Latest Copper 1983-D Cent Mystery

A 1983-D Lincoln cent struck on a 3.0-gram brass planchet of 98 percent copper and 2 percent zinc was authenticated and graded by Numismatic Guaranty Corporation of Sarasota, Fla. Regular output Make 1983-D cents copper-plated zinc.

First, this copper 1983-D may be a coin struck on a planchet left over from early 1982 production (or earlier) when U.S. cents were struck on solid brass planchets, a coin with a $15,000-$20,000 value based on historical transactions.

Is this a typical U.S. copper cent planchet? Although the weight falls within the 0.13 gram tolerance allowed by Public Law 31 U.S. Code § 5113, the composition is incorrect for any U.S. cent in history. Our cents were struck on 3.11-gram brass planchets of 95% copper and 5% zinc from 1962 to 1982.

What does this penny find represent? The composition could be a misprint on the holder (which I'm still attempting to determine) or on an unidentified foreign planchet. If struck on a U.S. brass planchet, it may be worth $15,000 or more. But if it's struck on an unknown planchet of an alloy never used for U.S. coins, its value could plummet.

Mark Lighterman of Florida, an Off-Metal/Wrong Planchet mistake specialist, says U.S. coins struck on unidentified planchets can sell for $200 to $400 and $1,000 if the country of origin is recognized. These statistics are normal but not always applicable, as we shall see.

We know that in 1982, copper-plated zinc cent planchet production was outsourced to private producers who also make planchets for other countries. Since then, several U.S. pennies have been found struck on unidentified planchets that likely sneaked into U.S. Mint supplies. That is the most likely origin of this planchet assuming it is the 98 percent copper alloy.

This discovery is unlikely to affect the value of the few 1983 solid brass cents, just as the discovery that most 1944 steel cents were likely struck on the zinc-plated steel planchets intended for the 1944 Belgium two-franc coins struck in Philadelphia has not affected the value of these highly sought-after errors.

Whatever their value, Lincoln cents of any date struck on solid brass planchets should be weighed. They appear on 1983, 1983-D, 1989-D, and 1990-D cents after 1982. On Dec. 5, 2013, Heritage's U.S. Coins Signature Auction - Houston sold a 1983 cent graded MS62 RB minted on a “3.1gm Cu Plan” for $23,500.

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