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Monday, April 19, 2010

The pennies project: an interim report

We've finished the first phase of our project to study the heavy bucket of pennies that our reader Ben has been collecting for around 20 years. We've now got the cents sorted into decades, with the '80s the most heavily represented, followed by the '90s:

We'll begin hunting around for rarities within the decades, and preparing some statistics about how much of what we've found, shortly. But for now, the answer to the obvious question: What's the oldest penny knocking around in his change over the last 20 years?

We've also spent enough time with these coins to form an artistic opinion: The pennies of the '60s are by far the nicest among those that are still readily available. They were made to last, and they have. Meanwhile, the pennies minted in the '90s and '00s are trashy. They're already corroding and disintegrating.

That's it for now, except for a request: Has anybody got a machine that will count large batches of pennies? We don't need to roll them up -- just count them.

Comments (13)

No great surprise that the older pennies with actual copper content are still in the best condition. They were made to last, unlike so much these days.

Cool update

Key Bank may be your solution, Jack.

I think the Umpqua folks will help me, too -- but I'd prefer to just crank up a portable machine at the house if possible.

One efficient way to calculate how many coins you have is to weigh them. Count out 100 coins and see how much they weigh to the ounce. You can now calculate the number of coins that you have by weighing the rest of the coins in bulk. I know folks who collected the coins from washers and dryers and this became the most efficient way to count and roll them.

A good question is whether the weight of the pennies has changed over time with the change in content. I'm guessing it hasn't.

I think the pennies did change weight when they changed the metal content, which as I recall was '82. But that doesn't mean the weighing technique you describe wouldn't work.

Each of the coins represents a little swath of history.

It's not surprising that the oldest penny was from 1929. 1929 was the end of the roaring 20's. Penny mintages that year (all mints) summed to 277 million, well above the decade average of about 160 million. By 1931 and continuing through 1933 penny mintages were down into the 20-25 million range, symptomatic of the counter productive monetary tightening that contributed to a surge in bank runs and liquidations that deepened and lengthened the Great Depression. A penny from 1931, 32 or 33 would be a much rarer bird.

There are websites that have information about the weights of pennies over the years. You could estimate an average weight for your population of pennies and this would enable you calculate a very good approximate count. For a more precise count, you could split up the penny piles more finely by the years the weights changed and weigh them again.

If an exact count is required, I wonder if you could go to a place like Barbur Blvd. Rentals and rent a coin counter. Or maybe a coin dealer could help you find a counting machine.

Please keep us posted on what you actually do. We have about 85 lbs of pennies in a large plastic Coke bottle and I'd like to figure out our exact penny count, too.

From WIKI Answers:

It depends on their dates.

Indian Head pennies dated 1864 to 1909 weigh 3.11 grams.

The Lincoln, Wheat Ears Reverse penny weighs 3.11 grams except for steel cents made only in 1943 that weigh 2.67 grams.

The Lincoln, Memorial Reverse penny (1959 to mid 1982) weighs 3.11 grams.

The Lincoln, Memorial Reverse penny (mid 1982 to present) weighs 2.5 grams.

It's not easy to tell the 1982s apart, so to figure out how many cents weigh a pound (or any other amount) you'd have to decide which date range you wanted to use and eliminate all 1982 coins. To help, a pound is 453.6 gm so just divide that by the weight of the penny date that you decided to use.

Just remember, Jack - math is hard!

Earlier this morning I paid cash for a money order at US Bank. In my change I received two pennies. When I get pennies back from a cash purchase at a convenience store, I always leave the pennies in the "take one/leave one" tray, but today, as I walked out of the bank, I tossed the pennies in the trash.

Why do I get the feeling that 6 or 7 of the mayors staff are doing a similar project as we speak...


That was funny. In a Creepy way.

Here's something you can do for extra credit: According to your previous post the composition of pennies has changed over time. Once you separate them by age and weigh them you can also calculate the weight of the alloys. That way instead of throwing them away like None does you can figure out if they are worth more as pennies or as recycled metal.

This should be easy for Sam's staff to do. Remember to put all of the different pennies into different colored pots just like Bojack has done.

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