Should You Melt Down Pennies for Profit? Not U.S. Pennies, But ...

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melt pennies?A penny, on its face, is worth one cent. $0.01 U.S. dollars. On the other hand, that same penny -- if melted down for the copper it contains -- could be worth quite a bit more.

Due to the fact that it costs the Mint about 2½ cents for every penny they print, in recent months there has been more and more buzz about plans to eliminate the penny from circulation, or at least to stop minting new ones. (That's what Canada just did, minting its last penny on May 4.)

The question naturally arises, then: If a penny saved is a penny earned, but a penny burned (well, melted) is two and a half pennies' worth of semiprecious metal, maybe Americans are better off melting the darned things than stashing them in Mason jars.

There are, of course, a couple of bugs in this plan.
  • For one thing, the actual metals-value of recently minted (1982 and later) pennies is closer to six-tenths of a cent than two and a half. (Most of the extra cost of minting goes to energy, labor, circulation, etc.)
  • And even if you can find pennies old enough to serve as a valuable source of copper, there's the tiny technicality that in the United States of America, it's illegal to melt U.S. currency. Sorry about that.
Where There's a Will, There's a Potential Payday

OK, so Uncle Sam frowns upon the defacement of his currency. But what about other people's currencies?

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Turns out, that's totally kosher -- at least according to our laws. And there's a wealth of potential copper to be mined from the coins of our neighbors to the north.

However, just as in the U.S., the Canadian government takes a dim view of people pillaging its currency for raw materials. "No person shall, except in accordance with a licence granted by the Minister, melt down, break up or use otherwise than as currency any coin that is current and legal tender in Canada" -- so reads the law.

And yet, the temptation remains. Whereas the U.S. replaced almost all copper content in the penny with zinc in 1982 (nickels today contain more copper than pennies), up in Canada they kept on minting pennies that were 98% pure copper all the way up through 1996. Meaning that finding coins with high copper content is a whole lot easier up there than down here.

But if you do go into the Canadian penny-melting business, make sure to take that vacation to Vancouver before, not after, you get started.

Motley Fool contributor Rich Smith holds Canadian numismatic integrity sacrosanct. He also fears the long arm of the Canadian Mounties.
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