The most notable and probably the most talked about coin in the history of collecting is the 1943 Copper Penny. This Lincoln Head one-cent piece was actually made of a copper alloy, called bronze, and although there are many coins considered more rare, none have achieved the notoriety that this coin has. What about this coin has distinguished itself above all others?
In the June issue of the “Numismatist,” 1947, it was reported that a Dr. Conrad Ottelin had discovered a 1943 bronze Lincoln Head cent. A few weeks before Dr. Ottelin’s discovery, Don Lutes, Jr., a 16 year old from Pittsfield, MA, found one in his change from the high school cafeteria. Then in 1958, a boy named Marvin Beyer also found the 1943 bronze cent. With the publicity from all three finds, and estimates that these coins could sell for at least 5 figures (at that time) at auction, a national frenzy was created. Every man, woman and child sifted through their pocket change looking for their fortune. Everyone knew the U.S. Mint manufactured only the zinc-coated steel cents (“Steelies”) in 1943, so what’s the story behind the ’43 coppers?
During World War II, copper, among other materials, was declared as strategic to the war effort. It was needed for wiring and shell casings. In response to the war needs, the U.S. Mint, in 1943, decided to retool and manufacture a zinc-coated steel one-cent piece to replace the bronze cents of 1942. In the change over from the bronze to the steel pennies, mint employees were instructed to clean out the hoppers where the planchets (coin blanks) of the 1942 bronze cents were stored and to refill them with the new steel planchets. Some of the bronze coin blanks were missed, both, in the cleaning of the hoppers, and in the inspection process under which the coins are placed before being distributed for circulation. What is the estimated number of 1943 bronze one-cent pieces that actually made it into circulation? The number is estimated to be about 40. With almost 1.1 billion steel pennies manufactured by the Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco Mints in 1943, it is no wonder the 40 bronze cents made it into circulation.
With all the press, the 1943 Copper (bronze) Pennies received, counterfeits abounded. There were copper-plated “steelies,” and 1948 and 1949 pennies that were retooled into 43s by the thousands, and for almost every one of the counterfeit coins made, there was a dupe. Out of the estimated 40 bronze 1943 one-cent pieces made, there are only about 12 known to exist. That doesn’t mean the other estimated 28 do not exist. Who knows? There may be another four or five yet to be found. How do you know for sure if you have a real 1943 Copper? Here are 5 steps to authentication:
1 – The coin will not stick to a magnet.
2 – The weight of the coin is 48 grains or 3.11 grams.
3 – The “3” in 1943 has the same long tail as the “steelies.”
4 – The quality of the strike is exceptionally sharp especially around the rim because the bronze coin was struck with the same higher pressure as the steel pennies.
5 – Have the coin authenticated by and independent grading service.
So, if you are looking for something more challenging then finding a needle in a haystack, start looking for that 1943 copper penny. While you’re at it, there is another penny even more rare then the ’43 copper. It’s the 1944 Steel cent. It’s the same story only in reverse, and almost no one knows about it.