1943 Steel Penny Value: The Rare World War II Cent

In 1943, the United States Mint made a historic change to the one cent coin, replacing the standard bronze composition with zinc-coated steel. This was done to conserve copper for the war effort during World War II. As a result, the 1943 steel cent, also known as a steelie or wartime cent, has become an iconic coin enjoyed by collectors as a tangible piece of the era‘s history.

While 1943 steel pennies are quite common overall, with over a billion minted across three mints, the issue has its valuable rarities and variations. Gem uncirculated examples, especially of the lower-mintage San Francisco issue, can be worth significant premiums. Rare off-metal strikes in copper and brass are major numismatic treasures. Collectors also prize error coins like double-dies and off-centers.

In this ultimate guide to the 1943 steel cent, we‘ll explore the coin‘s origins and historical context, break down key strike characteristics and errors to look for, and analyze recent auction records to determine the value of these special pennies today.

Historical Context: Copper Cents in World War II

To understand why the U.S. Mint issued steel cents in 1943, it‘s important to look at the geopolitical context. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor and American entry into World War II in late 1941, the nation mobilized its industrial base for total war production. Strategic metals like copper were essential for manufacturing ammunition, wire, motors, and other military applications. Diverting these metals from coinage was seen as a patriotic necessity.

In 1942, the Mint began striking Lincoln cents from brass shell casings recovered from military training grounds to limit the use of fresh copper. However, with copper demand only increasing, the Treasury ordered the switch to zinc-coated steel for 1943. The steel cent was a one-year emergency issue – brass shell case cents resumed in 1944-1946 before the regular bronze composition returned in 1947.

According to a 1943 mint report, the substitution of steel for the one cent coin conserved enough copper to meet the combined needs of 2 cruisers, 2 destroyers, 1,243 flying fortresses, 120 field guns and 120 howitzers, or 1.25 million shells for large field guns. This really highlights the important role these coins played in the war effort.

1943 Steel Cent Specifications and Strike Characteristics

All three mints – Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco – issued steel cents in 1943. They were made from low-carbon steel coated in a thin layer of zinc, giving them a distinct silver-gray color. A new procedure of dipping the planchets in a chemical solution helped the zinc adhere to the steel.

To bring up the design details on the hard steel planchets, the Mint used higher striking pressures and modified the dies. As a result, 1943 steel cents are often boldly struck with sharp details. Fully struck examples with minimal marks are especially desirable to collectors.

Here are the key specifications of the 1943 steel wheat cent:

  • Weight: 2.70 grams
  • Diameter: 19 mm
  • Composition: Zinc-coated steel
  • Edge: Plain

Mintages were very high as the Mint rushed to meet demand with the new composition:

  • 1943 Philadelphia (no mint mark): 684,628,670
  • 1943-D Denver: 217,660,000
  • 1943-S San Francisco: 191,550,000

Look for the small "D" or "S" mint mark below the date on the obverse to identify the Denver and San Francisco issues. Philadelphia examples lack a mint mark.

1943 Steel Penny Value by Grade and Mint Mark

Despite their high mintages, the number of steel cents surviving in collector hands is much lower due to heavy circulation and the tendency for the zinc coating to corrode over time. According to numismatic population reports, only a small percentage of the original mintages exist in uncirculated condition today. This is especially true for the San Francisco issue.

Here is a breakdown of typical values for 1943 steel wheat pennies across different grades and mint marks:

1943 Philadelphia – No Mint Mark

  • Circulated (VG-XF): $0.20 to $0.50
  • Uncirculated (MS-60 to MS-67): $1 to $100
  • Superb Gem Uncirculated (MS-68): $2,000 to $4,000

1943-D Denver

  • Circulated (VG-XF): $0.20 to $0.50
  • Uncirculated (MS-60 to MS-67): $1.50 to $200
  • Superb Gem Uncirculated (MS-68): $3,500 to $7,000

1943-S San Francisco

  • Circulated (VG-XF): $0.20 to $0.50
  • Uncirculated (MS-60 to MS-67): $2 to $500
  • Superb Gem Uncirculated (MS-68): $40,000 to $138,000

As you can see, values are highly dependent on condition. Gems grading MS-65 and up are worth large premiums. The record price for a 1943-S steel cent was $138,000 for a PCGS MS-68 example in a January 2014 auction.

Rare Off-Metal Strikes and Errors

While regular 1943 steel cents can be quite valuable in high grades, errors and off-metal strikes are the rarest of the rare. Some of the most notable include:

1943 Copper Cents – An estimated 40 Lincoln cents were accidentally struck in bronze at the Philadelphia Mint in 1943, when a few copper planchets were left in the presses as production transitioned to steel. 1943 copper cents are major numismatic rarities, with one example graded PCGS MS-62 Brown selling for $1.7 million in 2010.

1943-D and 1943-S Copper Cents – Even rarer than their Philadelphia counterparts, only a couple copper cents each are known from the Denver and San Francisco mints. A unique 1943-D sold for $1.5 million in 2018, while a 1943-S traded hands for $1 million in 2012.

1943 Bronze and Brass Cents – A few 1943 cents are known struck on bronze planchets (95% copper) and brass planchets made from shell casings. Recent sales include a 1943 bronze cent graded PCGS AU-58 for $329,000 in 2016 and a 1943 brass cent graded PCGS MS-63 for $211,500 in 2021.

Other collectible errors include:

  • Double die obverses – Look for doubling in the date, lettering, and wheat ears. A 1943 DDO graded PCGS MS-62 sold for $2,880 in 2022.

  • Off-center strikes – These occur when the coin is struck outside the collar. A 5% off-center 1943 steel cent graded PCGS MS-64 realized $3,120 in 2020.

How to Tell if You Have a Genuine 1943 Steel Cent

With valuable rarities and errors out there, counterfeit 1943 pennies do surface. Here are some tips to help determine if your coin is genuine:

  • Magnet test – A real 1943 steel cent will stick to a magnet. Copper and bronze cents will not.

  • Weigh the coin – An authentic 1943 steelie should weigh about 2.70 grams, noticeably lighter than the 3.11 grams of a bronze cent.

  • Inspect the date and mint mark – On genuine examples, the digits in the date should have sharp edges and fine details, and mint marks should be clear.

  • Check for zinc coating – Steel cents have a uniform gray color from the zinc. Copper spots or a streaked appearance can indicate a plated counterfeit.

If you believe you have a genuine rarity like a 1943 copper cent, it‘s best to have the coin authenticated by a respected third-party grading service like PCGS or NGC. They have the expertise and technology to definitively identify these coins.

Collecting 1943 Steel Cents

For Lincoln cent enthusiasts, a nice 1943 steel penny is a must-have to represent this historic issue. Many collectors strive to acquire one example from each mint in the best condition they can afford.

In circulated condition, even a worn 1943 steelie serves as an interesting memento of the World War II era that can be acquired for less than a dollar. Uncirculated examples are also popular as a more pristine snapshot of history. For the ultimate steel cent collection, a registry set of top-graded gems can be both challenging and rewarding to assemble.

When buying uncirculated 1943 steel cents, look for attractive surfaces with original zinc luster, clean fields, and minimal signs of spotting or corrosion. By cherrypicking for quality, you can build an impressive set of these classic American coins.


As "the pennies that helped win the war," 1943 steel cents have a unique story to tell. Created in the crucible of World War II, these zinc-coated steel coins freed up tons of copper for the war effort, representing the nationwide sacrifice and resolve of the American Home Front.

While worn examples of the 1943 steel penny remain inexpensive, the issue offers a number of exciting rarities for collectors to pursue, like pristine gems, rare off-metal strikes, and unusual errors. These special pieces are historic treasures with enduring numismatic value.

Whether you‘re drawn to the distinctive silver color, the portrait of Lincoln, or the chance to own a tangible piece of World War II history, 1943 steel cents make a fascinating addition to any collection. By exploring the origins, rarity, and value of these unique coins, you can appreciate why they have such an important place in American numismatics.

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