Introduction: Make Gold and Silver Pennies

Turn pennies from copper to silver then to gold with a few household chemicals.


Chisket (author)2016-05-11

I really appreciate this tutorial. I found my old penny book and it contains a very silver looking 1918-S penny. I've had this book since the early 70s...could someone have performed this trick on this penny way back when, and would it last this long in the book? I'm trying to determine if I have an "error at the mint" coin, or just a novelty coin. THANKS!

Reggiedog2 (author)Chisket2017-02-03

In the early 1900s and 1940s pennies were made of silver looking material. During the world wars copper was in high demand so pennies had to be made from something else

build a BOOM (author)2009-05-11

Just for all to know it is illegal to make a profit from changing coins, but not to destroy them or discolor.

It is not illegal to profit from changing coins, when sold as novelties. it is illegal to profit by passing an altered coin as legal tender though. A trick that used to be common and is quite illegal was to shave a tiny bit off of the outside of many coins, and together that metal could be worth quite a bit. When added to the coins that still appeared to be legal tender, a profit was made.

augur45 (author)BlackFang1712011-10-30

Shaving a bit off coins only worked when coins were made of pure silver or gold. And that was a long time ago...

Archarzel (author)augur452013-04-20

Quarters were 90% silver up until 1964 and are currently traded for their mineral value to people as "junk silver" because you aren't allowed to melt them down, and it's easier just to exchange the coin for 90% of it's value ( $4 or so on a Washington quarter)

There are a large number of these still in circulation and tons (literally) of them are being traded back and forth so the risk of coin shaving is still a real thing.

jprather (author)build a BOOM2011-12-20

ok heres my thought on this

is the gov't going to pay thousands of dollars for judges and every thing else just to put someone behind bars for a penny to me its common sense

35Timmy (author)build a BOOM2011-09-04

it's also illegel to melt coins unless you are goverment authorirzed such as the mint which the ,mint is allowed to sell it for more than it's worth

TheAmateurArtisan (author)2011-12-30

Actually, I've done this and you are only making zinc copper and then brass alloys.

augur45 (author)2011-10-30

This is a great bit of chemistry. But since pennies are copper plated zinc, how about removing the copper plating to achieve these results?

kasssa (author)2010-12-19

"Is it illegal to damage or deface coins?" has been asked a number of times, in different forms...

Here is the answer from the US Treasury - a reasonably authority on the topic (from

"Section 331 of Title 18 of the United States code provides criminal penalties for anyone who “fraudulently alters, defaces, mutilates impairs, diminishes, falsifies, scales, or lightens any of the coins coined at the Mints of the United States.” This statute means that you may be violating the law if you change the appearance of the coin and fraudulently represent it to be other than the altered coin that it is. As a matter of policy, the U.S. Mint does not promote coloring, plating or altering U.S. coinage: however, there are no sanctions against such activity absent fraudulent intent."

So if you're not doing this for fraudulent purposes, this is legal!

5STARGBLOOD (author)2010-12-02

just so eveery one knows if u do this in a glass jelly jar on a skillet make sure ur chemical balance is right or ull melt the glass then have to fumegate ur house of the smell i had a resperator on and i still felt sick after it

urbanprimate (author)2010-03-27

Who cares if it's illegal?  Instructables are about physics, chemistry, etc.  If you want to study law there are other sites for that.  This is cool, and laws (except physical ones, which are the ones I care about) vary from one jurisdiction to the next as well as from one day to the next.  Thanks for the info...I'll take responsibility for what I do with it, just as everyone should be responsible for their actions.

Awesome 'ible, btw.

eulaliaaaa! (author)urbanprimate2010-08-10

Yeah, it isn't illegal to make them, it is only illegal to put them back in circulation, i.e. Pay for things with them.

the jimster (author)2009-06-27

what happens if you touch the stuff that makes the silver pennies

servion (author)the jimster2010-06-16

sodium hydroxide is a very strong base. It will first make the part of you body that touched it feel like it is all gooed up in soap. Then, if it is strong enough, it will burn you like an acid. Ah, and it also make holes in your clothes!

rbneville (author)2008-08-13

does this only work with pennies or does it work with other metals?

it only works with copper, the combination of copper and zinc make bronze when heated. you can do it with copper pipe too, but that wouldn't be as cool.

I think you make a mistake... You need Tin and copper to make bronze, not zinc and copper :P

oh and its not illegal, the coin will turn back to normal after a while, its only the surface that changes color.

You mentioned that the copper color would come back eventually. Do you have any stats or guesses as to how long it would take and if longer treatments would penetrate the surface deeper. Also if heat treating it to gold extends the treatment. How is the corrosions resistance. I am thinking of doing the pipes under the sink and leaving the area open to see the pipework.

eddypoe (author)strmrnnr2009-11-02

I am not sure about durability, but there is the issue of zinc poisoning. While not usually deadly it can make you very sick. Boilermakers term it as "White Death" and the wacky part is if you drink milk it will neutralize the zinc with the calcium. So, probably not a good Idea for potable water supplies.

NE-Phil (author)2008-01-31

I enjoyed the Instructable; nice and simple with items most people would have at home. One question, though. Is it legal in the US to change the color of coins? I honestly don't know.

dbarak (author)NE-Phil2008-01-31

I'm almost certain it's legal to alter coins as long as you don't try to spend them. I volunteer at the USS Midway Museum in San Diego, and we have one or two of those machines that squish your pennies and imprint a design on them, and the signs on the machines say it's legal.

Bright Shadow (author)dbarak2008-01-31

everyone at school keeps saying its illegal. I even SHOWED them it was legal, and they're still sating its illegal


Aar000n3y (author)Bright Shadow2008-01-31

A class at my public high school has done this many times before, and they did it again this year. If it was illegal in any way, some parent would have gotten mad. Trust me, some of the parents of the kids at my school are crazy.

technodude92 (author)Aar000n3y2008-02-23

it's illegal to destroy currency whether you intend to use it later or not. when you destroy currency you're taking it out of circulation and forcing the mint to make more. i don't know if turning it into brass is illegal or not. but the popular trick where you scrape the copper off the side of a penny and leave it in acid to eat wawy at the core is definitely illegal.

cowtipper97 (author)technodude922008-03-14

WRONG! WRONG! WRONG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! it is NOT illegal to destroy currency if you are not making false coins, it's legal

technodude92 (author)cowtipper972008-03-15

First of all, one "WRONG" would have sufficed. Secondly, and to prove my point, here is the statute direct from the US mint website: (Text as of 2/19/02) 18 U.S.C. §331: Whoever fraudulently alters, defaces, mutilates, impairs, diminishes, falsifies, scales or lightens any of the coins coined at the mints of the United States, or any foreign coins which are by law made current or are in actual use or circulation as money within the United States; or whoever fraudulently possesses, passes, utters, publishes, or sells, or attempts to pass, utter, publish, or sell, or brings into the United States, any such coin, knowing the same to be altered, defaced, mutilated, impaired, diminished, falsified, scaled or lightened - shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both. Please note that nowhere in the statute does it talk about trying to make counterfeit bills/coins. it says anyone that quote: "alters, defaces, mutilates, impairs, diminishes, falsifies, scales or lightens" any coin/bill coined/printed in the US, or that is used as currency in the US is subject to a fine and/or up to 5 years in jail. There are other laws on counterfeit currency and making counterfeit currency.

Algag (author)technodude922010-05-04

 ahhh but pay attention to the "fraudulently" (the definition from the webster dictionary is located it says to "induce another to part with something of value or to surrender a legal right"(that part about legal right means like convincing someone to give up their right to do something) and you are not being fraudulent UNLESS you convince a student or another person into giving you their penny for this expiriment(but if you whine about a penny your pretty lame anyways XD)

I'm sorry, but you're wrong. It talks specifically about making counterfeit bills/coins. Note that the key word in the statute you quoted is "fraudulently," followed by everything you quoted. It is illegal to fraudulently (with the intent to commit fraud) alter, deface, or mutilate currency. It is not illegal to do so if there is no intention of fraud. Altering coins in your class or for fun is perfectly legal. Call the treasury and you will hear the same thing.

Any currency that you own is your property, not the property of the treasury or the US mint. That is why when somebody steals your wallet they are charged with theft of an individual's personal property, not US government property. Altering currency is only illegal if you intend to commit fraud. Feel free to smash your coins and burn hundred dollar bills, it is perfectly legal.

Firstly, the word "fradulantly" has been emphasized in the web page linked in my comment above. and while this statute does not talk specifically about creating counterfeit currency(The law for that is 18 USC Sec. 471) it does talk about altering currency with criminal intent(like turning a $5 bill into a $50). So your right SovietSpyGuy, altering currency is not illegal.
BUT if you attempt to sell these altered coins as a novelty item or what not, that is a crime and can land you $5k and/or 5 years in jail.

after reading your argument i decided to join in. as it stands now a penny cost 1.3 cents to produce . so in easier words pennys are worthless . the us mint has stopped making pennys they cost more to make then they are worth

Sorry but your a little to late, we end this argument almost 3 months ago.

technodude92 (author)cowtipper972008-06-18

agreed, please don't revive dead threads.

shut up!!!

wtf was that for?

U people just annoy me

relive!! dead thread!! relive!!

how small can you post's section get? like how far to the right? lets find out...




maybe smaller?

orangewolf22 (author)chrisMK45672009-08-26

smaller! dead thread lives again!

(Text as of 2/19/02) 18 U.S.C. §331:
Whoever fraudulently alters, defaces, mutilates, impairs, diminishes, falsifies, scales or lightens any of the coins coined at the mints of the United States, or any foreign coins which are by law made current or are in actual use or circulation as money within the United States; or whoever fraudulently possesses, passes, utters, publishes, or sells, or attempts to pass, utter, publish, or sell, or brings into the United States, any such coin, knowing the same to be altered, defaced, mutilated, impaired, diminished, falsified,scaled or lightened - shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.

The word falsified means fake and counterfeiting currency refers to creating fake or falsified currency.

I never thought that anyone would reply after over a year
Its been so long that i cant even remember my position in this argument. but i digress. You are correct. The statute mentioned does speak of counterfeit currency. However, it is still illegal to destroy currency. thank you for the correction and in the future. please dont revive the dead threads.

BOXHARD (author)technodude922008-07-08

That statute DOES refer to counterfeit hence the use of the word "fraudulent" which implies some intent of wrong doing. In fact, to prove my point, which honestly I don't care about it so much, just hate "pontificators" here is a letter from the US Mint...

Mr. Angelo Rosato reproduced this letter from the Department of the Treasury to Mr. Vance Fowler in his book "Encyclopedia of the Modern Elongated", (ISBN 0-9626996-2-4) The letter was dated July 22, 1980, letterhead: The Department of the Treasury, Office of the Director of the Mint, and is probably the source of many quotes collectors have seen over the years. It reads in part:

"This is in reply to your letter of Jun 20, 1980, concerning United States statutes governing the destruction, melting, or other extramonetary uses of United States coins. You refer to and question the legality of a souvenir machine which compresses coins and returns a souvenir. You refer to Title 18, U. S. C. sections 331 and 475.

As you are already aware, a federal statute in the criminal code of the United States (18 U.S.C. 331), indeed makes it illegal if one "fraudulently alters, defaces, mutilates, impairs, diminishes, falsifies, scales or lightens" any U.S. coin. However, being a criminal statute, a fraudulent intent is required for violation. Thus, the mere act of compressing coins into souvenirs is not illegal, without other factors being present.

Section 475, which you refer to in your letter, regarding the attachment of notice or advertisement to legal tender, does not apply to your souvenirs in this case. Your are not impressing or attaching a business or professional card, notice or advertisement to a coin, your are simply making an impression on the coin.

We hope this information answers your question. If we can be of any further assistance, please contact us.


Kenneth B. Gubin
Counsel to the Mint.


cowtipper97 (author)technodude922008-03-16

Okay so I was wrong about this. There are other laws and I was talking about on of them. But I personal do not care because I don't waste my time make pointless changes to coins.

technodude92 (author)cowtipper972008-03-17

speak of the devil. just today in Chem class, we did an experiment that turned pennies black. I can now say my teacher told us to commit a felony.

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