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Everything You Need to Know About the 1943 Copper Penny

Everything You Need to Know About the 1943 Copper Penny

December 19, 20233458 view(s)

Are you on the hunt for a 1943 copper penny to add to your ever-growing coin collection? If so, you might be searching for quite a while! This is one of the rarest coins in existence, with fewer than 50 known to remain in existence.

Over the years, the interest and intrigue around this penny has catapulted it to superstar status. It's even given rise to faux coins that look like the real deal but turn out to be inauthentic. Most of this has to do with its incredible backstory, which reads like the stuff of legends but is entirely true. 

Curious yet? Today, we're sharing everything you need to know about the 1943 penny, including its history, use, and circulation. 

How Was the 1943 Copper Penny Made?

Back in 1943, almost all of the circulating U.S. coins were made out of zinc-coated steel. This is because, at the time, most of the country's copper and nickel supplies were directed to support the Allied war effort. During that era, copper was used in a variety of different ways throughout the military, from ammunition casings to radio wiring. 

When first produced, the alternative steel coins looked silverish-white, but the finish dulled to a slate gray or charcoal color over time as the coins were used and exchanged. 

If things had gone according to plan, there would have been nothing unusual about this particular year. The United States Mint knew that copper coin production was going to be cut back as early as 1942, and they had put plans in place to use alternative metals. In fact, as they began experimenting with different, non-traditional metals, they produced several coins that would go on to become highly valued collectors' items, including the 1942 glass cent pattern

However, a critical error occurred at the U.S. Mint one year later that changed numismatic history forever.

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The Mint Mistake That Changed History

In 1943, the Mint struck and released a series of one-cent coins. The striking took place on copper planchets that weren't meant to be used for coin production until the military no longer needed those materials for the war. However, a few copper-alloy one-cent blanks were still in the press hopper when the new steel pennies went into production. 

Thus, what was so special about that process was that the coins ended up being made of copper -- not the intended zinc-coated steel composition.

The US Mint had planned for the copper coins to look special and be set apart from other pennies in production at the time. Thus, they weren't supposed to be marked with the 1943 date or look anything like their model. Instead, what they got was a penny that looked fairly similar to the steel alternatives but was indeed made of a much more valuable material -- copper. 

Where Did the Production Take Place?

This special 1943 copper penny was produced at three separate U.S. Mint locations. These included:

  • Denver, CO
  • San Francisco, CA
  • Philadelphia, PA


We know these were the locations because each coin has its own mint marks that detail its location of origin. Even the absence of those marks can indicate when and where the coin was produced. On the 1943 copper penny, there are markings that are clearly indicative of these three U.S. Mints. 

Coins struck at the Denver and San Francisco Mints will have a small initial marking under the date. In this case, the mark is a capital letter "D" for Denver and "S" for San Francisco. For coins struck at the Philadelphia Mint, that mark is absent. 

The Start of Counterfeit Claims

It didn't take long for word to get out about the rare 1943 copper pennies. As the public began to get curious about them, unscrupulous counterfeiters saw and seized their opportunity. 

Shortly after the pennies went into circulation, individuals began selling fake pennies and advertising them as authentic. In reality, these were the 1943 steel cent, though it wasn't always easy to discern the difference by visual inspection alone. There was even one rumor that Henry Ford of Ford Motor Company prestige was offering a new car in exchange for a genuine 1943 copper penny!

As you can imagine, the public went wild in response, with everyone clamoring for the opportunity to cash in on this chance and get a new ride in the process. Yet, despite their efforts, the real coins were never found, and whispers about Ford's claim were even found to be untrue. 

Eventually, this offer was deemed a fake, though it served to excite the public. From that point onward, the hunt for a real 1943 copper penny overtook the U.S., especially exciting curious coin collectors!

Production Updates in 1944

While the steel pennies might have been practical and purposeful, they weren't nearly as popular with the public as the famed copper ones were. In response, the U.S. Mint brought its original copper penny production back in 1944. To do so economically, they used brass recovered from worn shell casings. 

From that point onward, counterfeiters tried to make the mass-produced copper pennies seem like the rare 1943 models. One common counterfeiting method at the time was to coat steel cents with copper or to edit the date mark on pennies produced in 1945, 1948, or 1949. As many of these faux coins look and feel like the real deal, it's critical to seek third-party authentication to determine authenticity.  

Collectors Cash In

Are you holding a penny inscribed with 1943 and wondering if it's made of copper? It might be a long shot, as only around 40 of these coins are known to remain. Of those, we can trace approximately 10 to 15 back to the Philadelphia Mint, five to the San Francisco Mint, and one to the Denver Mint. 

While stories of collectors uncovering genuine copper pennies are rare, there have been some encouraging finds Back in 1944, a collector named Kenneth Wing from Long Beach, CA discovered the first 1943 copper penny. That penny, which traced back to the San Francisco Mint, fetched offers of up to $500 though Long ultimately declined and decided to keep it for himself. 

Similar stories have popped up through the years, but arguably none is as exciting as the tale of Don Lutes, Jr. In 1947, Lutes was buying lunch in the school cafeteria in Pittsfield, MA. When he received his change, there was an ultra-rare 1943 copper penny mixed in!

Lutes knew that the coloring of this penny was slightly different than the silvery steel alternatives. He decided to hold onto it, and he wrote to the U.S. Treasury Department to inquire about its origin. Surprisingly, the department downplayed the incident, replying that the U.S. Mint didn't produce any one-cent coins in 1943.

As sparse examples of genuine copper pennies began to pop up over the years, Lutes had the coin officially authenticated in 1958. He passed away in 2019, and a staggering 72 years after his initial discovery, his family sold it in an auction for $204,000! A total of 30 bidders tried for the coin, and the proceeds went to the Pittsfield Public Library, where Lutes had been an active member. 

Checking for Authenticity

If you think you might own a real 1943 copper penny or any type of rare precious metals, we recommend getting it authenticated by a third-party service. For a small fee, these companies will authenticate your coin and place it in a specially-designed, market-acceptable coin holder if they deem it to be genuine. 

 

If you intend to ever sell or auction off the coin, you'll need to perform this step. Most coin dealers will require proof of third-party authentication before they will purchase a coin. Likewise, most major auction services require the same documentation before agreeing to sell any coin. 

Before investing in this process, you can save yourself time and money by checking to see if a few telltale characteristics are true about your penny. Here are the traits to look for in an authentic 1943 copper penny:

  • Weighs exactly 3.11 grams
  • The "3" inscription looks the same as the "3" on a steel cent
  • Non-magnetic in nature
  • Sharp strike quality
  • Raised outer rims
  • Clear designer's initials


Note that some of these details, such as the initials and strike quality, can be dulled if the coin is especially worn. Magnetism, however, is one of the easiest traits to check. If your coin sticks to a magnet, it's not made of copper. If it doesn't stick, then it's best to let an expert authenticate it. 

1943 Copper Penny

Do You Have an Authentic 1943 Copper Penny?

Collecting and investing in precious metals can be a rewarding and profitable pastime. This is especially the case if you have a high-value collection! Finding a 1943 copper penny could be the discovery of a lifetime, but there are many more metals that you can pursue in the meantime. 

At the United States Gold Bureau, we can help you find and invest in a variety of metals, including gold, silver, platinum, palladium, and rare coins from around the world. You can even sell your metals to us, as well as access our knowledge-base for helpful investing guides.

We'd love to help grow your rare coin collection! To learn more, check out our offerings today and start browsing.

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