Jaime Hernandez: Because of World War II, the U.S. Government was in dire need of copper in order to produce ammunition for the ongoing war. Consequently, in 1942 the Mint seized producing copper cents and by 1943, the U.S. Mint began producing steel cents for the first and only time in it’s entire history.
During the transition from 1942 to 1943, there were several copper planchets left over from 1942 and the Mint accidentally struck some of these copper planchets with 1943 dated dies. In return, it struck one of America’s most coveted coins, the 1943 Copper Cents.
Just like many others have heard the stories of the most expensive coin being the 1943 copper cent, I also heard similar stories at least two or three times before I started collecting coins. However, every time I heard the stories, the details were somewhat different and the coins value ranged from $10,000 to 1 million dollars.
Just like the 1943 Copper Cent stories cauptured my attention, they have also managed to capture the imagination of tens of thousands of individual’s world wide. And who knows how many people collect coins today, partly because of the 1943 Copper Cent stories.
Despite the great stories of the 1943 Copper Cents, the truth is that the coin is not worth a million dollars or anywhere close to that figure. At least not in the year 2009, or any other time before that. There are some who feel the 1943 Copper Cent will definitely be a million dollar coin someday but before that happens, many other coins would have to fetch a million dollars first, including some in the Lincoln cent series.
In my opinion, some of the few most expensive Lincoln cents which would be worth more than the 1943 copper cents are the 1958 Doubled Die cent, the 1974 Aluminum cent or the 1943-D copper cent which is unique. Coincidentally, the highest price paid for any Lincoln cent is a 1944-S Lincoln cent struck in steel, which realized $373,750 at public auction in 2008. This coin was in high mint state condition which had a major impact on the price it realized but many believe the 1943-D copper would command much more if it were to sell, primarily because it is unique. The unique 1943-D copper cent previously sold in an Ira and Larry Goldberg coin auction for $212,750 back in February of 2003. Nevertheless, after 2003 and up to 2009 hundreds if not thousands of coins have broken old price records.
Due to the high value of a genuine 1943 Copper Cent, tens of thousands of 1943 cents have been re-plated or different cents from the 1940’s have been altered to make them appear as a genuine 1943 Copper Cent. A regular 1943 steel cent even if coated in copper will stick to a magnet. If a 1943 cent appears to be copper and it does not stick to a magnet, it should be sent for authentication. It is estimated that there are only about 20 examples known of the 1943 Copper Cents, therefore, making it a truly rare coin.
How can you tell if your 1943 Penny is the valuable bronze error? Try picking your coin up with a magnet. If your coin is attracted to the magnet, it is made of copper-plated steel (a fraud). If the magnet does not attract your coin, it may be made of bronze and you should have the coin authenticated to determine if it is the “real deal”.
In 1943, the U.S. Mint began using steel blanks for the Cents in an effort to conserve copper for use in World War II. Over a billion “Steelies” (as they are known popularly) were struck by the three Mints combined in 1943; Philadelphia alone produced over 684,000,000 examples. However, a handful of rare 1943 Cents have been discovered struck in error on old-style, bronze blanks. Presumably, the error occurred when left-over bronze planchets were mixed with a batch of the new Steel planchets, went through the usual striking methods, then escaped into circulation, bypassing the quality control procedures at the Mint. Today, 1943 Cents on Bronze Planchets rank among the most desirable and valuable of all Mint Errors.
Approximately 10-12 examples are known 1943 Cents on Bronze Planchets. Here are pedigrees of four of them:
1. NGC MS-61 Red and Brown. Ex – Southern California collector – Allen Levy of Al’s Coins (National City, CA) – Columbia Rarities Group, Inc. on November 10, 1999, sold for $85,000, ANACS MS-61 Red and Brown – Fullerton, California collector and vest-pocket dealer Steve Benson on December 22, 1999, sold for $102,500 – Fowler, California coin dealer Sarkis “Sam” Lukes, December 27, 1999, sold for $112,500 – Staten Island, NY stock broker. According to Lukes, there are 17 1943 Bronze Cents known (10 from Philadelphia, six from San Francisco, and one from Denver); this conflicts with another census that lists 12 from Philadelphia.
2. MS-61 Brown (illustrated above). Ex – found in circulation circa 1957 by 14-year old Marvin Beyer, who reportedly turned down an offer of $20,000 for the coin – Abe Kosoff’s “A.N.A. Convention Sale – A Festival of Coins” Sale, 1958, Lot 2055 (where it was withdrawn prior to the sale) – Superior Galleries’ “Pre-Long Beach Sale”, October 1-3, 2000, Lot 4146, illustrated, ANACS MS-61, sold for $60,375.00 – Ira & Larry Goldberg Coins & Collectibles, Inc. “The Benson Collection, Part III”, February 24-25, 2003, Lot 148, illustrated, now MS-61 Brown (#50035361), sold for $97,750.00
3. EF-40, obverse and reverse stains and corrosion (illustrated below). Medd Family (received in change) – Heritage Numismatic Auctions, Inc.’s 1999 ANA Signature Sale, August 11-13, 1999, Lot 5171, sold for $32,200.00, “XF-40”.
4. New discovery. Purchased along with other off-metal 1943 and 1944 Lincoln Cents by Sarasota Coin and displayed at the 2000 F.U.N. Convention. Sources and/or recommended reading: “Beyers’ 1943 Cent To Be Sold In Convention Sale”, The Numismatic Scrapbook Magazine, page 933
“1943 Bronze Cent Sets Price Record” by Paul Gilkes, Coin World, January 10, 2000
Numismatic News, January 11, 2000
Sam Lukes, Letter to the Editor, Numismatic News, February 1, 2000