Last time we discussed the origins of the 1909 Lincoln cent. This coin has been around for over a hundred years in various forms, and we’ve gotten used to seeing it in purses, on sidewalks, in cup holders in cars, and under the cushions of our couches. Have you ever wondered if any of those pennies you’ve overlooked for years are valuable? Many of them are. In fact, the most rare type of Lincoln wheat cent - the 1943-S - sold for $1 million dollars in 2012.
The United States entered World War II after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941. During the war years, the availability of metals significantly decreased as they were assigned for artillery use. This meant a change in the metal composition of the coins minted, therefore in 1943 the copper cent became a zinc-plated steel penny. U.S. mints struck more than a billion of this new coin between the mints in Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco. The public didn’t particularly take to it, although coin collectors have softened on it over the years and have come to view it as a novelty. These steel cents are available for purchase very inexpensively in either circulated or uncirculated condition.
The 1943 copper cent is another story. The reason that some 1943 pennies are so collectible is - as is often the case - due to a minting error
. In 1943 between 30 and 40 Lincoln wheat cent coins were struck on copper planchets, likely leftover from 1942. Because of their rarity, the Philadelphia copper cents are worth more than $45,000, the San Francisco copper cents are worth $100,000, and the one known 1943-D (Denver) copper cent is likely worth more that $500,000. No question they are the most collectible U.S. cents on the coin market.
Interestingly enough, the same thing happened in reverse the following year when the 1944 Lincoln wheat penny was stamped on leftover steel planchets. The U.S. Mint returned to using copper for coins in 1944, recycling metal that came from spent ammunition shells. These pennies differed from the pennies minted between 1909 and 1942 which were 95% copper and 5% zinc and tin. Pennies minted from 1944 to 1946 contained no tin so they were slightly different in color than the earlier version, but this is only visible in uncirculated coins now. The 1944 steel cents are worth upwards of $125,000 as well.