1943 steel cent
|Value||$0.01 U.S. dollars|
|Composition||99% steel with a thin layer of zinc|
|Years of minting||1943|
|Designer||Victor D. Brenner|
|Design||Wheat Heads in memoria|
|Designer||Victor D. Brenner|
1943 steel cents are U.S. one-cent coins that were struck in steel due to wartime shortages of copper. The Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco mints each produced these 1943 Lincoln cents. The unique composition of the coin (low-grade steel coated with zinc, instead of the previously 95%-copper-based bronze composition) has led to various nicknames, such as wartime cent, steel war penny, and steelie. The 1943 steel cent features the same Victor David Brenner design for the Lincoln cent which had been in use since 1909.
Due to wartime needs of copper for use in ammunition and other military equipment during World War II, the United States Mint researched various ways to limit dependence and meet conservation goals on copper usage. After trying out several substitutes (ranging from other metals to plastics) to replace the then-standard bronze alloy, the one-cent coin was minted in zinc-coated steel. This alloy caused the new coins to be magnetic and 13% lighter. They were struck at all three mints: Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco. As with the bronze cents, coins from the latter two sites have respectively "D" and "S" mintmarks below the date.
However, problems began to arise from the mintage. Freshly minted, they were often mistaken for dimes. Magnets in vending machines (which took copper cents) placed to pick up steel slugs also picked up the legitimate steel cents. Because the galvanization process didn't cover the edges of the coins, sweat would quickly rust the metal. After public outcry, the Mint developed a process whereby salvaged brass shell casings were augmented with pure copper to produce an alloy close to the 1941–42 composition. This was used for 1944–46-dated cents, after which the prewar composition was resumed. Although they continued to circulate into the 1960s, the mint collected large numbers of the 1943 cents and destroyed them.
The steel cent is the only regular-issue United States coin that can be picked up with a magnet. The steel cent was also the only coin issued by the United States for circulation that does not contain any copper. (Even U.S. gold coins at various times contained from slightly over 2% copper to an eventual standard 10% copper).
1943 copper cent
Far ahead of the 1955 doubled die cent in rarity, the 1943 copper cent is one of the notable rarities of the Lincoln cent series. An estimated 40 examples are believed to have been struck, with 12 confirmed to exist. The error occurred when copper planchets were left in the press hopper and press machines during the changeover from copper to steel blanks. Examples were discovered after the War, with the first two in 1947, and another in 1958. That example appeared in a 1958 Abe Kosoff sale, but was withdrawn prior to the sale; one mint condition specimen sold for over $200,000 in 2004. Many people have counterfeited the coin by either copper-plating normal 1943 cents (sometimes as novelties with no intent to defraud), or altering cents from the period, usually 1945-, 1948-, or 1949-dated coins.
The copper cents differ from their steel counterparts in four ways:
- Genuine 1943 copper cents will not be attracted to a magnet. Copper-plated steel cents will exhibit a strong magnetic attraction.
- Copper cents weigh 3.11 grams. Steel cents weigh 2.70 grams.
- The numeral 3 in 1943 has the same long tail as the steel cents. Alterations from later-dated copper cents will be noticeable when compared side-by-side with genuine steel cents.
- The quality of the strike is exceptionally sharp, especially around the rim, because the soft copper planchets were struck with the same (higher) pressure used for the steel cents.
1944 steel cent
In an error similar to the 1943 cents, a few 1944 cents were struck on steel planchets left over from 1943. There are two explanations given for why this happened. One explanation is that steel planchets were left in the press hopper and press machines from the previous year mixed in with copper planchets. Another explanation credits the error to the production of 25 million Belgian two franc pieces by the Philadelphia mint after that country's liberation from the Nazis. These coins were of the same composition and the same planchets as the 1943 cents, but they differed slightly in weight. In all, 1944 steel cents are fewer in number than their 1943 copper counterparts, and are even more valuable; one such example minted in San Francisco sold for $373,750 in an August 2008 auction held by Heritage Auctions; this was the highest auction price ever for a Lincoln cent until September 23, 2010, when it was superseded by a 1943-D bronze penny.
Since many steel cents corroded and became dull soon after entering circulation, some dealers who sold the coins as novelties improved their appearance by "reprocessing" – stripping off the old zinc coating and then replating them with zinc or chrome. These reprocessed coins are sometimes described as brilliant uncirculated, or similar terms, by ignorant or unscrupulous online sellers.   
- J2081/P2077 USPatterns.com Accessed July 28, 2006.
- J2051/P2073 USPatterns.com Accessed July 28, 2006.
- The History of the 1943 Steel Cent Accessed 13 January 2009.
- Which U.S. Coin Has Absolutely No Copper in it? Susan Headley, About.com.
- Herndon, Wayne (1998–2002). "See our fabulous (and Rare) 1944 Steel Cent!". Wayne Herndon Rare Coins. Archived from the original on 2002-10-10. Retrieved 2009-10-03.
- Metras, Mike (January 1999). "1943 Steel Cent". Money Meanderings. Retrieved 2009-10-03.
- Krause, Chester L.; Clifford Mishler (2005). 2006 Standard Catalog of World Coins: 1901–Present (33rd ed.). Krause Publications. ISBN 0873499875., p. 171
- Reynolds, Greg (August 22, 2008). "World War 2 Penny Errors Star at ANA Convention, Part 2: $374k Record Price for a Lincoln Cent". CoinLink.
- "PCGS-Certified 1943-D Bronze Cent Sold For $1.7 Million". PCGS. September 23, 2010.
- "Rare penny sold for $1.7 million". PCGS. September 23, 2010.
- Herbert, Alan. "Learn the Facts about 1943 Cents". RR Rare Coins & Currency. Retrieved 18 October 2016.
At the same time many more thousands of 1943 steel cents were stripped of their zinc plating and replated. These are known as "reprocessed coins," and since they, too, are alterations, they have little or no collector value.
- Headly, Susan. "How Much is the 1943 Chrome-Plated Penny Worth?". About.com. Retrieved 18 October 2016.
The source of the chrome 1943 cents is that one or more major coin dealers decided to profit from this entire situation sometime in early 1960's. Because even many of the Mint State 1943 pennies had by then lost their shiny zinc finish (due to the exposure of the edges, which began the corrosion process,) there were an abundance of Mint State steel pennies around that were high grade Uncirculated, but that looked like crap. These enterprising coin dealers "restored" them by plating them in chrome and other similar-looking substances, making them look all shiny and new again, and then sold them in sets of one from each Mint. // Unfortunately, coins that have been plated in anything (even gold) outside the mint have no value to serious coin collectors, so these chrome-plated 1943 cents are considered to be "junk" on the coin market.
- McMorrow-Hernandez, Joshua. "1943 Lincoln Wheat Pennies". CoinValues.com. Retrieved 18 October 2016.
There are also “reprocessed” steel Pennies, which are essentially 1943 steel Pennies that had become corroded (due to the rust-prone nature of their steel core) and later stripped of their original zinc coating, and recoated with a fresh layer of zinc. These are numismatically worthless since they are altered coins. Nevertheless, they are a cost-effective alternative to buying uncirculated 1943 Pennies and are popular in the non-numismatic market.
- "Reprocessed 1943 Steel Lincoln Cents". eBay Buying Guides. eBay. Retrieved 18 October 2016.
The old saying, "If it looks too good to be true, it probably is," applies in particular to reprocessed 1943 steel Lincoln Cents . The term, reprocessed, refers to 1943 steel pennies that have been 'shined up', i.e., recoated with zinc or chrome , cleaned, and/or polished, such that they appear as if they are in mint state . Most reprocessed 1943 Lincoln cents you see for sale on eBay or elsewhere have been coated in chrome, so they look like a brand new chrome bumper. ... If you want to purchase a high-grade, mint state 1943 steel Lincoln cent, I highly recommend buying only coins graded by an eBay-approved professional third-party grading service, such as PCGS, NGC, or ANACS.