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This was a great read. Thanks for not getting too technical. You make a lot of great points that I'll keep in mind on my search for my next (not Next) bike.
Pre-83 pennies are still easy to find. It's interesting that the copper in these cents is worth more than the face value of the coins.
Zinc has a lower melting point than copper. If you just want to extract the zinc, you could melt the penny in a small expendable pan (a gas range should be sufficient). I probably killed many brain cells as a kid doing this with lead tire balances (free metal for my D&D figure molds).