Another Scenario of how the 1943 Copper Penny came to be

Another Scenario of how the 1943 Copper Penny came to be

One of the most controversial coins in the field of numismatics is the 1943
Bronze Cent; more commonly known as the '43 Copper Penny.  There have been
many scenarios offered by a variety of authors as to how these coins came to be. 
The most widely accepted is that by Walter Breen in his Complete Encyclopedia
of U.S. and Colonial Coins
.  In that publication he states, "
Fortunately for some few collectors, but unfortunately for the peace of mind of
Mint bureaucrats, at the end of 1942 some bronze blanks were left over in a
hopper attached to one of the cent presses, and at least 40 were struck by
accident early in 1943, being mixed with a normal production run of steel cents,
and managed to leave the Mint undetected.  Considering the enormous coinage
orders that had to be filled, inspection had to be cursory."  Is this
explanation reasonable?  It is to a certain degree, but a question that
just has to be asked is, were those who inspected the coins before leaving the
Mint blind?  How is a copper cent missed among a sea of zinc-coated steel
cents?  There has to be a more realistic explanation for the existence of
the 1943 Bronze Cent, and there is.  This scenario is plausible,
reasonable, and every attempt this author has made to investigate the story has
been thwarted or met with professed ignorance due to a lack of records on the
part of the government.  That in itself could very well be seen as an
indicator that the story is possible.

Several months ago, a gentleman who read an article I wrote on the 1943
Copper Penny, wrote to me with a story about the 1943-S Copper Pennies.  It
was a story told to him by his grandfather.  Like any good numismatist, he
pretty much took the story as myth, but in going through his grandfather's
effects, after his passing, he found a few items which seemed to give the story
some credence.  One of the items he found was his grandfather's
identification card as an employee of the U.S. Mint in San Francisco.  The
story he told me would only apply to that facility, but if the story is true for
the San Francisco Mint, is it possible that the same situation occurred at the
other mint facilities?  It seems we will never know.

The story was told to me in the following manner:

During the war years in the United States, the employee pool upon which
employers had to draw was rather sparse since most of the men in the population
were in the military.  Employers filled the positions needed with women
(remember "Rosie the Riveter"), and with what is usually left out of the history
books, High School age children.  The U.S. Mint was no exception.  It
had positions to fill, coins to strike, and at least the San Francisco Mint did
so by utilizing High School age children.  This gentleman's grandfather
was one of those children.  Some of those boys hired were permitted to run
the coining presses for the one-cent and five-cent pieces.  His grandfather
ran one of the presses for the pennies.  Boys being boys, in an attempt to
entertain themselves when being bored out of their minds, and nothing can be
more boring to an active High School aged boy then repetitive factory work, took
a few bronze coin blanks and threw them into the hopper with the zinc-coated
steel blanks, and struck some copper pennies.  Oh, neat!  What fun! 
He takes his 1943 Copper Pennies home, either forgets about them and later
spends them, or his mother finds them in his pants pockets while doing the
laundry, and she spends them.  Now there are 1943-S Copper Pennies in
circulation.  If that is all there was to the story that was related to me,
I probably would have dismissed it as just a story that a grandfather would tell
his grandson to impress him, but there was one more piece to the tale that
sounded too much like something boys would do.  Apparently, there was a gas
station near-by the San Francisco mint.  As the story continues, the owner
of the gas station found nickel blanks in his soda pop machine.  He took
the blanks back to the mint, and was reimbursed in real coinage, and all the
boys working there were scolded for stealing the coin blanks, and for stealing
from the station owner.  Does that not sound like something boys would do?

The story would be fairly easy for me to ignore, but my first job after High
School to earn money for college was to work in a factory.  Remembering
just how bored I was with the situation and the things I did to entertain myself
on the job is very reminiscent to the story that was related to me.  I
asked for further evidence from the reader that told me the tale.  He
emailed me copies of his grandfather's Mint identification card, and of his
military draft card.

The identification card looks very much like either a piece of paper lined on
one side or an old recipe card.  On the blank side, in the upper left
corner, there is a blue rubber stamping that is a circle with a thin circle just
within the thicker outer boarder. Inside the circle it reads "U.S. MINT" above
the word "San Francisco," and "California" below.  In the upper right hand
corner of the card is typed "No.  _______" with the number 481 hand written
on the line.  Below the employee number is typed, "This is to certify that
the signature of the party inscribed on the reverse side is an employee of this
institution."  Below the statement is the signature of P.J. Haggerty with
the word "Superintendent" typed below the signature.  The reverse of the
card displays the signature of what appears to be a well schooled boy whose
cursive writing has not deviated much from the Palmer method.  The one
unfortunate thing about this identification card is that it is not dated, but
why would it be, especially at that time in history.  The Draft Card that
accompanied the U.S. Mint identification card shows that the same individual
reached the age of 18 in 1944.

My next step was to try and verify any part of the story told to me. 
The easy part was to verify that P.J. Haggerty was indeed the San Francisco Mint
Superintendent during that time in history, after that, things became difficult
to impossible.  My two telephone calls to the U.S. Mint were returned by
the Mint's Historian.  She informed me that she could not verify any mint
employee or dates of employment.  My response was to ask if she could tell
me if the U.S. Mint employed High School age children during the World War II
era, and how many were employed at each of the branch mints.  I was told
that those records do not exist at the mint, and all of those demographics were
turned over to the United States National Archives years ago; however, she did
say that it was very possible because of the shortage of men in the employment
pool nationwide at that time.  That was already known.

Several calls to the U.S. National Archives in Washington, D.C. went
unanswered.  Finally, I received a recording that asked for the specific
information needed, and a name and address to which the findings could be
mailed.  I left the information, and received no response.  I made the
call again, and still received no response.  By now two months had elapsed. 
A call was then placed to the Philadelphia branch of the National Archives, a
message left, and the call was returned in 10 minutes.  The gentleman who
assisted me spent a half day researching my questions, without results.  It
just seemed there were no records for Mint employees before 1960.  It was
asked if I called Washington, D.C., and I told him there was no response; then,
he suggested I call the San Bruno, California branch.  Twenty minutes after
completing the call to the Philadelphia Branch I received an email from the
Washington, D.C. headquarters stating the information I requested is not
available, and to date, calls to the San Bruno, CA branch have not been

Imagine if you will, High School age boys creating a little fun for
themselves in an otherwise boring job being responsible for the 1943 Copper
Penny.  That story is as likely, as any other story that has been offered
as to why the 1943 Bronze Cent came to be.  It would also explain the 1944
Steel Cent as well.  As for the 1942 nickel nickels or the 1946 silver
nickels, who knows?  There probably was not enough difference in those
coins to be entertaining.  It seems no one can say for sure exactly what
happened to create these coins, and one scenario seems just as likely as any
other.  The story would certainly say something for the security at the
Mint facilities during that time, but those of you who are parents know that a
boy of that age would only see the security as a challenge to be conquered.

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This content was written by Raymond F. Hanisco. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Gary Eggleston for details.