the Professional Coin Grading Service or Heritage Auctions.  When I went through a small pile of old coins given to me by customers when I waited tables, I found six “silver” dollar coins that were worth a total of $90.

If you’re going to start a collecting hobby that could potentially yield a financial profit, collecting coins and old pennies is an obvious win-win choice.

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{ 56 comments… read them below or add one }

frugaljoe September 8, 2011 at 11:27 am

First off why even write about melting down pennies?
It might be fun to look for coins that could be worth something but it’s a long shot. You have just about as much chance in making money buying lotto tickets. At least there you might get a $1 or $5 ticket once in a blue moon. For coins to be worth anything they need to be mint condition so that eliminates anything you find in your pocket, so it’s usually not worth the effort.

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H. (Bart) Vincelette July 13, 2012 at 4:52 pm

It may not restore pennies to “mint” condition, but soaking them in a solution of vinegar & salt for a few hours makes a big difference. Also, scrubbing them with toothpaste cleans them up nicely.

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Shortfellow November 4, 2012 at 4:55 pm

DO NOT clean coins that might be rare- it makes them LESS valuable. Collectable coins do not have to be mint to be valuable. Yes, the value depends on the condition as well as the rarity, but cleaning them is always a mistake. Collectors know when a coin has been messed with.

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Frank January 10, 2013 at 3:11 am

Correct my dear lad, Never EVER clean coins, the most you can do is soak them in warm water, plain water with no chemicals.

The wrong way of cleaning copper coins is by using polishing agents. This is because polishing actually works by removing the topmost atomic layers of metal and working downwards from there. Ideally, you want your coin’s metal to stay and the dirt to leave.

Dissolving: By this we usually mean soaking in olive oil in the lock-it-up-and-forget-it category of coin cleaning. However, dissolving can also mean the use of acids such as lemon juice or vinegar which are more properly used to clean silver coins. Other than this particular case, the use of acids is emphatically not recommended for the same reason as polishing. You are wearing away at the metal in the hopes of carrying off the dirt too. Bad, bad. An alternative to olive oil, though no quicker, is mineral oil. The main advantage of mineral over olive oil is that it doesn’t stain the coin dark. It is, in fact, a great way of preserving a freshly cleaned coin from future corrosion. Just apply a very light coat and the oil acts as sealer and protectant.

Scrubbing: you can’t get away from scrubbing your coin. You really have to go out of your way to clean a coin without giving it a good workover with a brush! Some use brass bristled brushes but this is a dangerous procedure because it’s metal on metal. Keep in mind that even a diamond is worn to the nubbins by nothing other than soft vinyl plastic. Therefore brass tools of any sort should ideally work on the dirt and never against the bare coin. For these reasons a toothbrush with stiff bristles is preferable as a general-purpose tool.

Prying: When the shotgun approach of brushing is over with you’re often left with dirt still in the nooks and crannies of your coin. Rather than continue to brush it’s best to finish the coin with some nit-picking. An X-acto knife can cut through the toughest adhesions and, assuming great care is taken, can do wonders for the stubborn dirt still left on your coin. The problem, of course, is that it can just as easily scratch your coin. Brass pins allow more leeway for error but are somewhat less effective. You will need to decide how much risk to take at the expense of speed and convenience.

Shocking: electrolysis, as described above. The most effective way of cleaning (but potentially most disastrous to your coin).

Freezing/Heating: in theory, when you heat a metal such as a coin it expands and when you cool it it contracts. Because the metal is resilient and the minerals piggybacked to it aren’t, the dirt becomes brittle then falls off the way a clay mask would crack on your skin when you flexed it. In practice, however, little flaking is noticeable even when a coin is heated well past the boiling point then shock-freezed straight on ice. The reason is that the amount of flexing involved in that temperature range is too small to do much. Because it’s fairly passive it is worth a try where gentler methods have failed.

Lastly comes pulling. Pulling? Yep, by way of using adhesives you can literally yank the crud off a coin’s surface. This is the least talked-about method of coin cleaning and I’m not sure why. It works wonders although it’s quite tedious and time consuming. The easy way of doing this is to stick your dirty coin on packing tape then pulling it off. Notice all the dirt that just came off? Repeat the steps until the coin comes off clean. Unfortunately, packing tape doesn’t “pack” the adhesive power to pull off the whole job. That’s why Elmer’s glue is preferable. You put a drop or two on the coin face, smear it to an even coat and let it dry. Then peel off. Repeat til glue comes off clean. While this method is much quicker than oil-and-forget, it is not as gentle. Coins which have glossy patinas covered under dirt are the least recommended for this process because the glue tends to turn the surface opaque. It is also aggravatingly labor-intensive.

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Robert September 9, 2011 at 4:11 am

Duh! That was a good article – fun to read and stuff but melting down pennies will require the cost of a burner and the fuel too, right?! :D

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Carrie Smith @ CarefulCents September 15, 2011 at 11:00 am

This is really cool info. I had no idea that you could recycle and cash in pennies. Now I will keep better track of the pennies that cross my path, thanks for sharing.

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Kit October 13, 2011 at 10:04 am

Well, that’s just the thing. You can’t. It’s totally illegal to do so. The penalty is a fine and/or up to 5 years in federal prison.
http://codes.lp.findlaw.com/uscode/18/I/17/331

If you want to get money for scrap, collect actual scrap metal, broken jewelry, etc. That’s actually legal.

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Howard January 23, 2012 at 10:55 am

Silver quarters and dimes have been sold for scrap value and melted for many years. It’s done every day. It’s legal. Why are pennies not legal

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Rob January 24, 2012 at 8:38 pm

Sir, the idea is to save them for when the SHTF scenarios-guaranteed, if things go as so widely predicted, the value of copper will Explode, and pre ’82 95%Copper Cents will be a de facto currency-well above their face value-same with “nickels”, which are 75% copper, 25% nickel (worth 2.5+x copper)-no sorting necessary. It currently costs our government 9cents to make every nickel-this CANNOT last. Both coins will be accepted as REAL currency for their underlying commodities’ value-great for small purchases/change from 90% dimes, while the US Fiat dollar, much like our Republic, will go the way of Nazi Germany/Weinmar Republic’s printing press gone mad worthless paper-NOT for a sunshine-ing day investment.

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Howard January 25, 2012 at 7:41 am

I asked a simple question. What is the answer to my question? If you don’t know the answer, It’s ok to say “I dont know”

Don’t give me a rant, no matter how true or untrue the rant may be.

Spud Koolzip February 26, 2012 at 8:39 pm

It is not legal to melt cents and nickels because just a few years ago a law was passed that specifically prohibits it. Removing large numbers of these coins from circulation can negatively impact business, trade and commerce. The removal of silver (and gold) coins from circulation happened many years ago, and thus the melting of silver (and gold) coins has no impact on present-day circulation.

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Mer April 3, 2012 at 8:58 am

According to a coin dealer friend, the silver that is collected and melted down is sold to the US Mint.

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Jose September 16, 2011 at 3:11 pm

So when will the piece of paper of a dollar bill be worth more then the actual dollar?

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Jean September 16, 2011 at 9:27 pm

Jose, thats a tough one to answer, In my opinion the only time that will happen is when it is more costly to produce a dollar than its actual value. Otherwise, I dont see the actual physical dollar paper being worth more than what its intended value is. Its different in the case of the penny because of the materials that were used.

-Jean

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Rider October 24, 2011 at 6:32 am

Money isnt made of paper.

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Greg September 23, 2013 at 6:12 pm

Government is the only entity that can take a valuable commodity like paper and make it worthless by printing money on it.

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Baah November 8, 2011 at 1:14 pm

It already is.

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larry November 17, 2011 at 4:24 pm

I’ll only give you .75 for that $1 , but i’ll take as many as you can come up with…

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Rob January 24, 2012 at 9:03 pm

I’d take that offer Larry-provided you paid me in pre-’65 silver coins. Your dollars are worth less than 4cents from 1913, when The Fed was created. It’s lost ~90% since Nixon took us off the Gold Standard in ’71, and is down 30%+ just since your Insane Hussein Obama took office. I guess setting up FEMA Concentration Camps and their cheap plastic coffins Does cost money-not to mention re-igniting the 1400 year ol Shia?Sunni Holy War-didya think he and Hillary were going to a chess tournament?

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Rob January 24, 2012 at 9:10 pm

I’ll also buy every pre-’82 penny for a 50% profit to you-”all you can come up with”-THAT’s the point of this article- as he said, there ARE Buyers right now-CL, eBay are just 2 ways to find them-no stock will pay you 50% guaranteed. Try Craigslist 1st-cents are heavy to mail-eats away at your profits.

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Betty Roberson July 7, 2012 at 3:40 pm

Rob, I am an elderly lady who has not invested time in collecting, however I have a few pre “82″ pennies. What is 50% profit? Can you help me sell the few I have? Thank you, Betty

Rob January 24, 2012 at 8:54 pm

Jose-ignore Jean. The correct answer is yesterday…and yet, the sheeple remain asleep… Find a means to support yourself & your loved ones in a SHTF Barter economy. You can buy a sorter for $55 for copper pennies-also works for 40% & 90% Silver coins. I’m getting mine, hoarding pre ’82 pennies & ALL nickels,then hunt for rarities from smaller piles, sell rare now, keep rest for bullion value-Copper is where Silver was not long ago. Check out YT for the 411 on recycling A/C units, old TVs, Thrift Store/Yard Sale picking–Anything you can do of value to others . Buy a dehydrator, FoodSaver, grow healing herbs or fooods for that day-dry & bag them.–Anything-think “what will I Need when the SHTF? Then, find a way to provide it-make Hydrogen on Demand units for cars. Biodiesel. LNG Conversions. Energy-provide it & you’ll never starve-learn Tesla’s secrets to FREE ENERGY-the opportunities are endless. Namaste.

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Jimmy Trenton May 2, 2012 at 10:15 am

Jose – Ignore Rob. If, and its a big if, the SHTF, money regardless of composition will mean nothing. Hello, we put value on gold and silver too. Its just a metal that comes out of the ground. It has no value other than what we place on it. You will want to stock up on ammo, batteries, matches, seeds, etc. Things that can be traded. I’d much rather have a pocket full of ammo, matches and iodine tablets than a pocket full of copper or silver regardless of the “market value”.

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Chris December 29, 2012 at 9:53 pm

Jimmy you are only half right. While I agree that basic food, ammo, seeds, non-perishables, etc will be of more value than metals in a war/crisis, do not under-estimate gold and silvers commercial/industrial value. Both are used in electronics (gold to a lessor extent), but silver is also used in solar panels (if I remember correctly), in anti-bacterial creams, eye drops, etc, in photography before we went digital, and many other applications. Because the amount of the metals in very small in electronics, its not possible, or worth recycling it and easier/cheaper just to mine more (esp silver.). This further pushes up its value, esp. with all those i-phones, etc out there increasing at a massive rate. Silver has been increasing rapidly in value last decade or so.

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Adam Gardner April 13, 2012 at 12:25 pm

Joan
the paper composition of the dollar, or the dollars base value, will exceed face value when you either need to start a fire to keep from freezing, or need to snort some coke.

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Timuchin November 15, 2011 at 4:29 pm

When all the Dollars come home to America in a massive, panic dumping, it won’t be worth a Continental. At that point commerce will be reduced to barterable items. American silver and copper coins will be favored since their metal value will be commonly known. I mean what is one lightbulb worth in salami, nails or whiskey?

The main problem will be a rapacious government running around with metal detectors, seeing what it can steal from its citizens on a made-up pretext.

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James A. Ritchie November 16, 2011 at 11:56 am

And yet we have those little machines all over the country that press pretty designs into a penny, forever destroying the penny for commercial use. The local children’s museum has one of them,. Kids, and many adults, gladly pay a quarter to watch the machine press a penny into a work of art. So far, I haven’t heard of anyone being arrested for having one of these penny presser available to the public.

And last copper went up high enough to make a hundred pennies worth well over a dollar, there was a penny shortage because so many people did recycle them. I never heard of anyone getting in trouble for that, either.

Despite what the code says, criminal penalties are generally reserved for those who FRAUDENTLY alter currency, which almost always means making it worth more than its stated value. Or, in the case of old silver and gold coins, worth less than the silver or gold content. Shave enough gold coins, spend them or trade them in for face value, and then sell the shavings. Good racket until you get caught.

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Cuervo Jones November 30, 2011 at 6:28 pm

I bought a cross at a store that changed out the clasp because the old one didn’t “fit” on the rosary chain. They used a little ring and acted insulted when i asked for the clasp with 10X the gold in it back.

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James Etheridge November 27, 2011 at 8:07 am

Does all of this mean that my 1917 copper penny has no value other that one cent?

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Rob January 24, 2012 at 9:22 pm

James-did you read the same article as ‘I did? ANY pre-’82 cent is worth around ~2.5-3cents-copper wise. Depending on the condition and rarity, it could be worth $100.000 or more-even circulated-that’s why the author suggested getting the Red Book-for just one cent, you can find its Numismatic value online-you do know how to Google search at least, right? 1917 Cent value-find the mint mark-thatz important too. Good luck!

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Jose December 6, 2012 at 9:38 pm

James your 1917 penny is worth between $70 – $.05 depending on where it was minted, and what its grade is. PF-63 grade, minted in Denver=$70, While a G-4 grade, minted in Philadelphia, is worth $.05.

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Roger A. Chovanak February 17, 2012 at 6:45 am

i have at least 20 rolls of lincoln head pennies.

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Howard February 17, 2012 at 6:55 am

Are they wheat cents or memorial cents? What do you plan on doing with them? I hope this thread continues because I’m trying to find a way of smashing them, melting them, selling for profit.

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Gordan March 15, 2012 at 6:50 pm

According to many stories in the news over the years of people trying to pay their bills in pennies( to piss off the person responsible for counting them) pennies are declared ‘not legal tender’ . So how can it be illegal to melt them down?

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H. (Bart) Vincelette July 13, 2012 at 4:49 pm

The only person I know for a fact who paid a fine in pennies, was a cousin of mine who did so with pennies at city hall in our Manitoba town. They accepted them but made him count them out individually. That was back in the mid 1960′s.

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Rare Coins April 11, 2012 at 7:04 am

Pre ’82 95%Copper Cents will be a de facto currency-well above their face value-same with “nickels”, which are 75% copper, 25% nickel (worth 2.5+x copper)-no sorting necessary. It currently costs our government 9 cents to produce these

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Rare Coins April 11, 2012 at 7:21 am

Gordan , I don’t think government will melt the Penny’s .. period, and where did you read that Pennies are not legal tender ??

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AAAAANDRE May 6, 2012 at 6:23 pm

Search on “pay bill pennies” and you will get tons of stories.
I think it’s more the way these guys presented payment, dumping a pile on the desk and basically saying F-U, is the problem, not the pennies.
Even the bank won’t take them until you roll ‘em and write your account number on them.

Found this here…
http://www.abc4.com/content/news/top_stories/story/Uintah-County-man-cited-for-paying-bill-with/99f67eQj-EGcc1hRycERYw.cspx

Someguy – 6/4/2011 6:58 PM

To add to my previous comment: On knowledge base, an article written by Sid Hemsley states “Subsequently, I found a brief annotation on what constitutes legal tender at 31 ALR 246 [which I reprieved from West law and is supposedly current as of June, 2004] on what constitutes “legal tender.” It points out that with respect to coins as legal tender, “The minor coins of the United States are legal tender for any amount not exceeding 25 cents in any one payment. Act Feb. 12, 1873, Rev. Stat. ‘ 387, Comp. Stat. ‘ 6574, 6 Fed.Stat. Anno. 2d. ed. p. 298.”

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orfan February 27, 2013 at 10:38 am

My bank made me take all the coins out of their rolls before I could add their value to my account.

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Common Sense May 9, 2012 at 11:30 am

This is so stupid. What moron would buy a penny? Go to the bank and ask for a few thousand rolls.

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tj May 25, 2012 at 7:49 am

Common sense is right. I’ve gone to the bank and picked up rolls of pennies and nickles and dimes, have gotten buffalo head nickels, silver dimes and lots of pre-60 pennies so it’s well worth my time to sit and go through them. It’s better than watching the news and filth on tv.

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Lee June 26, 2012 at 2:21 pm

Have hundreds of pennies, but not the time or health to search them properly. I believe many are pre-1982, thus worth 2.5 cents or more (?), since they’re from old coin banks we kept. Appreciate any ideas on what I should do(?)

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James A. Ritchie July 7, 2012 at 7:25 am

Our bank will take unrolled coins in any amount. Bring in ten thousand bucks worth of unrolled pennies, and they grab them. The coins are sorted, counted, and rolled by machine, and the bank charges a hefty percentage for the process.

But it can pay well to check your pennies. Some are worth a bunch of money. So are other coins. My sons regular visits banks ad gets rolls of large size silver dollars. It’s amazing how often he finds Mogan silver dollars mixed in. hey aren’t worth much, but he typically gets anywhere from ten to fifteen bucks each,

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Nick July 14, 2012 at 7:20 am

Your son is getting ripped off there James. Morgan’s are worth at least $20.00

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Lee July 14, 2012 at 9:18 am

have big bunch pennies; as ment’d earlier, do not have the time or health to go thru (estimate 500 pennies). I pulled 48 of them out to check dates, ALL but one were pre-1982 (and that one was 1982). IF SOMEONE WANTS THE WHOLE BUNCH, WHAT’LL THEY GIVE ME? Of course that’s no guarantee that the others are pre-1982, but they were all from old banks and I’d bet on it. Of course, in additional bonus— depending on mint marks — some could be worth lot more, even in not uncirculated!

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Canadian lady August 9, 2012 at 3:45 pm

Folks, there is no such thing as a Canadian penny, nickel, dime or quarter. Those designations belong to the USA. In Canada we have 1 cent, 5 cents, 10 cents, 25 cents and 50 cents. Just look at your coins and you will see this is true. Then look at US coins to see their designations. We should use our Canadian designations with pride. I’ve noticed on t.v. and in the newspaper that US expressions are sneaking into our advertizing. For example: sneakers, pocketbook and so on. Let’s make a conscious decision to speak Canadian in Canada and resist speaking Americanisms

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Eric G. August 26, 2012 at 11:38 am

Recycling? This website must be the King of Recyclers ’cause this article was first posted in September of 2011! Almost a year ago (look at the dates of the comments). And regularly re-posted! I hope the writer, Jamie Simmerman, is getting residuals. And not just pennies, either.
And for you Canadians: (1) Why does Sympatico’s website keep posting links to blatantly American articles and commentaries? and (2) In the year 2000 the Canadian penny’s compostion changed to 94 percent steel, 4.5 percent copper plate, and 1.5 percent nickel. Your rebuttal comments are welcome.

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Tony September 20, 2012 at 7:59 pm

Send your pennies and for that matter, silver coins, north across the border. There are many contacts (with a little research). It’s not illegal to melt US coins in Canada, or vise versa. The rewards can be luctative….

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johnny canuck October 10, 2012 at 6:36 pm

Canadian pennies , cents , whatever , from 1942 to 1996 the copper coin is made of up to 98% copper and is of minimum value of $.02 . and is no longer in production . So , technically I don’t even have to melt them down , just get them to the recycling plant and double your money

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Sue December 17, 2012 at 11:16 am

What about recycling a bag of pressed pennies, from a penny press machine like at the theme parks, to a scrapyard? Is that legal?

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howard hauk December 17, 2012 at 7:16 pm

YES!

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bruce buchanan January 12, 2013 at 11:45 am

Friends-
There is a national collectors club of those people who collect and “roll” elongated pennies-affectionately known as “smashed pennies”. Check out TEC (The Elongated Cent). Consider joining.
Earlier posts did correctly state it is illegal to deface coins-”fraudulent intent” is the operative term-trying to change the value-like changing a $1 bill to $10.
Elongated pennies have been around for over 100 years. Collectors and “Rollers” bemoan the 1982 watershed event whereby zinc replaced copper as the major component in the penny. Zinc pennies are not prized rolling coins which tend to turn black in time.
But the TEC crowd is certainly a voice that feels the penny needs to stay!

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FALCON January 26, 2013 at 11:57 pm

Question….once pennies are withdrawn from circulation….would it be legal to just take coins in a bag(no melting) to recycle…

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michael mooney April 2, 2013 at 12:34 pm

Remember no matter what a coin is worth to a collector it is still only worth face value at the cash register or the bank.

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Guy February 10, 2014 at 8:02 pm

I found a 1995 D Penny and where it says IN GOD W WE TRUST there is an extra W between GOD & WE

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