When the phone rings at a coin shop and the caller mentions the 1943 “penny,” the dealer answering the phone may cringe at receiving another one of those calls, but such is the power of the story of the 1943 steel cent. The 1943 Lincoln cent is an important type coin. It is also an important coin in the nation’s history as it ranks as a true souvenir of World War II. Fortunately, supplies are good. Every collector should own one.
It is hard for those who were not alive in 1943 to fully appreciate the situation. The United States and its allies were turning the tide of battle in World War II. It had not been easy.
In fact the situation at the start of the conflict had been grim. The U.S. military was not even considered to be one of the top 10 in the world and most of the Pacific fleet had been lost in one terrible day on Dec. 7, 1941. The cost in lives, dollars and materiel had been extraordinary. It had to be replaced. By 1943 there was a shortage of copper. It was needed in munitions among other things. To conserve it, alternatives for both the cent and nickel were tried. The nickel alternative reduced the copper content from 75 percent to 56 percent and added 35 percent silver and 9 percent manganese to create an alloy introduced in 1942 and used through 1945.
Copper disappeared entirely from the cent in 1943 and a zinc-coated steel alloy was used. The alloy made the cent lighter and a different color. It was released into the hands of the “Greatest Generation.” They had suffered in the Great Depression and now were in the process of winning World War II. They could put up with almost anything without complaint. Meatless days and other sacrifices were nothing for that generation, but if there was one thing they seemingly could not stand that thing was the 1943 cent. They hated them.
Maybe it was the color or the weight or the fact that they tended to rust, but whatever the reason the public did not like the 1943 cent. Cartridge cases were salvaged for the coinage of 1944 through 1946.
As often happens when there are changes, there were errors in the form of a few 1943 cents struck on copper alloy planchets. They are scarce and valuable and hence all the calls to coin shops by hopeful would-be owners of copper 1943 cents. Virtually all of the callers end up disappointed.
But for collectors, steel 1943 cent supplies have always been plentiful thanks to a mintage of 684,628,670. It also has always been saved as a novelty even by the very people who did not like them.
Adequate supplies are reflected in prices. The 1943 lists for $16 in MS-65. The 1943-D is $18 and the 1943-S is $20. As the cheapest, the 1943 becomes the choice of type collectors and others who want a numismatic reminder of the heroism of the World War II generation.