Updated as of 10/2010:
1943 plain - $35,000 to $137,000 depending on condition
1943 S - $125,000 to $275,000
1943 D - up to $1.75 million at auction
The 1943 copper cent is one of the most famous American rarities. However, it's important to be careful when talking about a 1943 copper "penny". Many countries struck copper coins with the true denomination of a penny; the American coin is really called a CENT. For example there has been a lot of misinformation about the value of 1943 pennies from Australia or Canadian cents because people mix up the terminology. Those coins are NOT rare - the rare 1943 copper coin is an American one-cent piece.
To explain how these coins came to be, by mid-1942 huge amounts of copper were needed to make ammunition and shell casings. The Mint was asked to find a different material for 1-cent coins as a way of conserving copper for the war effort. They tried several alternatives, even plastic, but finally settled on zinc-coated steel. It's assumed that a few copper (actually bronze, 95% copper/5% tin and zinc) blanks left over from 1942 were stuck in the bottom of a holding bin or other container. They were jostled free and got mixed in with the steel blanks being struck with the 1943 date. The bins of completed coins were bagged and put into circulation so the copper coins went out with the steel ones. Interestingly, the problem occurred at all 3 mints: plain (Philadelphia), D (Denver) and S (San Francisco) copper cents have been found.
The steel coins served an important purpose but were ultimately unsuccessful. When new, they were easily confused with dimes and caused a lot of errors when making change. After a while the zinc coating oxidized and/or wore off. When it wore off the underlying steel rusted. When it didn't wear off it turned dark gray, so an urban legend developed that the coins were made of lead, a dangerous metal. Well into the 1950s there were people who refused to touch the coins for fear of "lead poisoning".
In 1944 the Mint resumed producing copper cents using recycled ammunition cases, so cents from 1944 and 1945 are sometimes called "shell-case cents".
A curious side note is that some leftover steel blanks found their way into the presses in 1944. In spite of the fact that these coins are equally rare, 1944 steel cents have never had the "cachet" of their more famous (and more valuable) cousins.Millions of Fakes
If you have a "1943 copper penny" it's most likely either copper-plated or the date has been altered from a 1945 or 48; most of the known 1943 copper cents are accounted for in collections. If it is a copper plated steel cent, it will stick to a magnet. An altered coin will probably be easily identified by comparing it to a 1943 steel cent under an 8x or 10x magnifier.
A really good fake or counterfeit may only be detected by an expert. Also, there is a great article on the subject of 1943 US cents called 'Learn the facts of '43 cents': http://www.rrcoins.net/43_Cents.htm
Value (US$): $200,000+AnswerAbout 40 1943 copper cents are known to remain in existence. The easiest way to determine if your 1943 cent is copper (and valuable) is to test it with a magnet. If it sticks to the magnet, it is a steel penny, and not valuable. If it does not stick, then you might have hit the jackpot... have a expert authenticate your coin.
1 -- The coin will not stick to a magnet.
2 -- The weight of the coin is 48 grains or 3.11 grams.
3 -- The "3" in 1943 has the same long tail as the "steelies."
4 -- The quality of the strike is exceptionally sharp especially around the rim because the bronze coin was struck with the same higher pressure as the steel pennies.
5 -- Have the coin authenticated by and independent grading service.There are bazillions of fake copper 1943 cents. If the coin sticks to a magnet, it's a 1943 steel cent that's been plated. If the tail of the "3" in the date is rounded in almost a half-circle rather than nearly straight, it's a 1948 cent that's been altered. Either way they're damaged coins. If neither of these conditions holds, it's still likely to be a fake made either by casting or electronic "sputtering".
If it's real it should weigh 3.11 gm and have a clear "ding" when (gently) dropped on a hard table. If so, it should be checked by a certified expert in rare coins.
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