Learn the Facts about 1943 Cents
By Alan Herbert
Due to the critical need for copper for World War II, the Mint in 1943 switched to zinc-plated steel for the nation's cents. Tin was also a critical metal, so in January 1942 all but a trace had been removed from the cent, changing the bronze to brass. Some of these brass planchets were still lying around at all three Mint facilities, were accidentally struck during 1943 steel cent production and escaped into circulation.
Numismatist Walter Breen estimated that at least 40 1943 brass cents were struck at Philadelphia, with 24 known from Denver and six from San Francisco. Later information from numismatic researcher David Lange states that there are 12 known from Philadelphia, one from Denver and four from San Francisco, with three more possible.
The public, dealers and collectors commonly refer to these brass and bronze cents as "copper" ignoring theft that pure copper hasn't been used for U.S. coinage since 1857. Both bronze and brass are copper alloys, with quite different properties, appearances and physical characteristics.
The 1943 steel cents weigh either 41.5 grains or 42.5 grains, while the normal bronze or brass cents of that era weigh 48.0 grains. Because the steel cents were slightly thinner, the dies were set closer together, resulting in very strong proof-like strikes on the few thicker brass planchets struck with the 1943 date.
Genuine 1943 cents have a distinctive "3" in the date with a long trailing tail down to the left. One of the first authenticity tests is to examine the "3" for this indicator. Numerous examples have been altered from 1948 dates (and other dates) but usually show a stub tail on the lower loop. Hundreds more have been counterfeited on both, genuine planchets and homemade planchets. Authentication by a reputable expert is mandatory.
In the 1960s, many thousands of 1943 steel cents were commercially copper plated, altering them and eliminating their collector value. The plating did not affect the magnetic properties of the steel core, so these alterations can be readily detected with a magnet, which will attract them (a magnet will not attract the brass cents). At the same time many more thousands of 1943 steel cents were stripped of their zinc plating and replated. These are known as "reprocessed coins," and since they, too, are alterations, they have little or no collector value.
Wishful thinking frequently enters the picture when a supposed rare coin is involved. Any coin that is worn or damaged to the point where imagination is needed to read the date is far below the grade that any reputable expert would accept for authentication. Such authentication is a MUST, as there are too many fakes around.
The 1943 steel cents have relatively low value. Over 90 percent of the existing specimens would be worth from 5 to 15 cents, since the coins corrode and rust in large numbers. Steel and zinc are not compatible metals, which accelerates the corrosion.
1943 steel cent mintages:
- Philadelphia - 684,628,670 (without a mintmark)
- Denver - 217,660,000 (with "D" mintmark)
- San Francisco - 191,550,000 (with "S" mintmark)
The Mint withdrew large quantities of these coins as they returned to banks and either dumped them in the ocean or melted them down. The withdrawals had no significant effect on the values and the steel cents are common to many collections and public-owned hoards.