In an earlier blog we discussed coin errors, how they occur, and what makes them special. In this piece we will talk about off-metal coins, another kind of rare coin that can occur accidentally as the result of error. Finding off-metal coins can be exciting for coin collectors, and many will search them out as part of the treasure hunt that is coin collecting.
What Are Off-Metal Coins?
Off-metal coins are coins that are struck using a different metal alloy planchet than the one that is typically used. This usually happens accidentally as in the case of the 1943 Copper Cent. The typical metal for the Lincoln cent that year was zinc-coated steel. In 1943, the U.S. government had substituted zinc-coated steel for copper to mint cents because copper had been allocated for other war purposes. There were, however, about 40 copper Lincoln cents struck, likely on planchets left over from 1942.
These off-metal cents are very rare and valuable, the most collectible U.S. cents on the market. The copper cents minted in Philadelphia are worth a minimum of $45,000. The ones minted in San Francisco are worth $100,000, and the only known 1943 copper cent minted in Denver sold in 2010 for $1.7 million dollars.
Steel turned out to be a poor metal choice for pennies. They were too often confused for dimes, and they created problems in magnet-based vending machines. For this reason, the U.S. Mint returned to using copper in 1944, using material from spent ammunition shells for the planchets. A few steel 1944 cents were produced by accident, and these are now worth $40,000 or more.
These are just some of the most famous off-metal coins, but there are many, many more, ones for nearly every denomination of coin. These include Washington quarters struck on nickel planchets, pennies struck on dime planchets, and nickels struck on cent planchets.
Not all off-metal coins are the result of mistakes at the mint. Some off-metal coins are the result of experiments with different alloys at the mint prior to issuing a new coinage. Others are off-metal strikes done for sale to collectors. It can be hard to tell the difference, but collectors familiar with the history of specific coins will know. For instance, the 1868 proof sets struck on aluminum planchets were made not by accident, but to sell to collectors:
“Off-metal die trial sets in copper, aluminum or nickel, both complete or partial, are known for many years including 1867-1876, 1884 and 1885. They were quite commonly seen in auction sales of the late 1800s and early 1900s. Most appear to have been deliberately made for sale to collectors.”
Not all off-metal coins are highly collectible or valuable. Sometimes they are worth about the same as the coin struck on the usual metal and sometimes they are worth less. Still, off-metal coins are an interesting field of collecting for numismatists who like searching for different and rare coins, and many are valuable. As always, it helps to know the market and the history of coins in general as well as specific coins.
If you are looking for a special coin or would like assistance in learning how much a coin of yours is worth, please call us at Mullen Coins. We are always happy to talk coin collecting and coin values with other collectors.