1943 “COPPER” CENTS STILL WOW
America’s Most Famous Penny
Bronze cents are or “copper” in the news. 1943 Lincoln
mints All Lincoln were specified cents struck to be in zinc-coated 1943 at three steel. These were not supposed to contain any copper due to the need for the material concerning World War II. Those Lincoln cents dated 1943 that were accidentally, experimentally or mischievously struck in a 95% copper alloy (‘bronze’) are extremely rare and extremely popular.
The finest known 1943-S bronze cent, from the collection of Bob Simpson, realized $504,000 on November 19, 2020. As of this writing, the unique 1943 Denver Mint bronze cent is scheduled to be auctioned by Heritage in its January 2021 Dallas auction. This unique 1943-D is also in the Simpson Collection. Long before he was an adult, Bob Simpson was very interested in World War II penny errors. In the Simpson IV sale slated for February 2021, Heritage will also offer a
CAC verified, PCGS graded MS-62 1943 bronze cent.
Another bronze cent crossing the auction block in 2021 is Donald Partrick’s, NGC graded AU-55 1943 Philadelphia Mint bronze cent. This cent is the only 20th-century item in Partrick’s collection that comes to mind at the moment.
Although coins that Partrick I do not may know have about, had as some he was other best 20th known century for patterns. collecting Interestingly, thousands the of 1943 pre-1793 bronze coins, cent tokens is inconsistent and with the rest of the public offerings from the Partrick
Collection, and as such, the fact that he bought one may relate to the fame of 1943 bronze cents. As almost every young or beginning collector of Lincoln cents knows that 1943 cents were made of steel, the thought of a bronze 1943 is exciting. For simplicity, any
U.S. coin or coin-related error that is 95% copper is said to be ‘bronze,’ without explaining the other 5% contents. Indeed, all U.S. coins that are often referred to as “bronze” were specified to be of an alloy that is 95% copper. These coins include Indian cents from the middle of 1864 to 1909, all Two Cent pieces, and all Lincoln cents struck before 1982 except 1943 Lincoln cents as these were specified to be zinc-coated steel with no copper. There is no widely accepted scientific
meaning of the term ‘bronze’ beside the point that the word ‘bronze’ is used in a certain way to refer to particular U.S. coinage from some point in 1864 to 1982. It could be argued that the “shell case bronze” Lincoln cents of 1944 and 1945 are really brass, not bronze, and Lincoln cents struck from 1962 to 1981 are more accurately termed brass as well, though they are often called ‘bronze.’
The alloy of a mint error coin, experimental piece or pattern may greatly affect its value, and ‘wrong-metal’ alloys draw attention. People who collect other things are often aware of the 1943 bronze Lincoln cents. Additionally, millions of people in the non-collecting public have heard about or read about World War II-era penny ‘errors.’ They are also well known because a large portion of
U.S. coin collectors began by collecting Lincoln cents.
STILL PLENTIFUL IN POCKET CHANGE
Even in 2021, Lincoln cents dating from the 1940s and 1950s often appear in change. Someone who searches through many rolls obtained at a bank will occasionally find Lincoln cents dated before 1940. As 1943 steel cents appear so different from typical Lincoln cents, it is unlikely that these will appear in change or rolls obtained for face value in 2021. Except for gem quality, uncirculated coins, however, 1943 steel cents have little value. Most coin dealers do not even bother with them. Bronze 1943 Lincolns in all grades, however, are extremely valuable.
A long term belief has been that 1943 bronze cents were more likely than 1944 steel cents to be found in change or elsewhere after 1950. Steel cents look so different that they jumped out at anyone who casually glanced at his or her change and likely already found in change long ago. There is no need to see the year on the coin to know that a steel cent is very different. A bronze 1943 cent, though, looks pretty much the same as a 1942 or 1941 Lincoln cent, and would only be noticed by people who are interested in scarce coins.
Few 1943 bronze cents were ever found in change, but the idea of finding one in change has been on the minds of thousands of coin collectors for more than seventy years. During the 1990s and 2000s, the notion of finding a 1943 bronze in change was popularized in related passages in multiple books by Scott A. Travers. Recently, coin collectors learned of another Philadelphia Mint 1943 bronze cent, which did not sell in a Stack’s Bowers Rarities Night session on November 13, 2020.
The reserve was unreasonable. The starting point should have been under $75,000, not more than $150,000.
According to the staff at Stack’s Bowers, this bronze cent was found in “1976 in the gumball machine of a restaurant located across the street from the Philadelphia Mint. The restaurant owner then [sold] it to a local butcher who advertised as a coin buyer in the window of his shop.”
This 1943 copper cent was authenticated by ANACS in the 1970s, though forgotten during the decades that followed.
Heirs or one heir of this butcher brought this 1943 bronze cent to the attention of dealer Mitch Battino. Early in 2019, Battino arranged to send it to the Numismatic Guaranty
Corp. (NGC). On February 25, 2019, NGC issued a press release. While this 1943 bronze cent did not qualify for a number-grade because of problems, it was deemed authentic by NGC, with the “details” of an Almost Uncirculated grade.
Relatively recent finds have not received as much media attention as finds before 1960. In 1944, then 14-year-old Kenneth Wing, Jr. found a 1943 San Francisco Mint copper in change. In 1948, Wing showed his 1943-S bronze cent to officials at the San Francisco Mint. They informally stated that it is genuine. In 1957, two curators at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington also stated that Wing’s 1943-S bronze cent was genuine.
In 2007 or 2008, more than a decade after Wing’s death, his 1943-S was sold to dealer Steve Contursi. At some point, it was submitted to NGC, where it was graded AU-53. As I reported in detail at the time, the Kenneth Wing 1943-S was purchased by Bob Green’s firm at the ANA Convention in Baltimore during the summer of 2008. The Wing 1943-S was then auctioned by Heritage in January 2018 for $228,000 and again in August 2019 for $216,000.
The first bronze 1943 Philadelphia Mint cent to be found in change is probably the coin discovered by then 16-yearold Don Lutes, Jr. in 1947 at the cafeteria of a school in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Another historic bronze cent discovery took place in 1956 by another 14-year-old, Marvin Beyer Jr.
While I read copies of original documents relating to the Kenneth Wing 1943-S, including material pertaining to its authenticity and pedigree, the information put forth here regarding the pedigrees of other bronze cents generally comes from secondary sources, including auction catalogs from five different firms, established general references and David Lange’s book, The Complete Guide to Lincoln Cents
(Wolfeboro, New Hampshire: Bowers & Merena, 1996, reprinted by Zyrus Press of Irvine, California, 2005).
I am not concluding about the accuracy of any information regarding the pedigree or authenticity of 1943 bronze cents. Possible buyers are advised to read multiple references and talk to experts. While it’s widely believed that most known 1943 bronze cents were unintentional, thus true ‘errors,’ circumstantial evidence that they were intentionally made or at least knowingly removed from mints have come to light over the decades. At least four authors stated that the unique 1943-D bronze cent came from an employee of the Denver Mint. However, I am unaware of clear evidence of this, and different authors have written inconsistent stories about the history of the unique 1943-D bronze cent.
Curiously, the editors of the 1943-D bronze cent page on PCGS CoinFacts and the Heritage catalogers of the upcoming offering of the unique 1943-D have not cited David Lange’s book on Lincoln cents. This
1943-D bronze cent “had been in the possession of a
former machinist at the Denver Mint,” stated Lange.
Dave added that this machinist’s “heirs” consigned the unique 1943-D copper to an auction by Superior Galleries in May 1996 (Lange, cited above, p. 77).
A mint employee is at the top of the pedigree of two Philadelphia Mint 1943 bronze cents that surfaced in
2017. On www.zmanscoins.com, John Zieman recounts a fascinating story consistent with a press release issued by the Numismatic Guaranty Corp. (NGC) in May 2017.
Zieman said that he was shown two 1943 Philadelphia Mint bronze cents on January 21, 2017, at a coin show in Spring Hill, Florida, hosted by the West Hernando Coin Club. A member of this club introduced Mike Pratt to Zieman.
Pratt had two 1943 bronze Lincoln cents. Zieman was doubtful at first about their authenticity, but after examining one, he became optimistic. Pratt loaned that one to Zieman, who showed it to his daughter, then an NGC employee. Informally, Zieman’s daughter, Alexandrea, stated that it might very well be real. Later, it was arranged for both
Pratt’s 1943 bronze Lincoln cents and Pratt’s Lincolns struck on foreign planchets to be submitted to NGC where all four Lincolns were authenticated and encapsulated.
Pratt said that he inherited these four Lincolns from his father, Albert Pratt, an employee of the Philadelphia Mint. As all four Lincolns received ‘mint state’ grades from NGC, it is easy to guess that they were all deliberately removed from the coining department or another department rather than formally released into circulation. However, it is also true that all four received low mint state grades, which coins with a little ‘rub’ sometimes receive. Pratt may have legitimately obtained them by ‘buying’ bags or rolls of 1943 cents from the Philadelphia Mint Cashier or by obtaining rolls from local banks.
Pratt’s other two pieces were a 1943 Lincoln cent that was struck on a planchet intended for a Netherlands 25 cent coin and a 1942 Lincoln cent on a planchet intended for a 20 centavos coin of Ecuador. A hot planchet is sandwiched between two dies as force is used to bring about the design to make a coin. Usually, a planchet is a prepared blank. In unusual circumstances, an existing coin or token is used as a planchet and is thus overstruck.
Some governments elsewhere in the world arrange for the U.S. Mint to produce official foreign coins. Any Lincoln cent on a “foreign” planchet could very well have been an accident if it relates to foreign coins that were minted in the U.S. during the same time. Planchets could become stuck in bins or hoppers and then later jiggle free. Generally, some off-metal “errors” were deliberately made, and others were accidents, thus real errors. No one alive now will ever really know the details of the histories of all 1943 bronze and 1944
steel cents. If no one knows how they originated, why are 1943 bronze and 1944 steel cents worth so much more than similar though rarer mint errors and experimental pieces?
LINCOLN CENT STRUCK OVER ONE CENTAVO OF CUBA
A 1943 Lincoln struck over a one centavo coin of Cuba is relevant. The Geyer Collection contained both a Lincoln struck on a blank intended to be used to strike a Cuban one centavo coin. Plus, it contained an already made Cuban one centavo coin overstruck with dies that were presumably used or could have been used to make regular 1943 Lincoln steel cents. In New York, on November 1, 2013, Heritage auctioned the Geyer Collection of World War II-era coin errors.
The 1943 U.S. Lincoln cent in the Geyer Collection was graded MS-62 by PCGS. It is very cool because the undertype of the Cuban coin is very visible and intermingles with the design of the Lincoln cent. In most other cases where an already made coin serves as a host for a new coin, the original details are barely noticeable.
The Heritage cataloger for the Geyer sale emphasized that the 1943 Lincoln over Cuba one centavo was struck with a “medallic turn,” thus 180 degrees ‘out of alignment.’ Almost all U.S. coins were and continue to be struck with a “coin turn” such that the reverse appears normal when flipped. With a “medallic turn,” the reverse will appear ‘upside down’ when the coin is flipped over. The Heritage staffer wondered about this characteristic, “what are the odds of this [medallic turn] occurring when the coin was being struck over a previously struck coin from another country?”
In any event, this Lincoln over Cuba piece went for $38,187.50 on November 1, 2013. Earlier, in January 2006, Heritage auctioned the same coin in the same PCGS holder for $10,925. Either way, the value of this really cool ‘error’ is much lower than the value of any ‘mint state’ 1943
Lincoln struck on an ordinary U.S. bronze planchet.
Additionally, in the same Geyer Collection, a 1943
Lincoln cent struck on a planchet supposed to be used to make a Cuba 1943 one centavo coin but not for its purpose. That 1943 Lincoln was struck on a “foreign” planchet, not on a previously made coin. This wrongplanchet 1943 Lincoln brought $4933 in the same auction where the just mentioned 1943 Lincoln cent on an already made 1943 one centavo brought $38,187.50.
As the 1943 Lincoln Cent’ error’ struck on a prepared
Cuba one centavo blank is in proper alignment, and the 1943 Lincoln cent struck on an already made
Cuban coin is 180 degrees out of alignment, they were struck in different press runs. My guess is that the
Lincoln cent over an already minted Cuban coin was deliberately made as a test piece or as a novelty item.
According to the standard Krause references, 1943 one
centavo coins of Cuba were made of “brass,” a combination of copper and zinc. As with bronze, there is no precise definition of brass. Historically, a brass alloy was often from 60% to 87.5% copper. An item that is more than 95% copper with the balance being zinc can be fairly said to be brass, as there is no binding definition regarding proportions.
Bronze 1943 Lincoln cents, from all three mints, are worth much, much more than other off-metal strikings from the 1940s or later. In the auction of the Geyer Collection of WWII errors, a seriously damaged 1943 bronze Lincoln cent in a “PCGS Genuine” holder realized $88,125, and an NGC graded AU-50 1943 Lincoln struck on a silver dime planchet realized $15,275, less than one-fifth the price of the just mentioned 1943 bronze Lincoln.
Some 1943 experimental pieces appear on prepared blanks that were less than 95% copper, so these are not ‘bronze’ in terms of the way the word ‘bronze’ is usually defined in relation to U.S. coins. Indeed, it is generally believed that a planchet or blank for a U.S. coin or pattern that is mostly copper but is less than 95% copper is something different, way out of the ordinary.
In January 2013, Stack’s Bowers auctioned a 1943 Lincoln cent that was reported to be “91.7% copper, 7.5% zinc,
0.8% silver.” It was PCGS certified as MS-63-Red. This coin was likely to be some kind of experimental piece. The fact that it realized $164,500 in the auction while coin markets were hot suggests that competing bidders thought of it as a pattern rather than a coin. There are no official U.S. coins that were specified to be 91.7% copper and 0.8% silver. Further, silver was never included in an alloy for the U.S. one-cent coins that were officially issued. The idea of having silver in one-cent coins was considered and rejected in 1792.
In that same Stack’s Bowers sale in January 2013, a
PCGS graded AU-55 bronze (95% copper) 1943 Lincoln cent, with a CAC sticker, realized $317,250, almost twice as much as the just mentioned PCGS certified MS-63-Red 1943 Lincoln cent that was reported to be
91.7% copper. Thus, it is likely that the bidders valued a 1943 Lincoln cent that is 95% copper much more than a 1943 Lincoln cent that is 91.7% copper and 0.8% silver.
The rarity of non-bronze 1943 experimental Lincolns does not seem to affect the value of 1943 bronze cents.
RARITY OF 1943 BRONZE CENTS
I estimate that twelve to sixteen different 1943 bronze cents have been certified by PCGS, NGC or ANACS long ago. I am referring to 1943 Lincolns that are 95% copper, with the other 5% being zinc and tin, or zinc only (brass). Realistically, there could be uncertified 1943 bronze cents around.
The Beyer-Simpson 1943 bronze Lincoln cent is sometimes referred to as the finest known, though I am
not saying that this is so. Superior auctioned the BeyerSimpson 1943 bronze cent in October 2000 for $60,375. It was PCGS graded MS-61 when the Goldbergs auctioned it in February 2003 for $97,750. According to Heritage, Simpson acquired it in September 2012. It was later graded MS-62 by PCGS and CAC verified. It will be interesting to see what the Beyer-Simpson 1943 brings in February.
One of the two Pratt family 1943 bronze cents was graded MS-62 by NGC. That CAC verified pratt 1943 bronze Lincoln before Heritage auctioned it in August
2017 for $282,000. On PCGS CoinFacts, there is a picture of a PCGS certified MS-61-‘Red & Brown’ 1943 copper. I have never seen it in reality. As far as
I know, it has never been auctioned. This coin is the only 1943 bronze cent with a
‘Red & Brown’ designation from PCGS.
In January 2018, Heritage auctioned the second Pratt family 1943 bronze for $181,000. It was graded MS-61 by
NGC, and it did not have a CAC sticker.
Before Simpson bought the Beyer
1943 bronze Lincoln cent, he owned a PCGS graded AU-58 1943 bronze
Lincoln. Heritage auctioned this
Simpson duplicate in January 2016 for
$305,500, and again in August 2019 for $252,000. The unique 1943-D bronze Lincoln cent was graded MS-64 by NGC before Superior auctioned it for $82,500 in May 1996. By February
2003, it was in a PCGS holder, and the
Goldbergs auctioned it for $212,750. In
2010, I estimated that, if this 1943-D bronze
Lincoln cent had then been auctioned, it would have sold for a price in the range of $650,000 to $950,000. Market conditions will be different in 2021 than they were in 2010.
Simpson acquired the unique 1943-D bronze Lincoln cent in 2010 from a collector in the Midwest through intermediaries. I investigated the sale at the time and discussed the matter with appropriate sources. I was told that several coins were involved in the deal, a complex trade rather than a straight purchase. The price paid for this 1943-D bronze in 2010 was factored to be $1.7 million, a price widely discussed among dealers and collectors, though it is impossible for me to precisely verify this price without knowing more about that deal in 2010.
The reported price of $1.7 million may have a strong effect on bidders in 2021. I am not now estimating the value of the unique 1943-D bronze cent. San
Francisco Mint 1943 bronze Lincoln cents are rarer than Philadelphia Mint pieces though not in the same category of a rarity as the unique 1943-D. Six to eight 1943-S bronze Lincolns are around, quite possibly just six. Evidently, the Simpson 1943-S is the finest known. It was graded MS-61 by NGC long ago. In February 2000, the Goldbergs auctioned it for $115,000. It was graded MS-62 by PCGS before Simpson acquired it. Later, it was graded MS-63 by PCGS. On November 19, Heritage auctioned the Simpson 1943-S for $504,000, a moderate price.
When Simpson acquired this 1943-S bronze
Lincoln cent, he already owned a 1943-S that had been graded AU-58 by both NGC and PCGS.
Before Heritage auctioned this Simpson duplicate in February 2016, it was verified by CAC. In one of my articles published online on July 30, 2018, I suggested that this Simpson duplicate is probably the same as the PCGS graded AU-58 1943-S that ANR auctioned in March 2004 for $138,000. In February 2016, it realized more than twice as much, $282,000. In August
2019, this Simpson duplicate 1943-S was auctioned again, that time for $252,000. Prices realized for the NGC graded
AU-53 Kenneth Wing 1943-S were cited above. The Geyer 1943-S bronze cent was graded VF-35 by PCGS and realized $141,000 in November 2013.
WHY 1943 BRONZE CENTS ARE SO VALUABLE
Clearly, 1943 bronze cents and 1944 steel cents are much more valuable than other mint errors of the World War II era. In the above-referenced auction of the Geyer Collection, a 1941 Jefferson nickel that was struck on a bronze blank intended to become a Lincoln cent brought $763.75. It was graded MS-63 by PCGS. A PCGS certified MS-64-Brown 1944-P Jefferson’ nickel,’ also struck in bronze, brought $3,525.
The NGC census and the PCGS price guide give the impression that 1943 bronze and 1944 steel cents are regular issues by listing them and all the other dates in the series of Lincoln cents. PCGS CoinFacts lists them as if they are regular issues, too. The numismedia.com guide also lists 1943 bronze and 1944 steel cents along with regular issues. Bronze 1943 Lincoln cents were struck on planchets that would have been perfectly acceptable in 1942 or 1941, possibly leftovers. Each 1943 bronze cent is worth far more than experimental pieces or other mint errors from 1943 of equivalent quality. The inescapable conclusion is that many collectors think of 1943 bronze cents as true coins of a separate variety rather than as mistakes or unjustified strikings.