If you've been collecting coins for a while, you know about the 1943 steel penny, issued by the U.S. Mint during World War II when copper was needed for the war effort. They're not very valuable except to die-hard collectors. What you might not know is that certain pennies from 1943 and 1944 may be worth much more than the typical pennies from those years because of how the minting process works. If you find a steel penny from 1944 or a copper penny from 1943, it's time to visit a coin dealer, both to see if the coin is worth anything, and to see if it's even real.
When coins are made, blank rounds made from the coin material are inserted in a hopper. Those blanks are eventually moved through machinery that imprints them with the proper coin graphics.
In 1943, copper blanks were removed from the mints in the country because the material was needed for war-related materials. Steel and zinc blanks were instead used. However, some copper blanks were left in the machines, so the very first pennies minted that year were copper.
In 1944, the situation was reversed. The steel pennies weren't popular, so the mints went back to using copper blanks. But again, some steel blanks were inside the machines already, so the very first few pennies minted in 1944 were steel.
These 1943 copper and 1944 steel pennies are very valuable, especially if they are in mint condition. They are also extremely rare, so rare that anyone claiming to have one is rather suspect until the penny has been verified to be real.
This has led to people coating 1943 steel pennies in copper and coating 1944 copper pennies in steel or steel-colored paint. Counterfeiters have also modified the years on pennies so that they look like the coins are from different years -- for example, shaving half of a number 8 away on a 1948 penny.
If you find a copper 1943 or steel 1944 penny, do two things:
- Test the coin with a magnet. Real steel coins will stick; coated coins will not. If your 1944 steel penny doesn't attach itself to the magnet, it's likely a copper penny coated in a thin layer of steel and is not real steel all the way through. If your 1943 copper penny does stick to the magnet, then it's actually a steel penny that's been coated in a thin layer of copper.
- Get to a reputable coin dealer if the materials check out. Many have online presences as well as brick-and-mortar shops. If you've been dealing with an online dealer, get a recommendation from them regarding where to bring the penny in person.
If you find a real 1943 copper penny or a real steel penny from 1944, you may have something very, very valuable on your hands and need to get it appraised immediately. A reputable coin dealer will be able to help you.