Pennies have been an integral part of the U.S. currency system for over 200 years. Their iconic copper color and Abraham Lincoln profile are recognized around the world. But have you ever wondered just how thick pennies really are?
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore everything you need to know about penny thickness.
If you’re short on time, here’s the quick answer: the thickness of a penny is 1.52 mm or 0.0598 inches.
We’ll look at the history of the penny, its current dimensions and composition, and how thickness factors into the penny’s role in commerce and collecting. We’ll also bust some common myths about smooshing pennies on railroad tracks. Let’s dive in for a detailed look at how thick pennies really are!
A Brief History of the Penny
Origins and Early Composition
The penny, a small copper coin, has a long and fascinating history. It originated in England in the 8th century during the reign of King Offa. At that time, pennies were made of silver and had a diameter of around 18mm.
They were often referred to as “sterlings,” derived from the Old Norman French word “esterlin,” meaning “little star.” The term “penny” was later adopted.
As time went on, the composition of pennies evolved. In the 18th century, the British government began minting copper pennies, which were larger in size and had a diameter of approximately 31mm. These pennies were made of pure copper and were quite heavy.
Changes in the Mid to Late 19th Century
In the mid-19th century, the United States introduced its own penny, known as the “large cent.” These pennies were made of pure copper and had a diameter of about 27mm. However, due to rising copper prices and the need to reduce manufacturing costs, the composition of the penny changed.
In 1857, the United States Mint started producing pennies made of 88% copper and 12% nickel, resulting in a lighter and more affordable coin. These new pennies, known as “flying eagle cents,” had a diameter of approximately 19mm.
Alterations in the 20th Century
Throughout the 20th century, the composition of the penny continued to evolve. In 1909, the United States introduced the Lincoln cent, commemorating the 100th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth. These pennies were made of 95% copper and 5% zinc, and their diameter remained around 19mm.
In the 1980s, due to rising copper prices, the United States Mint started producing pennies made of zinc with a thin copper plating. These new pennies had a diameter of approximately 19mm and were significantly lighter than their predecessors.
New Pennies Today
Today, pennies in circulation are made of 97.5% zinc and 2.5% copper, with a diameter of around 19mm. Their current design features a portrait of Abraham Lincoln on the obverse side and the Lincoln Memorial on the reverse side.
It’s worth noting that the thickness of a penny has also varied throughout history. While the current thickness of a penny is approximately 1.55mm, earlier versions of the coin may have been slightly thicker or thinner.
Current Dimensions and Composition of Pennies
Diameter, Thickness, and Weight
Have you ever wondered how thick a penny actually is? Well, let’s dive into the details! The diameter of a penny is approximately 0.75 inches (19.05 mm), which is about the same size as a standard paperclip.
As for its thickness, a penny measures around 0.06 inches (1.52 mm), which is roughly equivalent to the thickness of three stacked credit cards. Impressive, isn’t it? In terms of weight, a single penny weighs about 2.5 grams, which is equivalent to the weight of a hummingbird feather.
So, don’t underestimate the small size of a penny!
Now, let’s talk about the composition of a penny. Historically, pennies were made primarily of copper, but that changed in 1982 when the United States Mint modified the metallic makeup of the coin. Currently, pennies are composed of 97.5% zinc and 2.5% copper plating.
The decision to switch to a zinc core was mainly driven by economic factors, as zinc is less expensive than copper. However, the outer layer of the penny is still made of copper, giving the coin its distinctive reddish-brown appearance.
It’s worth noting that the composition of pennies has sparked some debate over the years. Some argue that the cost of producing pennies outweighs their actual value, leading to discussions about phasing out the coin altogether.
However, for now, pennies continue to be an essential part of everyday transactions and a symbol of small change in the United States.
If you’re interested in learning more about the dimensions and composition of pennies, you can visit the official website of the United States Mint at www.usmint.gov. They provide detailed information and resources about the various coins circulated in the United States, including pennies.
How a Penny’s Thickness Affects its Use
When it comes to pennies, their thickness plays a crucial role in determining their usability and functionality. Let’s take a closer look at how the thickness of a penny affects its use in various situations.
Durability and Wear
The thickness of a penny directly impacts its durability and resistance to wear. A thicker penny is generally more robust and less likely to become damaged or worn down over time. This is particularly important when considering the lifespan of a penny in circulation.
The thicker the penny, the longer it can withstand the daily wear and tear of being handled and exchanged.
According to the United States Mint, the current thickness of a penny is 1.55 millimeters. This measurement ensures that pennies can withstand the demands of everyday use without losing their structural integrity.
Utility in Vending Machines
The thickness of a penny is also important for its utility in vending machines. Vending machines are designed to accept and process coins of specific dimensions, including thickness. If a penny is too thin, it may not be recognized by the machine, leading to a failed transaction or a coin jam.
On the other hand, if a penny is too thick, it may not fit into the designated coin slot or may cause the machine to malfunction.
Therefore, the thickness of a penny is carefully regulated to ensure compatibility with vending machines. Manufacturers of vending machines set specific requirements for coin thickness to ensure smooth and reliable operation.
Stacking and Rolling Properties
The thickness of a penny also affects its stacking and rolling properties. A thicker penny is easier to stack and roll compared to a thinner one. This is particularly important for businesses and individuals who handle large quantities of pennies, such as banks or coin collectors.
Thicker pennies are less likely to collapse or topple when stacked, making them easier to handle and count. Additionally, when it comes to rolling pennies in paper coin wrappers, the thickness of the penny determines how many coins can fit in a roll.
Thicker pennies allow for a smaller number of coins per roll, reducing the risk of the roll breaking or bursting open.
Penny Thickness and Collecting
When it comes to collecting pennies, one of the important aspects to consider is the thickness of these small copper coins. Knowing the thickness can help collectors determine the authenticity and value of a penny, as well as identify potential fakes or counterfeits.
Additionally, understanding the rarity of certain years and mints, as well as the condition and grading of pennies, can further enhance a collector’s knowledge and appreciation for these iconic coins.
Rarity of Certain Years and Mints
Throughout the years, certain pennies have become rare and sought after by collectors. These rare pennies can fetch a handsome sum if in good condition. For example, the 1909-S VDB penny, which features the initials of the designer Victor David Brenner, is highly desired by collectors due to its limited mintage and historical significance.
Pennies from the early 20th century, such as the 1914-D and 1931-S, are also considered rare finds. The rarity of these pennies is often reflected in their value, with some reaching into the thousands of dollars.
Collectors should also pay attention to the mint mark, which indicates where the penny was produced. Mint marks can significantly affect a penny’s scarcity and value. For instance, pennies minted in San Francisco (marked with an “S”) or Denver (marked with a “D”) tend to be rarer than those minted in Philadelphia (marked with no mint mark).
Understanding the rarity of certain years and mints can be a thrilling aspect of penny collecting, as collectors search for these elusive treasures.
Condition and Grading
The condition of a penny plays a crucial role in determining its value. Collectors often use a grading system to assess the condition of a penny, which ranges from poor to pristine uncirculated. The condition of a penny is evaluated based on factors such as wear, luster, and any potential damage or imperfections.
A well-preserved penny with minimal wear and a sharp strike will generally be more valuable than a heavily worn or damaged one.
Grading services, such as Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) and Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC), provide professional opinions and certification for the condition and authenticity of coins.
These services assign grades to pennies based on their assessment, which can greatly impact a penny’s market value. Collectors should familiarize themselves with the grading system and seek professional opinions when necessary to ensure accurate evaluation and fair trading.
Detecting Fakes and Counterfeits
With the increasing value and popularity of rare pennies, the market has unfortunately seen an influx of fakes and counterfeits. Detecting these counterfeit coins requires a keen eye and knowledge of the characteristics of genuine pennies.
One of the first signs of a fake penny is often its weight and thickness. Genuine pennies have a standard weight of 2.5 grams and a thickness of 1.55 millimeters.
Collectors can also use various tools, such as magnifying glasses and scales, to examine the details and weight of a penny. Advanced techniques, such as using a specific gravity test, can further confirm the authenticity of a penny.
It is essential for collectors to stay informed about common counterfeit methods and consult reputable sources, such as the American Numismatic Association (ANA), for guidance on detecting fakes.
Myths and Misconceptions About Smooshing Pennies
The Railroad Track Legend
One of the most popular myths surrounding smooshing pennies is the belief that placing a penny on a railroad track and having a train run over it will make the penny thicker. This legend has been passed down through generations, but it is simply not true.
In fact, placing any object on a railroad track is not only dangerous but also illegal in many places. Trains are incredibly heavy and powerful, and they can cause severe damage or even derailment if they collide with foreign objects.
So, don’t believe the hype – smooshing pennies on railroad tracks will not make them thicker.
The Penny Squishing Machine
Another misconception about smooshing pennies is the belief that using a penny squishing machine will change the thickness of the coin. Penny squishing machines are often found at tourist attractions or amusement parks, where visitors can insert a penny and watch as it gets flattened and imprinted with a design.
While these machines can alter the appearance of the penny, they do not actually change its thickness. The machines use a hydraulic press to flatten the penny, but the amount of metal in the coin remains the same. So, if you’re looking to make your penny thicker, you’ll have to explore other options.
Regulations Against Defacing Currency
It’s important to note that defacing currency, including pennies, is illegal in many countries. The United States, for example, has laws in place that prohibit altering or mutilating coins with the intent to defraud.
While smooshing a penny may not seem like a big deal, it is technically considered defacing currency. The U.S. Mint, which is responsible for producing coins, states that altering a coin’s appearance can diminish its value and disrupt the coin’s ability to circulate properly.
So, while it may be tempting to smoosh pennies for fun or as a keepsake, it’s best to avoid doing so to stay on the right side of the law.
It’s always interesting to uncover the myths and misconceptions that surround everyday objects like pennies. While smooshing pennies may seem like a harmless activity, it’s important to separate fact from fiction.
Remember, smooshing pennies on railroad tracks won’t make them thicker, penny squishing machines won’t change their dimensions, and defacing currency is against the law. So, next time you come across a penny, perhaps consider a different way to appreciate its design and history.
In conclusion, while pennies may seem insignificant, their thickness has an impact on their usefulness and collectability. By understanding the penny’s dimensions and composition, we gain insight into its history and production.
While most pennies today are between 1.50-1.55 mm thick, slight variations matter to collectors and the U.S. Mint alike. So next time you get a penny in change, take a closer look – that small piece of copper and zinc can reveal a lot about the fascinating history of U.S. coinage.