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Viewpoint: Is Small Date copper truly an error?

 The author's one-of-a-kind 1982-D Small Date cent struck on a copper planchet.

The author's one-of-a-kind 1982-D Small Date cent struck on a copper planchet.

By Paul Malone

The dust has settled, and my copper 1982-D Small Date cent now belongs to someone else. For 223 days the Internet was buzzing with speculation about its value, and hundreds of collectors were claiming to have found the next one. It was an exciting ride, and it’s a pretty good bet that something like that will never happen to me again.

I would like to thank the parties involved: Dave Harper, Ken Potter, Max Spiegel at NGC and Vicken Yegparian at Stack’s Bowers Galleries. I would not hesitate for so much as a nanosecond to extend my highest praise to each of you. Consummate professionals, all!

That said, I feel compelled to address, or re-address, the issue of what constitutes an “error.” Before submitting my coin to NGC, Max asked if I had any “slabbing” requirements. I had three. I wanted them to avoid the use of the word “brass.” I preferred “copper.” They opted for “bronze.” Good enough. I wanted the “Discovery Coin” designation, which almost didn’t happen. I’ll skip through the particulars and simply say that my coin was holdered twice; first without it, then retrieved from the outgoing mail pile and re-holdered with said designation. My third request was that it not be attributed as a “Mint Error.” Ken warned me that this was an argument I wouldn’t win. He was right.

After a series of back-and-forth emails, my best arguments were trumped by NGC’s position that, “Historically, the (Denver) mint has denied the existence of (small dates in copper.)” Without the “error” attribution, my discovery is a regular-issue U.S. coin with a known population of one. With that five-letter word attached well, you saw what happened: the bidding stopped at far short of 1943 copper cent territory.

NGC acknowledged my position when they wrote, “While one could argue that this piece is the eighth variety of circulation issue 1982 cents, NGC has attributed it as a mint error since it was undoubtedly struck in error from a leftover planchet and unintentionally released into circulation.”

The most logical comparison to my unique find was the 1943 copper cents (of which there are at least 20 known). This is the course Stack’s Bowers promoted tirelessly. In the auction catalog’s introduction, Q. David Bowers wrote, “One of the rarest of modern issues is the 1982-D Small Date Lincoln cent struck by mistake on a bronze planchet instead of copper-coated zinc. It seems to be far rarer than its more famous cousin, the 1943 cent struck on a bronze planchet instead of zinc-coated steel.”

I embarked on an Internet search for slabbed 1943 copper cents. I found 13 different: nine from PCGS and four from NGC. Of those holdered by PCGS, only three of them featured the words “Mint Error.” The other six did not. None of those in NGC holders were attributed as errors. Why the inconsistency? Are they errors or not?

In his weekly column of Feb. 8, 2017, CoinWeek’s Greg Reynolds wrote:

Rightly or wrongly, collectors who are willing and able to pay large sums for 1943 coppers and 1944 steel cents are likely to be thinking of them as coins, not errors. PCGS CoinFacts, the CAC population report and the NGC Coin Explorer all list 1943 coppers and 1944 steel cents as ‘coins’; they are not in sections devoted to errors. Someone consulting just these sources may very well conclude that these are regular coins, not mistakes, flukes or fantasies. It is unlikely that 1943 Philadelphia Mint copper cents were made for collectors or politically influential people. No gem-quality pieces survive and most survivors have circulated. A few have annoying gashes. I am not suggesting that collectors should or should not regard 1943 copper cents as major rarities or as true coins. My opinions are beside the point that collectors must be thinking of these as coins, not as errors. A 1943 Lincoln cent struck on a silver dime planchet is a mistake, not a coin. Are copper 1943 cents mistakes, flukes or regular coins?

In the same article was a quote from Saul Teichman who wrote, “One can argue whether a 1943 copper cent, a 1944 steel cent and a 1965 dime on a silver dime planchet are truly errors at all. These are simply cents or dimes struck on regular planchets.”

If my “discovery coin” is an error, then all of the 1943 coppers are as well. If the 1943 coppers are not errors, then mine isn’t either.

Supposedly, the Denver Mint told the world that they made no copper Small Dates. They were wrong. Their statement is the “Mint Error,” not the coin. There’s certainly nothing wrong with the coin I found, and it proved as much by “working” for 34 years before its “retirement party.”

At this point, any change in the coin’s status can only benefit its anonymous, new owner. I wish him well. He may be sitting on one of the rarest coins of all.

This “Viewpoint” was written by Paul Malone of Forest Lake, Minn. He is the finder of the unique copper 1982-D small date cent.

To have your opinion considered for Viewpoint, write to David C. Harper, Editor, Numismatic News, 700 E. State St., Iola, WI 54990. Send email to

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