|Value $0.45 U.S. dollars|
Diameter 19.05 mm
|Mass 2.8 g|
Thickness 1.55 mm
|Composition 99% steel with a thin layer of zinc|
1943 steel cent refers to a U.S. one-cent coin that was struck in steel due to wartime shortages of copper. The Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco mints each produced these 1943 Lincoln cents. The unique composition of the coin (low-grade steel coated with zinc, instead of the usual bronze composition) has led to various nicknames, such as wartime cent, steel war penny, and steelie. The 1943 steel cent features the same Victor David Brenner design for the Lincoln cent which had been in use since 1909.
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 metals to plastics) 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.
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. (Even U.S. gold coins at various times contained from slightly over 2% copper to an eventual standard 10% copper).
1943 copper cent
Far ahead of 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, 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:
1944 steel cent
In an error similar to the 1943 cents, a few 1944 cents were struck on steel planchets left over from 1943. 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. Another explanation credits the error to the production of 25 million Belgian two franc pieces by the Philadelphia mint after that country's liberation from the Nazis. These coins were of the same composition and the same planchets as the 1943 cents, but they differed slightly in weight. In all, 1944 steel cents are fewer in number than their 1943 copper counterparts, 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, when it was superseded by a 1943-D bronze penny.
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 with zinc or chrome. These reprocessed coins are sometimes described as brilliant uncirculated, or similar terms, by ignorant or unscrupulous online sellers. Experienced coin collectors recommend purchasing mint state coins only if they have been graded by a reputable third-party grading company.