The 1943 Copper Cent, an Off-metal Treasure


In December of 1941, Japanese bombers attacked Pearl Harbor. The United States entered World War II in both the European and Pacific arenas immediately after. This had a drastic effect on the price and availability of many common commodities, including metals. The U.S. Treasury changed the composition of coins it minted during the duration of the war years as a result, and some especially collectible coins like the 1943 Copper Cent exist because of it. 

1943 Lincoln Cents 

The bulk of Lincoln cents that were struck during 1943 were zinc-coated steel cents that over time became known as “steelies.” This is because the copper and tin the Mint had been using was needed for the war effort. To maintain the availability of cents in circulation, Congress passed a law in 1942 that allowed for this temporary change. In 1943, the Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco mints struck over a billion steelies combined. As a unique type of cent, these coins remain a favorite with coin collectors. 

The most valuable 1943 cents are not the steelies, however. They are the copper cents that were the result of an error in minting. About 30-40 Lincoln cents were stuck on leftover copper planchets that had been used previously to make 1942 cents. It’s speculated that these planchets had been left in the hoppers when the steel cents were being struck. They look exactly the same as 1943 steelies, but their metal composition is copper instead of steel. 

This is a classic example of off-metal coins. Off-metal coins are rare, and the 1943 copper cent is the rarest of all the Lincoln cents. Word got out early that they had been struck, and this coin took hold in the imagination of coin collectors and the general public. Many young coin enthusiasts have searched through rolls of pennies looking for 1943 Copper Cent treasure. At least one young man managed to find one in the 1950s. 

How Many 1943 Copper Cents Were Struck? 

No one knows exactly how many of these coins were struck or are in existence today. Walter Breen stated in his 1988 Numismatic Encyclopedia that he believed there were 40 of them, but other numismatists disagreed, believing that number too high. Currently, 27 of them have been confirmed to exist and have been graded. Their values range from $100,000 to almost two million dollars. Several years ago a 1943 Copper Cent went for $204,000 at auction in Orlando, Florida.  Another public sale in 2014 garnered $329,000. 

1943-S copper cents are somewhat more valuable. One of them, the coin found by a 14-year-old boy in 1957, brought $500,000 at auction in 2020. There are about 6 of these coins estimated to be in existence. 

The 1943-D is the most rare. It’s one of a kind. This coin was graded PCGS MS64 Brown and went for $1.75 million at auction in 2010. A fortune!

People may not be combing through penny rolls looking for a 1943 Copper Cent these days, but coin discoveries still happen all of the time. If you would like to purchase a 1943 steel cent or any other piece of American history, call us at Grand Rapids Coins. We would love to help you find a treasure for your coin collection. 

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