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The 1943 steel penny is a uniquely minted coin from World War Two meant to replace the copper penny since copper was needed for other means.

History of the 1943 Steel Penny

As World War Two waged on, copper became scarce and was needed for wartime supplies like ammunition and as various parts for military equipment and vehicles. The U. S. Mint tried other ways to mint the penny, including plastic, but eventually settled for zinc-coated steel. The main three mints, Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco all produced the 1943 steel penny. Under the printed year, a “D” signifies the penny was minted at the Denver mint; an “S” signifies “San Francisco”; and if there is no letter, then the penny was minted in Philadelphia.

Problems

It wasn't easy to keep the 1943 steel penny in circulation because different issues soon arose. First, vending machines mistook the pennies for steel slugs, which were often used to trick the vending machine into thinking a coin was inserted. This was because magnets inside the machines attached to the pennies, telling the vending machine it had a slug.

Second, the penny was sometimes mistaken for a dime, especially if the coin was fresh from the mint or in near-perfect condition. The dark silver coating was the cause of this error.

Lastly, the steel penny’s galvanization procedure neglected to coat an alloy on the edge of the coin. As the coins became moist, the edge would rust and corrode the rest of the penny, creating a large mess. This often occurred when the penny was in people’s pockets and sweat filtered through the pants.

One-Year Production

Many citizens complained about the penny and soon the Mint tried a solution. They recycled brass shell casings and began using a composition of the brass and copper to make an alloy that closely resembled the material in the 1941 and 1942 pennies. When the United States Mint realized that this was satisfactory, they obtained and destroyed as many of the steel pennies as they could collect. The pennies produced near the end of the 1943 year are the non-steel pennies that still read “1943” on the right side of the penny.

Rarity

The 1943 penny made from steel is actually a common coin you can probably find at most coin dealers or even on the Internet. Since the steel coin was unique and unusual, many collectors and general consumers hoarded them away. However, non-steel 1943 pennies are the rare breed from that production year. In early 1943, when the Mint was changing over the copper plates from the previous year to the steel plates, some copper 1943 pennies were created, which are called error rarities. The plates weren’t correctly changed over, so some copper coins filtered through. It is known that 40 coins exist, but only 12 actually confirmed.

Fraud

Since the copper versions of the 1943 coin can fetch $10,000 or even more, many dealers have attempted fraud. Sometimes the steel coin is dipped or painted in copper. The more daring fraudulent attempts are when a 1948 copper penny has a cosmetic change. The 8 is chopped in half, making it look like the three in “1943”. The easiest way to determine if the coin is a fake is to take a magnet to it: steel pennies will attach.

Penny Trivia

  • The 1943 Penny, if it is made from steel, is worth anywhere from 15 to 50 cents, depending on the condition.
  • This is the only penny that can be picked up by a magnet.
  • The steel penny was the only circulated coin that did not have any copper in it. Other coins, including gold coins, contained anywhere from 2 to 10 percent of copper.

For Coin Collectors

If you are a coin collector and come across a 1943 penny, test its validity by using a magnet. If it sticks, it’s steel; if not, it’s copper, which is worth a lot more.