By Bullion Shark LLC ……
As collectors of U.S. coins are well aware, in 1943 during World War II, the United States Mint struck zinc-coated steel pennies to help conserve copper and tin needed for armaments for American troops fighting in Europe and Japan.
Authorized by a 1942 law that temporarily changed the composition of Lincoln cents, in 1943 the Mint struck over a billion of these steel cents that came to be known as “steelies“, which included 684,628,670 from the Philadelphia Mint, 217,660,000 from the Denver Mint and 191,550,000 from the San Francisco Mint.
While these coins are perennial favorites with collectors–especially nice examples that have not tarnished as millions of others did–it is the rare coin struck that year in the original metal composition that has really captured the imaginations of collectors for decades.
The 1943 Copper Penny
A tiny number of cents were mistakenly struck that year on the copper planchets that had been used previously. It is believed that these coins were made because some copper planchets had been left in the hoppers when the steel cents were being made.
These off-metal errors are by far the rarest of all Lincoln pennies. Widely publicized since the 1940s, these rare copper pennies immediately became the subject of attention from both collectors and the broader public, which led to decades of searching rolls of pennies looking for these rare coins that could be worth a fortune if real.
In the 1940s there were rumors that Henry Ford would reward the finder of a 1943 copper wheat cent with a brand new Ford car even though the company repeatedly denied there was any truth to this.
How Many Were Made?
It was only in the late 1950s that credible reports began to emerge of genuine 1943 copper pennies following many years of reports of fake copper-plated pieces, some from counterfeit dies, that had circulated.
In 1957, a 14-year-old collector from California found the first one that was seen to have some credibility as the genuine article. The Mint’s superintendent, Rae V. Biester, stated it was the only one made and that it should be surrendered to the Mint, which the collector failed to do.
In 1981, an extremely fine example that was reportedly owned by a female friend of late Chief Engraver John R. Sinnock surfaced and sold for $10,000 USD at auction.
In his 1988 Numismatic Encyclopedia, the controversial Walter Breen, using information from the grading firm ANACS, said he thought there were 40 examples of the 1943 copper cents, but Q. David Bowers has noted he does not believe this is supported by the evidence.
Today, a total of 27 1943 copper wheat pennies are confirmed to exist and have been graded–including six of the 1943-S, as well as the unique 1943-D. Seven of the 27 have been graded by PCGS and 13 have been graded by NGC.
How Much is it Worth?
At PCGS the 1943 and 1943-S copper pennies are valued at $1 million each, while the 1943-D is listed at $1.5 million.
But for a coin this rare, actual sales from auctions or private sales (when available) are the best measure of value, especially as these coins rarely come up for sale.
Auctions for the 1943 copper cent have typically been in the range of $100,000 to $250,000. At a public sale of this coin in 2014, an AU55 Brown example garnered $329,000.
The most recent sale of a 1943 copper penny was of the finest-known example of a 1943-S copper cent graded PCGS MS63 Brown CAC at a Heritage Auctions sale on November 19, when that coin brought $500,000. That coin is part of the Bob R. Simpson Collection.
The first 1943-S copper cent was found by the 14-year-old boy mentioned above in 1944 and graded an estimated EF-45. In 1988, the late Walter Breen estimated that about six examples were known to exist – which, as we’ve seen, is still the case.
The Unique 1943-D
The possible existence of this coin was first suggested in a 1958 Numismatic Scrapbook magazine by a Utah collector, who said the United States Secret Service told him it was genuine.
The record price for a 1943 copper cent is the 2010 sale of the unique 1943-D, graded PCGS MS64 Brown, for $1,750,000.
That same coin sold for $212,750 in a 2003 sale held by Goldberg Auctioneers–a price increase of close to 1,000% in just seven years!