We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

What is a Gold Penny?

By Brendan McGuigan
Updated: Jan 24, 2024

Generally, when people talk about a gold penny, they are talking about a normal penny that has been treated to give it a gold color. In some cases, however, a penny may actually have been plated with gold. And in some even rarer cases, a penny may have been struck accidentally on a blank of the wrong metal. The gold penny is also the name given to an ancient British coin, worth twenty pence.

Creating a gold penny is a common science experiment, especially at the primary and secondary school levels. Many teachers use it to discuss the ancient study of alchemy, and how that relates to modern chemistry. It also demonstrates some basic concepts of chemistry, while providing a concrete result that students can take home, and which can be quite exciting to younger students.

To make a gold penny at home, you’ll need a normal copper penny, a Bunsen burner, and a mixture of sodium hydroxide and zinc. You will also want to wear proper safety equipment, including goggles and gloves, and have a pair of tongs to handle the penny. Sodium hydroxide can be very dangerous if mishandled, so it’s important to take care at every step of the way.

The zinc and sodium hydroxide mixture should be placed in a vessel and put on top of the Bunsen burner. It should remain on the heat until it begins to boil, at which point the normal copper penny can be dropped into the mixture. It should stay in the mixture for two to three minutes, and then should be removed with tongs, and allowed to dry on a paper towel. The color at this point should be roughly silver, as the zinc has formed a thin layer on the outside of the copper.

Next, the silver penny should be held with tongs over the direct heat of the Bunsen burner until the color changes. Once the silver penny begins to transform into a gold penny, it should be removed from the heat and placed on a non-flammable surface to cool. The penny will now appear to be gold, though in fact all that has happened is that the heat has caused the zinc to mix with the copper. This essentially forms the metal known as brass, which is commonly mistaken for gold, although it is much less yellow and has an entirely different consistency. So the penny most people create can more accurately be described as a brass penny.

A gold penny may also refer to the coin used during the reign of King Henry III of England. Before his reign, most high value coins used in England were from either the Byzantine Empire or from Arabia, but during his reign, in 1257, he saw the need to have a local currency which could handle larger transactions. So he had a gold penny created, which on one side featured him on a throne, and on the other side featured a cross and flowers. King Henry III unfortunately set the value of this penny too low, relative to the actual price of gold, and so most of the coins were melted down to be sold as pure gold, making an actual gold penny from this era quite a rarity.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By Melonlity — On Feb 17, 2014

Good job on pointing out a common science experiment that has gotten more than few kids interested in a career in that field. While the experiment is simple, it is the type of "hands on neato" thing that has led to some students being nudged toward the sciences and becoming very successful in their fields.

It is fascinating how such seemingly minor things can lead to fantastic results. The better teachers are well aware of the impact of such experiments and are to be commended for using them effectively.

WiseGeek, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

WiseGeek, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.