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!


    • First you have to know it’s genuine. Only 27 or so real 1943 bronze cents are known but there are oceans of fakes. Please see my answer to Rick Cowles, below.

    • You almost certainly have the “steel” version. In the extremely unlikely event that you might have discovered a copper one, your coin would need to be authenticated by a reputable coin grading service.

    • As the story notes, only about 27 bronze 1943 cents are known from all mints in total. You almost certainly have some of the billion or so steel cents with that date. Many were plated with copper and passed off as “genuine” bronze copies but they’re easy to tell apart: if your coins stick to a magnet, they’re the steel issues and are only worth 20 to 50 cents in average condition.

    • With only 27 known genuine 1943 bronze cents but possibly millions of fakes, the chances of finding one “anytime, anywhere” are pretty low. Not zero, though, as a couple have turned up in the last few decades.

  1. How do i confirm if the 1943 copper penny I found is genuine but I’m afraid to let it out of my sight in fear of being switched and told its not authentic. What should i do?.

    • The simplest tests you can do at home are:
      • First, see if it sticks to a magnet. If it does, it’s steel and not bronze. These coins are only worth a nominal amount in average condition.
      • If it doesn’t stick, look at the “3” in the date. On a genuine 1943 cent the bottom curl of the digit points down at roughly the 7:00 position. If it points almost horizontally (i.e. the 9:00 position) you most likely have a 1948 cent where someone cut the “8” in an attempt to fake the 1943 date.
      • If you can get hold of a sensitive scale, check the coin’s weight. A genuine bronze cent from that era weighs ~3.11 gm while a common 1943 steel cent is only about 2.7 gm.

      If the coin passes all of those tests you should contact one of the big numismatic services like ANA or PCGS. They can make appropriate arrangements to examine your coin securely.

  2. Hi, l have one but it doesnt stick on a magnet and i want to see if its real so do you know where I can see if its real.

  3. Thank you for all of your information on the 1943 very helpful I literally have jars and jars and jars of coins quite a few older pennies nickels dimes quarters. I started collecting because I love the look years ago I have had to cash in some of my collections over the years I’ve given a lot for my nephew, but now I’m trying to find the time to go through all of my coins bound older bills or unusual bills that I have started nose silver certificates at yeah I have a whole bunch kind of exhausting just thinking about it. But I do thank you for all of your information on different coins. wish me luck I’m just examining what I do have

  4. I have found a 1943 copper penny a little beat up and I don’t know where or how to go get it authenticated to make sure it’s real or fake whichever it may be I am in Washington State if anybody could help me to where I can contact somebody or send a picture


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