1943 Steel Cents: Still a Mystery to Most

1943 Steel Penny Mintmark S Obverse

The United States faced many changes during World War II. The country was rationing gas, rubber, food, and numerous other goods. With 1943 came a major change in numismatics, copper which had become a vital resource for the war effort was becoming scarce, the United States Mint was forced to seek an alternative metal for the penny. The government settled on making the penny out of steel, that was then coated with a layer of zinc. Despite this decision, a handful of copper blanks where accidentally struck.  Currently, there are less than 40 genuine examples estimated to exist. On the rare occasion one is offered for sale, they generally sell for $50,000 or more. Due to this coin’s rarity and value many counterfeits exist.

PennyIf you believe you may have a genuine example, there are a few tests that the coin would need to pass. Genuine copper examples will not stick to a magnet, whereas a steel penny that someone copper plated will stick. Another good indication is the coin’s weight. Steel pennies will weigh approximately 2.70 grams and a genuine copper example would weigh 3.11 grams. If the coin suspected of being a genuine 1943 passes both of these tests, the date on the coin needs to be examined next. There are a few dates such as 1945, 1948, and 1949 that counterfeiters have an easier time altering. They take the last digit in the date and rework the number to look like a “3.” Other entirely fake examples are known, many of which display dramatic doubling of the motto “E Pluribus Unum.”

Should the coin in question weight correctly, not stick to a magnet, show no signs of the date being altered, and match the characteristics of a genuine example, the coin will need to be certified by PCGS or NGC before it will be accepted as a real example. As grading coins is not exactly cheap, we would suggest showing an example that passes all the tests to multiple coin dealers for their opinions. The easiest way to do this is at a local coin show.

Penny In CaseIn September of 2012, the Bob Simpson example of a genuine 1943 S copper Lincoln cent sold. This coin pictured to the left was authenticated and graded as an MS62 BN (Brown) by PCGS making it the finest known struck in San Francisco.  It brought a record setting $1,000,000.

PCGS (Professional Coin Grading Service) is located in Newport Beach, CA.  For more information please visit their website: PCGS.com.

NGC (Numismatic Guaranty Corporation) is located in Sarasota, FL.  For more information please visit their website: NGCCoin.com.