According to the American Numismatic Association, the 1943 copper-alloy cent is one of the most prized and potentially one of the most valuable types of coins in the world of numismatics.
Nearly all of the circulating pennies at that time were struck in zinc-coated steel because metals like copper and nickel were necessary during World War II. The coins that remain available today can sometimes be quite valuable.
How Many 1943 Copper Pennies Are Left?
There are only about 40 of the 1943 copper-alloy cent coins that are known to still exist. Coin experts and numismatists have speculated that these coins were struck by accident when copper-alloy 1-cent blanks were mistakenly left in the press hopper when production began on a new batch of steel pennies.
So there are very few of these coins left. The 1943 copper cent was first offered for sale in 1958 when it managed to bring in more than $40,000 at auction. A subsequent piece sold more recently for $10,000 at an ANA convention in 1981.
The highest recorded amount paid for a 1943 copper cent was $82,500 at a heritage auction in 1996. For many years, the actual existence of these types of coins was even in doubt, but coin collectors eventually found a few examples.
There was a period when even school children would try to find the coins. There was even a false rumor that Henry Ford would give a new car to anyone who presented him with a 1943 copper penny. Because of its highly desirable collector value, the 1943 copper cent has often been counterfeited by simply coating much cheaper steel coins with copper.
Another way that the coins have commonly been disguised is that the dates on the coins have been altered. People have been known to file down the 8 on the 1948 penny to make it look like a 3. This applies also to the 1945 and 1949 versions of the pennies.
However, there is a very easy way to determine if a 1943 cent is made of steel and not of copper. This way is by using a magnet. If the coin sticks to the magnet, it is not made from copper at all. If it does not stick, the coin might indeed be made of copper and you should immediately get it authenticated by a coin expert.
The 1943 Lincoln cent is a good example of a counterfeit coin. One of these coins was graded Mint State 63 Red (MS63RD) by the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS) and certified with a green label. Bronze cents from 1943 have been famous since one was first discovered in 1944.
While they look like regular cents of any other year, they are very rare. These types of coins have regularly appeared in the press, but almost all new discoveries are counterfeits or cases of mistaken identity. One example was discovered by a collector who searched through rolls of old cents.
This coin, the only example of a certified “Red” 1943 Lincoln bronze cent, was sold for over $1 million. Bronze 1943 cents are highly ranked in listings of regular U.S. coins and error coins. They have been listed both in 100 Greatest U.S. Error Coins by Nicholas P. Brown, David J. Camire, and Fred Weinberg (2010), and in 100 Greatest U.S. Coins by Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth (2014).
1943 Silver Pennies
Adding to the potential confusion when it comes to identifying the coins that you might come across, you’ll also need to be aware of the silver pennies that were produced at that time in history. Some of the most unusual pennies ever produced by the United States Mint are the 1943 silver pennies.
The War Effort and Metals
The 1943 silver-colored penny was actually made of steel and coated with zinc. During World War II, materials like munitions and shell casings that were related to the war effort required a lot of copper to make. That’s why some 1943 pennies were made out of zinc-plated steel to save copper for the war effort.
Metal was not the only commodity that was crucial to the war effort. People were urged to conserve gasoline as well as food like sugar, meat, cooking oil, and all types of canned goods. Critical goods like these were rationed using coupon books issued by the government.
Value of a 1943 Steel Penny
A lot of people believe that all of the pennies ever produced by the United States Mint are made of copper, but there are a lot of reasons why some coins were made from other metals instead. So if you happen to find one of these 1943 steel cents in your pocket change, keep in mind that they are hardly rare.
These coins can be worth about 10 to 15 cents each in circulated condition, and as high as 50 cents or more if they are uncirculated. The actual offer you can expect to receive from any coin dealer will vary depending on the actual grade of the coin and lots of other important factors that will determine the true worth of the coin.
Lincoln Wheat Pennies
The Lincoln wheat penny is a one-cent coin struck by the United States Mint since 1909. The obverse or heads side was designed by Victor David Brenner, as was the original reverse, depicting two stalks of wheat. The coin has seen several reverse, or tails, designs and now bears one by Lyndall Bass depicting a Union shield.
In 1909, the first Lincoln wheat pennies were produced by the United States Mint. While those original edition pennies can sometimes be worth a lot of money, other versions can be highly desirable by coin collectors too. A 1933-D, for example, may have a value of $2.25 or more. A 1931-S coin could be worth at least $40.
Lincoln wheat pennies are some of the most popular U.S. coins that coin collectors have used to build a complete set. Rare pennies like the 1914-D are vital to any Lincoln wheat cent collection. Lincoln wheat pennies are some of the coins you’ll find to be valuable ones from 1943 and 1944.
Some Other Valuable Pennies from 1943 and 1944
Whether you believe it or not, it is good to know that the standard 1943 copper penny is not even the only penny that can be worth a lot more than face value. Below are some other variations from that time period that have been sold for high prices over the past few decades.
- Valuable Penny #1: 1943 copper Lincoln Wheat Penny, $45,000: A Philadelphia Mint version of the 1943 Lincoln Wheat Penny is not worth quite as much as a San Francisco Mint or Denver Mint coin, but it is still a very rare coin. As mentioned above, there are very few copper 1943 pennies that can still be found today from all three of the mints (with mint marks from Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco).
- Valuable Penny #2: 1944 Steel Lincoln Wheat Penny, $125,000: As mentioned above, it has been suspected that blank steel cent planchets from 1943 found in the coining presses were mistakenly stamped with the 1944 dies, and this led to a rare coin for which coin collectors will now sometimes pay over a hundred thousand dollars.
- Valuable Penny #3: 1943-S copper Lincoln Wheat Penny, $185,000: The 1943-S copper cent is one of the most valuable small pennies that you can find, with one fine specimen having sold for the astounding price of $1 million at an auction that was held in 2012.
Again, it is important to remember that the 1943 Lincoln Pennies were actually part of an accident by the U.S. Mint. It is suspected that a few leftover copper planchets from 1942 were left in the coining press system and they were then struck with the 1943 penny dies.
These coins are considered by the Professional Coin Grading Service the “most desirable and valuable of all Mint errors” and they are usually highly valued by many U.S. coin collectors.
Even though the valuable coins listed above are some of the rarest ones you will find (between 20 and 40 specimens from the key dates of World War II, including the 1943 bronze cent and 1944 steel cent), the order of coin values is not always going to correspond with how rare any of the individual coins actually are.
For example, many collectible coins might appear to be rarer in number than the 1914-D Lincoln cent or the 1877 Indian Head cent, but they are not as widely collected, and this makes the value of those coins a lot lower. While the mintage numbers for all types of coins are important, they are not the only thing to consider.
So many types of coinage that were once minted no longer survive today, for any number of reasons. Some of these reasons might include a range of production errors or having very small quantities of the specific coin in production.
For coins that are made out of silver, a large number of the coins might have already been melted down and sold for the price of the precious metal.
Some Other Ways to Find Valuable Pennies
Generally, the most valuable pennies are the ones that are still in mint condition. This does not mean that the penny looks exactly like it did when it was first minted. There are all kinds of normal and reasonable changes in coloration that can be expected when you are working with old coins.
In fact, when a coin is cleaned, it may make it less valuable. Coins with the highest values have to be in the best condition possible. All of this means that it can be a little difficult to find valuable and rare pennies. It can be hard to go through all of your coins carefully and try to find some of the valuable ones.
It can take a long time and you may find all kinds of coins that might look like the real thing, but are actually imitations. Some coin collectors limit their search for valuable and rare pennies to only the coins passing through their hands, but there are more efficient ways to find these collectible coins. You can check boxes, bankrolls, or bags that you can often pick up for face value from lots of banks.
Using the Sheldon Coin Grading Scale
The Sheldon Coin Grading Scale was created by William Herbert Sheldon. It is a 70-point coin grading scale that is used in the numismatic assessment of any coin’s quality. The American Numismatic Association has now based its Official ANA Grading Standards mostly on the Sheldon scale. You should always refer to the Sheldon scale when you are trying to get an idea of the value of your coin.
In addition, the Numismatic Guarantee Corporation offers coin collectors these broad grading guidelines:
- Poor: Coin rims are flat or damaged and details are indistinct.
- Fair: Some details are visible.
- Good: Details are visible but not perfect.
- Very good: All details are readable.
- Fine: Raised areas are sharp and distinct.
- Very fine: Coin is nearly perfect with just a little wear on the higher points of the design.
- Mint state: Coin is in the same state as it was struck.
Pricing Your Coins
In general, some mint years are more valuable than others, and the minting location may also be important. The 1943 copper-alloy cent is one of the most enigmatic coins in American numismatics, and when it is the real deal, it might be the most valuable Lincoln penny of all.
As mentioned above, the penny coin’s overall condition will always be an important factor in terms of its value. Well-preserved coins can sometimes have a far higher value in the numismatic world of coin collecting than similar coins that show extensive wear and tear or any significant damage.
Keep in mind that damaged coins or those that have been graded lower on the Sheldon scale will be worth less than the values you might sometimes read about online. Damaged coins are often only worth their face value to most coin dealers, even if they do happen to be old coins.
Cashing in Your Coins
Always look out for fakes and counterfeit coins that people have painted over to look like the real deal. Always take a magnet to your coin collection. Steel will stick and copper will not. So if your 1943 copper penny does stick to it, you have a fake coin.
If your 1944 steel wheat penny doesn’t stick to it, you have another fake coin. But if they do pass the magnet test, then you can start talking to local coin dealers and third-party grading services (like PCGS) to get all of the coins in your collection further authenticated.