by Sam Lukes
The March 19 issue of Numismatic News featured “Another rare 1943 ‘copper’ cent slabbed,” which followed on the heels of a Feb. 5 article in reference to the legendary Don Lutes Jr. specimen that sold at auction for $204,000.
Earlier this year, an individual from out of state contacted me and stated he had a circulated 1943-P Lincoln Head cent, which, when applied to a very strong magnet, the coin did not stick. So far, so good, as the “magnet test” confirmed it was not struck from a common zinc-coated steel alloy cent that had been copper-plated as many are.
I then instructed him to e-mail me photo images of the coin’s obverse and reverse, and to also weigh the coin. He shortly complied, and the weight of the cent registered 3.19 grams (heavier than the normal issue of 3.11 grams). I suggested the coin might have been struck on a foreign planchet, which would have to be determined.
The photo images met all of the criteria for a genuine 1943 cent. The all-important numeral “3” was correctly shaped (extended lower serif), and the entire date was evenly spaced. I compared it to my photo files of a PCGS MS-61 RB example I had sold nearly 20 years prior, and every aspect of the coin appeared to be legitimate. Subsequently, we arranged for the coin to be shipped to me so I could extensively view and scrutinize it.
Once the coin arrived, I also weighed it (indeed, 3.19 grams), and placed it under my stereo microscope, utilizing direct and indirect lighting. There were no visible signs of retooling or alteration of the “3,” which verified that its source was not from copper cents struck in 1948 or 1949 that are commonly used to produce fake 1943 “bronze” cents.
I meticulously checked the edges of the coin to see if it might be a cleverly produced electrotype that had been expertly buffed in order to conceal a telltale seam. No such evidence was displayed. I further determined that the coin was not manufactured using a spark erosion technique.
While viewing the reverse of the coin, alas, a red flag shot up! There were myriad microscopic surface granulations beginning near the “E” of “CENT,” then meandering downward between the “T” and “E” of “UNITED,” which increased prominently beneath “AMERICA,” an indication of possible foul play.
My immediate thought was that there was a good chance the coin could be a clever Chinese concoction, produced on a copper flan! Thus, the next step was to submit the coin to the Professional Coin Grading Service for their professional expertise to determine its authenticity.
Numerically, I felt the coin would grade at least EF-40 if determined to be genuine. I confided in my client that I had my doubts because of the weight of the coin and the suspect areas exhibited on its reverse, but off it went, and he kept his fingers anxiously crossed.
Within a few weeks of guarded, speculative hope and anticipation, the coin was shipped back, the verdict was in, and PCGS had determined it to be counterfiet. Out of curiosity, I contacted PCGS and inquired whether the piece was a foreign or domestic forgery. Try as I might, I was not given privy to that information, which was a bit disappointing. My personal opinion is that the coin was of Chinese origin.
Herein this wonderful hobby/industry, information is supposedly highly regarded and touted. Collectors and dealers alike (be they novice or seasoned veterans) need to be numismatically educated, especially when it comes to key date rarities such as a 1943 “bronze” cent. I felt most sorry for my client, whose proverbial dreams of fame and fortune were abruptly shattered.
But who knows? There is always a chance for a possible dream coin yet to be discovered, which makes engaging in numismatics so enjoyable, entertaining, and exciting!
This “Viewpoint” was written by Sam Lukes, a dealer from Visalia, Calif.
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