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HomeAuctionsThe Gumball Machine Giveth: GreatCollections Offers Rare 1943 Copper Cent

The Gumball Machine Giveth: GreatCollections Offers Rare 1943 Copper Cent

The Gumball Machine Giveth: GreatCollections Offers Rare 1943 Copper Cent

GreatCollections.com is offering a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for collectors to acquire one of the most famous US error coins. Bidding on the famous 1943 Lincoln “Gumball” Copper cent, graded as AU50 BN by PCGS, ends on Sunday, January 30. The current highest bid (as of the time of publication of this article) is $192,500 USD after three bids. This is only the second time GreatCollections has had the opportunity to offer a 1943 copper cent at auction.

Known as the “Gumball specimen”, this particular coin was first discovered in 1976 by a Philadelphia businessman in a gumball machine in his restaurant located across from the United States Mint. That year, the restauranter sold the coin to a butcher, who was known locally as a coin collector, for $1,000 (almost $5,000 in today’s money when adjusted for inflation).

Prompted by his worried wife, the owner sent the coin to ANACS and then Stack’s in New York for authentication in November 1976. Both companies confirmed that it was authentic. Gifted to his children by the now-retired butcher, the coin has remained in the family until the present day. In 2019, the owners contracted with Mitchell A. Battino, President of Hudson Rare Coins, to submit this 1943 copper cent to NGC for certification.

A year later, the family submitted the coin to Stack’s Bowers to be sold in their November 2020 Auction. Seeking a better grade, the auction house submitted the coin to PCGS. The coin was then placed in the auction at a $135,000 reserve, but it didn’t sell as the reserve was not met. After being resubmitted to PCGS, the coin has now been placed in the current GreatCollections sale. With over two weeks left in the auction, this exciting coin may fetch a record price for the grade.

Background of the 1943 Copper Cent

Due to wartime scarcity, the US Mint replaced the Lincoln cent’s bronze alloy with zinc-coated steel cent planchets. When the first 1943 copper cent was discovered in 1947, collectors instantly recognized the off-metal error cent’s importance. These pieces were struck on a handful of bronze planchets left over from the 1942 batch. Despite this, most examples were found with at least a certain amount of ware. While the lowest grade given to a 1943 Brown Philadelphia piece was simply “Genuine” due to post-mint damage by an overzealous newsboy seeking to authenticate the coin, the highest grade of MS-64 RB was given to the unique 1943-D, which sold for the record price of $840,000.

It is estimated that the Philadelphia Mint struck at least 15, the San Francisco Mint struck seven, and the Denver Mint struck one authenticated example. The current theory is that a few 1942 bronze planchets were hiding in the bottom of the Mint’s fabric storage bins and were mixed in with the new steel blanks. The new steel alloy used in 1943 required much greater force to produce strikes of sufficient quality, so as a result the traditional bronze planchets are generally well struck with sharper than average details.


On the obverse, Victor David Brenner’s portrait of Abraham Lincoln depicts the president from the shoulder up. Lincoln is dressed in a period suit and is wearing a bow tie. At the top of the design, wrapping around the rim is the motto “IN GOD WE TRUST”. “LIBERTY” appears behind Lincoln’s neck, on the left side of the coin. The date appears slightly lower, in front of Lincoln’s portrait, on the coin’s right side. This coin was struck at the Philadelphia Mint, so there is no mintmark.

On the reverse, two sheaths of wheat wrap around the right and the left side of the coin. At the top of the design, the motto “E ·PLURIBUS · UNUM” wraps around the rim. ONE CENT is inscribed in large letters, sans serif, the bottom arm of the E extends beyond the arm at the top. The middle arm is recessed. Beneath, in the same font, but smaller type: UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.

The edge is plain.

Bidding ends at GreatCollections on Sunday, January 30, 2022, 04:21:48 PM Pacific Time (7:21 PM Eastern).

Coinweek is the top independent online media source for rare coin and currency news, with analysis and information contributed by leading experts across the numismatic spectrum.

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    • The standard answer is “probably no more than 50¢”. A dealer will have all they want or need.

      Over a billion steel cents were produced across all three mints in 1943. By contrast at most 40 bronze errors are thought to have been struck. Many “steelies” were saved as curiosities which means even today they’re not rare in collections.

      The obvious tests are that a steel cent will have a silvery or grayish appearance, be lighter than a pre-1982 bronze cent, and most importantly it’ll stick to a magnet.

      Also keep in mind there are boatloads of counterfeits out there. Years ago it was popular to copper-plate steel cents with the hope of fooling the unwary. Of course any such coin is easy to ID because it’ll immediately fail the magnet test. There are also more-clever fakes made by altering the last digit of the date on a bronze 1945 or 1948 coin. Detecting these almost always requires an in-person inspection.


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