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1943 Steel Cent

1943 steel centWe were in the middle of the second world war of the century. The war effort needed the copper being minted into cents and nickels. The mint experimented with several things including plastics, ceramics, and several other alloys without copper.

In the end the mint settled on a 2.70 gram, low-carbon steel coin with a 0.0005" coating of zinc, two metals that easily react with each other. This resulted in a coin that went into auto-corrode mode whenever the temperature went up and there was any moisture in the air. It was a pitiful choice for a coin's metal. Nonetheless, we lived with it for a year.

At first, new versions of these white cents were often mistaken for dimes. Breen adds, "numerous accidental strikings on dime planchets made matters worse!"

People called these cents "steelies," "lead pennies," and "zinc cents." The populace just didn't like them because they quickly corroded to the point that they looked like slugs.


Philadelphia made 648 million 1943 cents, Denver 217 million, and San Francisco 191 million. Few survive in gem BU condition because of the way the metals interact with each other. All are very common and go for 15 to 30 cents in fine in the Red Book, which lists an MS65 from Philadelphia for $4, Denver for $4.50, and San Francisco for $10.

Repunched Mint Mark

Denver made a repunched mint mark with a strong D punched to the south west of the final position of the mint mark. The Red Book lists this at $5 in fine and $70 in MS65. In 1988 Breen listed this variety as "presently rare."

Reprocessed Cents

At various times since they were minted, commercial ventures have stripped the zinc from corroded cents and replated them, giving them a bright, unnatural look. With a glass, you can easily see the underlaying corrosion, and even wear on poorer examples. These were sold in the '50s, '60s, and '70s as "reprocessed" 1943 steel cents. I haven't seen them on the market in the recent years. As altered coins, they have little or no numismatic value.

1943 Bronze Cent

The mint was lax in many of its practices in those days. Several bronze planchets were left over at the end of 1942. They were probably left in the cent press supply hopper and mixed with the new steel planchets resulting in an unknown number of 1943 cents on bronze planchets originating in the mint. Breen, in his 1988 book, says about 40 are known from Philadelphia, about 6 from San Francisco, and about 24 from Denver.

You say you have a 1943 bronze cent? You must get it authenticated. Breen lists the following four tests that every candidate must pass:

In 1965 the mint actually issued press releases denying the genuineness of any 1943 bronze cent because, as stated in one case, "The mint makes no mistakes."

1944 Steel Cent

So if there are 1943 bronze cents, are there 1944 steel cents? Yes, and for the same reason as there are 1943 bronzes--a few 1943 steel planchets were left over at the end of 1943. As the year before, the steel planchets were probably left in the cent press supply hopper and mixed with the new 1944 planchets resulting in an unknown number of 1944 cents on steel planchets originating in the mint. Breen says that number is considerably smaller than the off-metal 1943s.

Philadelphia was also making a zinc-coated steel 2 franc coin for Belgium in 1944. It was so close to the same weight (2.75 grams) as the cent that, with the lax quality control, some of these planchets could have also accidently mixed with the bronze 1944 planchets resulting in steel 1944 cents.

As with the off-metal 1943s, these 1944 steel cents must be authenticated. Any that exist would be of a very weak strike since the dies would not have come together enough to have given them a good strike.


Originally published January, 1999.

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