By Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez for PCGS ……
There are few 20th-century coins as popular with numismatists and non-numismatists alike as 1943 Lincoln Steel cents. Struck as an emergency measure to help save copper for ammunition shells to be used by Allied Forces during World War II, 1943 Lincoln Steel cents are a product of war-era rationing that affected a full range of materials during the period. As any American who was alive at the time recalls, everything from heating oil and rubber tires to sugar and meat were scarce commodities that were needed to help support the millions of men and women fighting on the frontlines in Europe, Asia, and North Africa.
Even the common “penny” was subjected to these rations. However, such measures weren’t restricted only to the Lincoln cent. The Jefferson nickel was also affected, its nickel content redirected to wartime efforts and replaced with a temporary composition of 56% copper, 35% silver, and 9% manganese. Other nations also took similar actions with their coinage during the war. While many coins of that period were made from special ration-based compositions, the 1943 Lincoln Steel cent is perhaps the most well-known of such coinage, and it remains popular with today’s collectors.
Despite the widely held misnomer by many non-collectors that 1943 Lincoln Steel cents are rare and valuable, these coins were struck in huge numbers and are relatively inexpensive in all but the highest uncirculated grades. All told, the United States Mint struck nearly 1.1 billion zinc-coated steel cents in 1943. That cumulative mintage figure, broken down by the three mints that struck 1943 Lincoln Steel cent, reveals 684,628,670 were struck at the Philadelphia Mint while the branch mints of Denver and San Francisco produced 217,660,000 and 191,550,000, respectively.
Even with a particularly heavy attrition rate due mainly to the fact that steel cents had a tendency to rust into oblivion rather quickly after their zinc coating wore off, these 1943-dated pennies remain numerous today. Should even 10% of the original mintage remain for these coins, that means there are still more than 100 million total 1943 Lincoln Steel cents around. Assuredly, most exist in circulated condition, though there are tens of thousands of uncirculated examples around for hobbyists who want pristine examples for their collections.
While one can assemble a circulated set of the three regular-issue coins for a total of less than $5, those who want a nice set of 1943 Lincoln Steel cents in MS65 can buy the trio for around $100. Nicer examples in the better Gem grades are significantly more expensive, and collectors who wish to find top-pops for their PCGS Registry Sets will need to fork over a few grand apiece for specimens at or near the top of their class. The 1943 in MS68 lists at $2,250, the 1943-D in MS68 goes for about $2,150, and the 1943-S in MS68 trades for around $4,250.
Those who want an alternative to collecting the ordinary P-D-S trio of steel pennies will find many interesting varieties among 1943 Lincoln cents, including the 1943 Doubled Die and 1943-D Repunched Mintmark. But the most notable 1943 Lincoln cent varieties are the bronze examples, theorized to have been struck as a result of leftover 1942 bronze planchets, perhaps lost in the press hoppers, getting fed through the system to be struck with the 1943 dies eventually. At present, a total of about two dozen bronze 1943 Lincoln cents are known to exist representing the three mints, with about eight to 12 each of Philadelphia and San Francisco origin and just one from Denver. Even circulated examples of these coveted rare coins regularly realize six figures, with the lone 1943-D Lincoln cent, graded PCGS MS64BN, taking $1.7 million in 2010.