Throughout the history of the penny, it has gone through many
changes in design and composition. Changes in their metallic make up occurred due to the value of the metal and the cost of manufacturing the penny. If it cost more to make the penny than what it was worth (face value), quite often a mixture of metals were used to offset the cost.
The first copper pennies emerged on the scene back in 1793. They were pure copper and remained minted this way until 1837. It was during this year that the metallic composition of copper pennies changed. Instead of remaining pure copper, they were changed to bronze, which is 95% copper and 5% tin and zinc. This remained this way until 1857, when the composition changed again to 88% copper and 12% nickel. This gave copper pennies an interesting white finish, and they were actually called nickels during this time.
From 1864 to 1962 copper pennies became bronze again. The only exception to this rule was during World War II when copper became scare and desperately needed by the war effort. It was then that the composition was changed to zinc-coated steel. During 1964 the minimal amount of tin in the metal was removed and its make up was changed to 95% copper and 5% zinc. This remained the official formula for the penny until 1982 when copper pennies were then made out of zinc.
Throughout its history copper pennies have changed dramatically in composition, yet their face value at one cent has remained the same. Today is a great time for collectors to hoard pre-1982 copper pennies. According to Coinflation, pre-1982 copper pennies are worth over 2 cents in metal value (on March, 6 2010). That's right! If you hoard your pre-1982 copper pennies, you instantly double your money. Over time, there will be far fewer pre-1982 copper pennies in circulation as savvy collectors hoard them. Now is the time to take advantage of this opportunity!