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|
The 1943 steel cent, also known as a steel war penny or steelie, was a variety of the U.S. one-cent coin which was struck in steel due to wartime shortages of copper. It used the same design that Victor David Brenner had made in 1909 for the copper Lincoln cent.
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 metals1 to plastics2) 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.3
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.4 (Even U.S. gold coins at various times contained from slightly over 2% copper to an eventual standard 10% copper).
Right behind the 1955 doubled-die cent, 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 1947,5 and another in 1958. An example was first sold in 1958 for $40,000; 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.6 Copper-plated steel cents will exhibit a strong magnetic attraction.
- Copper cents weigh 3.11 grams. Steel cents weigh just 2.7 grams.6
- 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.6
- 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.6
In a similar error, a few 1944 cents were struck on steel planchets left over from 1943.6 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.56 Another explanation credits the error to the production of 25 million57 Belgian two franc pieces by the Philadelphia mint after that country's liberation from the Nazis.56 These coins were of the same composition6 and the same planchets57 as the 1943 cents, but they differed slightly in weight.6 In all, 1944 steel cents are fewer in number than their 1943 copper counterparts,6 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, 2010.8
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.6 These reprocessed coins have little or no numismatic value.6
- 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., and 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.