How Rare Is a 1943 Lincoln Steel Penny?

1943-D Lincoln Cent Made out of Zinc Plated Steel

Heritage Auction Galleries

One of the most frequently asked questions that a numismatist gets is, "How rare is my 1943 silver penny?" It is perfectly understandable since most pennies that people see are made out of copper. So when they find an old penny that is not made out of copper, they think they have something rare and valuable.

Unfortunately, many people alive during the 1940s have now passed away. Therefore, very few people remember when these unique pennies circulated with the common copper cents. Some unscrupulous people fake rare coins and will try to sell you a counterfeit 1943 copper penny. Therefore, before you invest any money in purchasing rare coins, make sure they are authenticated by a professional or deal with a trusted coin dealer.

The "Silver Penny" Is Not Rare

In 1943 the United States was preparing for war in Europe and the Pacific. Copper is an essential metal in the manufacturing of ammunition. To save copper for the war effort, the United States Mint began making pennies from steel with a thin coating of zinc under the authority of Congress. This gave the penny a silver color instead of the normal orange/brown copper color.

Is your 1943 penny rare? The answer depends on the composition of the 1943 penny. If the penny has a silver color, it is made of steel with a zinc coating to make it look nicer and protect it from rusting. They are relatively common in excellent condition since people tended to save them when they were first issued because they were unusual. Unfortunately, a regular 1943 steel penny is worth only a few cents.

As the 1943 steel pennies circulated, the zinc coating started to turn dark gray and almost black. If it was in circulation long enough, the zinc coating completely wore off, and the steel underneath would start to show through. When exposed to moisture, the penny would begin to rust. To "revive" some of the original beauty, some unscrupulous coin dealer's started to re-plate the steel pennies with a fresh zinc coating. Although these pennies show a brilliant shine, they are considered damaged coins and carry little to no value.

1943 Bronze/Copper Lincoln Cent
Rare 1943 Copper Lincoln Cent. This is a mint error because it should have been produced on a zinc plated steel planchet. Heritage Auction Galleries,

The Rare 1943 Penny

If your 1943 penny is made out of copper, it is worth quite a bit of money, generally $10,000 or more! The reason is that the 1943 copper penny is an error coin. The United States Mint accidentally used the wrong planchet metal when striking the coin. But very, very few of these left the U.S. Mint facilities.

These error coins were not intentional. Some copper planchets leftover from the previous year got stuck in the corners of the large bins that moved the blank planchets around the mint. When they became dislodged, they were mixed with the regular zinc plated steel planchets and processed through the coining presses.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of fake 1943 copper cents floating around. Some were intended to be novelty items and are just steel pennies dipped or plated in copper. Others are fraud attempts, where someone has taken a genuine 1948 copper penny and cut the 8 in half, making it look like a 3.

Also, counterfeiters in foreign countries have created very deceptive-looking counterfeits. These counterfeit coins are so well-made that they can even fool experience coin dealers. Therefore, be on the lookout for these counterfeit coins before putting down any money to purchase them. Fortunately, there are straightforward tests to determine if your 1943 copper penny is genuine.

Diagnostics for a Genuine 1943 Copper Penny
Diagnostics for a Genuine 1943 Copper Penny James Bucki

What to Do If You Think You Have One

If you have performed the test linked above, and you truly believe your 1943 Lincoln penny is the rare copper variety, you need to have it authenticated by a professional. Ultimately, you need to send it to a third-party grading service to have it authenticated and encapsulated. Unfortunately, this can cost between thirty dollars and fifty dollars to have your coin authenticated.

Before you waste your money sending your coin to a third-party grading service only to have it come back as an altered or counterfeit coin, here's a few things you should do:

  • Take your coin to a local coin dealer and have the dealer look at it. Most coin dealers who have been around for a while have seen enough counterfeit and altered coins to know the difference. They will be able to give you an educated opinion before you invest the money in having it authenticated by a third-party grading service.
  • Take your coin to a local coin show and have several dealers look at it and give you their opinion. Do not let it out to your site or let them take it in "the backroom" where you will lose sight of it. Unfortunately, some dishonest coin dealers will try to switch your authentic coin with an altered or counterfeit coin.
  • If a majority of the dealers think it is authentic, then you should invest the money and send it to a third-party grading service. If a majority of them think it is an altered or counterfeit coin, don't waste your money having it certified and authenticated.