1982 Lincoln Cent

Posted by Jay Turner, NGC Grader and Attributor on 5/1/2006

Many coin collectors got their start with the Lincoln cent. This is especially true of collectors who started young, and found that Lincoln cents were cheap, readily available, and had a great diversity of dates and varieties.

Many coin collectors got their start with the Lincoln cent. This is especially true of collectors who started young, and found that Lincoln cents were cheap, readily available, and had a great diversity of dates and varieties. The Lincoln cent first made its appearance in 1909 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Lincoln's birth. Because of its popularity, the design was adopted for ongoing use, and it became an icon of America's coinage.

Originally made in bronze, an alloy of 95% copper and 5% tin, the composition of the Lincoln cent has undergone some change throughout the years. It was struck in zinc-coated steel in 1943 when copper was needed during World War II, but returned to bronze the following year. Then, in the 1970s, the price of copper began to rise precipitously. The Mint experimented with using cheaper alloys and aluminum. In 1982, a change was finally adopted. The replacement for bronze was a zinc core, plated with pure copper. By substituting 99.2% zinc for 95% copper, Lincoln cents could again be produced economically.

So 1982 marks a year of transition for the Lincoln cent, and it also offers a unique opportunity for the collector. Since the changeover to the new material occurred after production of the cents had already begun, both bronze and zinc-core planchets were used in 1982. In addition to the change in metal composition, two different hub design styles were also used to produce coins of both types. These differences are what are referred to as "Large Date" and "Small Date" varieties.

The Large Date 1982 Lincoln cent has a taller, thicker date then that of the Small Date. Its lettering often has a mushy appearance, especially on coins of a later die state. The bust is also larger, with Lincoln's vest approaching much closer to the rim than its Small Date counterpart. The Small Date in comparison has thin, sharp letters and, as one might expect, a smaller date. Lincoln's bust is also smaller and sits further from the coin's rim.

Both the Small and Large Date coins appear in both metals and from both the Philadelphia and Denver Mints. There are, all told, seven different major varieties of the coin.

  • 1982 Large Date Bronze
  • 1982 Small Date Bronze
  • 1982-D Large Date Bronze
  • 1982 Large Date Zinc
  • 1982 Small Date Zinc
  • 1982-D Large Date Zinc
  • 1982-D Small Date Zinc

The 1982-D Small Date Bronze variation does not exist. While none of the coins are considered to be rare, the scarcest of the varieties is the 1982 Small Date Zinc from the Philadelphia mint. NGC attributes the variety of all 1982 Lincoln cents submitted for grading as part of the normal grading process, and VarietyPlus service fee is not necessary for this attribution.

Condition is also a factor to consider when collecting these coins. The 1982 Bronze cents are harder to find in high grade than the Zinc issues. Bronze coins tend to show more contact marks, friction, spots, discoloration, strike defects, and other grade-hindering factors which keep them from obtaining grades of MS66 or above. Zinc cents come nicer often with fewer marks, spots, and strike problems and can quite often grade MS66 or higher.

The easiest way to tell the difference between the Bronze and Zinc cents is by studying the coin. Zinc coins will often have gas bubbles trapped between the zinc and the copper coating. If visual inspection is inconclusive, weighing the coin will produce a certain answer. The Zinc cent weighs 2.5 grams, approximately 20% less then the Bronze issue.

All seven varieties are very inexpensive and readily available. Numerous sets feature all seven different varieties in uncirculated condition, and some include the San Francisco Proof issue. These sets can be found for as little as $4 a set. These coins may never be rare and are generally well-preserved, such that it seems only those in the very finest condition are expensive to collectors.

The 1982 Lincoln cent is special because it marks a new era in commerce, as evidenced by the change in its composition. This change also resulted in a fascinating assortment of coins issued that year.