Are there any rare steel pennies?

Steel pennies are one of the rarest and most sought-after coins in U.S. numismatics. While most Lincoln cents are made of copper or copper-plated zinc, a small number of 1943 pennies were accidentally minted on steel planchets coated in zinc, making them unique and valuable to collectors.

Quick Overview

During World War II, copper was considered a strategic metal needed for wartime manufacturing. To conserve copper for military use, the U.S. Mint experimented with alternative metals for cents in 1943. While most 1943 cents were minted from zinc-coated steel, a few copper planchets from 1942 were accidentally mixed in, resulting in rare copper “wheat” cents from that year. Conversely, a small number of 1944 steel cents were also minted when some steel planchets intended for 1943 got stuck in the coin press. These steel Wheat cents are worth a lot to collectors when in top condition.

Why Were Steel Pennies Minted?

Steel pennies were produced in 1943 as a conservation measure during World War II. Copper was considered a strategic war material at the time, as it was vital to producing ammunition, telegraph wires, and other military equipment. To preserve copper for military use, the U.S. Mint began producing pennies using zinc-coated steel planchets rather than the usual bronze (copper-tin alloy) composition.

Steel cents were minted for only one year. In 1943, the Treasury Department approved the use of steel for Lincoln wheat cents, along with a zinc coating to improve corrosion resistance. This resulted in the creation of nearly 1 billion steel cents that year. In 1944, with copper shortages still an issue, the Mint petitioned to continue producing the steel cent into 1945. However, the Army and other government agencies revised their copper requirements for 1944-1945, and further steel cent production was scrapped. The Mint resumed creating bronze cents in 1944.

Steel Cent Composition

The steel cents minted in 1943 were composed of low-carbon steel coated with zinc. Pennies had been 95% copper from 1864-1942, giving them a reddish-brown color. The use of steel and zinc in 1943 resulted in silver-colored pennies, leading to the alternate nickname of “steelies.” Compared to the bronze cents, the steel version was much harder and more durable.

Here are the specifications of a 1943 steel cent:

  • Composition: 99% steel, 1% zinc
  • Weight: 2.7 grams
  • Diameter: 19mm
  • Thickness: 1.5mm

The steel cents succumbed more easily to rust and corrosion compared to their bronze counterparts. Many became dark and red in color over time. However, a certain number of 1943 steel cents have survived in mint condition with a bright, silver-white tone.

How Many Steel Pennies Were Minted?

The U.S. Mint produced nearly 1 billion steel cents in 1943. The exact mintages were:

  • Philadelphia Mint: 684,628,670
  • Denver Mint: 217,660,000
  • San Francisco Mint: 46,000,000

For comparison, the 1942 Philadelphia wheat cents had a much larger mintage of over 1.7 billion coins. The sharp drop in 1943 was due to the switch to steel. Despite the nearly 1 billion steel cents minted that year, high casualties from circulation leaves fewer than 400 million surviving examples today.

Key Date Steel Cents

Within the large mintage of 1943 steel cents, certain individual pieces stand out as exceptionally rare and valuable. These include:

  • 1943-D steel cent: Only 12-15 examples of this Denver Mint wheat cent are known to exist today.
  • 1943-S steel cent: This San Francisco issue is scarce but not quite as rare as once thought, with around 50 pieces known.
  • 1943 steel cents struck on bronze planchets: Around 20 of these bronze errors are known. Instead of zinc-plated steel, they were accidentally struck on leftover copper planchets from 1942.

Genuine 1943-D and 1943-S steel cents in very fine or mint condition are worth $75,000-100,000 or more. The bronze errors can fetch $60,000-$85,000+ at auction in high grades.

Other Key Dates

While no other steel cents come close to the rarities of 1943, there are some other semi-key dates worth mentioning:

  • 1943-P: The Philadelphia issue is considered a key by some, due to its relatively low mintage for the series.
  • 1944 steel cents: Around 20 genuine examples are known, struck when leftover steel planchets from 1943 got stuck in the coin press.
  • 1945 steel cents: These are speculative rarities, as no genuine examples have surfaced. But some believe a few 1945s may have been struck on 1944-dated steel blanks.

Premium uncirculated examples of the 1943 Philadelphia steel cent can sell for up to $10-25. Any legitimate steel cents from 1944 or 1945 would likely be worth $100,000 or more.

Authentication of Rare Cents

Due to the potential value, authentication of rare steel cents is essential to avoid counterfeits. Reputable third-party grading services like PCGS and NGC provide the best way to authenticate condition and judge a coin’s eye appeal. For extremely rare pieces like the 1943-D, the Mint can also furnish letters of authenticity.

Characteristics to examine include:

  • Correct weight, diameter, and thickness
  • Proper steel composition and color
  • Presence of zinc coating
  • No evidence of alteration or tooling

Unscrupulous sellers sometimes try passing off common altered 1943 steel cents as great rarities. An XRF scanner can rule out altered dates. High-resolution images are also needed for internet purchases.

Mintmarks on Steel Cents

All three active U.S. Mints in 1943 produced steel cents, with mintmarks indicating their origin:

  • P = Philadelphia Mint
  • D = Denver Mint
  • S = San Francisco Mint

On wheat cents, the mintmark is found on the front of the coin below the date. Philly issues lacked a mintmark as the main facility. The scarcest 1943 steel cents came from the Denver and San Francisco Mints.

Mintmark Positions and Varieties

On the 1943 steel cents, the mintmarks appear in different positions relative to the date, creating minor varieties. These include:

  • D/S Over Date: Mark is directly attached over the 3 in 1943.
  • D/S Close: Mark is close to the 4 but free-floating.
  • D/S Far: Mark is further away from the date.

The “Far” varieties are more common and worth slight premiums over the Over Date and Close marks. But all bring large premiums if in pristine grade.

Grading Condition of Steel Cents

As with all coins, condition is paramount when determining a steel cent’s value. Top-grade examples certified MS-65 or higher can sell for impressive prices. Problem-free uncirculated coins grade MS-60 through MS-64. Circulated pieces fall along the About Uncirculated (AU-50 to 58) to Good range.

Key grading details for 1943 steel cents include:

  • Luster: Original mint luster is prized on uncirculated examples, from satiny and smooth to intensely reflective.
  • Toning: Many steel cents exhibit dark red, brown, or black patinas. Rainbow iridescent toning is also seen.
  • Surface marks: Several abrasions came from minting on hard steel planchets. Bag marks, nicks, scratches must be minimized.
  • Strike sharpness: Weakly struck coins bring lower values. Strong strikes show full detail in Lincoln’s hair, face, jacket, tie, and wheat sprigs on the reverse.

Properly graded coins command the highest market value. However, raw coins still bring nice premiums when visibly choice and marked as uncertified.

Current Value of Steel Cents

Common dated circulated steel cents are only worth a few cents or less in worn grades. But uncirculated examples and key dates trade for much higher premiums. Following are some sample values:

Grade 1943 Philadelphia 1943-D 1943-S
Good $1 $500 $75
MS-63 $3 $20,000 $2,000
MS-65 $10 $75,000+ $7,500
MS-67 $50 $100,000+ $20,000

As shown, select uncirculated 1943-D and 1943-S steel pennies trade for substantial premiums over their Philadelphia counterparts. Any of the super rare bronze errors or 1944-45 examples would be valued over $100k in mint condition.

Long-Term Outlook

As one of the great rarities of 20th century U.S. coinage, key date steel cents should continue appreciating over the long run. With strong ongoing demand from collectors, top-grade examples will likely reach even higher prices at auction in the coming decades.

For investors, high-grade uncirculated steel cents can provide strong returns and hedge against inflation. The extreme rarities like the 1943-D are million-dollar coins emerging in the market. Steel cents also provide a unique display piece sure to spark interest.

Collecting Tips

For collectors seeking steel pennies, following are some tips:

  • Aim for nicely preserved AU or mint state examples to maximize value.
  • Raw coins still bring decent premiums when visibly choice.
  • Carefully research pricing for rare dates to avoid overpaying.
  • Consider joining the Steel Cent Collectors Society for networking.
  • Storage in airtight holders prevents further corrosion and enhances eye appeal.

Historical Significance

The 1943 steel cents stand as an intriguing relic from a pivotal period in American history. They represent the sacrifices and resourcefulness displayed on the homefront during World War II. Steel cents were struck at a time when the country needed to save vital copper resources for the war effort overseas.

This experimental issue would be the only U.S. circulating coin ever made from steel. The steel cent was a short-lived departure from the normal bronze composition, underscoring the challenges of wartime. After 1943, the Mint quickly resumed using copper and bronze for the cent thanks to easing shortages.

Today, nice uncirculated steel cents from 1943 evoke patriotic nostalgia and symbolize American perseverance through difficult times. They provide a tangible link to wartime and the values of that generation. For these reasons, steel cents hold enduring appeal with historians, general collectors, and specialists alike.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why are steel pennies valuable?

Steel cents are valuable for two main reasons:

  1. They are relatively scarce compared to normal bronze or copper cents, with fewer than 400 million surviving from the nearly 1 billion originally minted.
  2. They have a unique composition, being the only steel circulating coins ever minted by the U.S. This one-year type gives them novelty appeal.

Certain key dates like the 1943-D and 1943-S steel cents are exceptionally rare with tiny mintages, making them valuable rarities worth thousands to over $100k in mint condition.

What is a 1943 steel penny worth?

Most common 1943 steel pennies are only worth a few cents in worn condition. However, uncirculated examples are more valuable. Mint state grades can be worth:

  • MS-60/MS-63: $1 to $5
  • MS-64: $5 to $15
  • MS-65: $10 to $50
  • MS-67: $50 to $100+

Key dates like the 1943-D and 1943-S bring much higher premiums. The 1943-D is a famous rarity worth up to $100,000+ for mint state examples.

How can you tell if a steel penny is rare?

Clues that a steel cent may be rare and valuable:

  • Pristine, high-grade condition
  • Mint state luster and color
  • Sharp strike
  • No evidence of wear or damage
  • A key date like 1943-D, 1943-S, 1944, or 1945

The 1943-D and S are by far the rarest and can sell for tens of thousands up to $100k+ if authentic. Professional grading or authentication is recommended to verify condition and value.

What is a 1944 steel penny worth?

The existence of 1944 steel cents is controversial, but around 20 examples are confirmed to exist. These rare off-year errors were created when leftover steel planchets from 1943 got stuck in the coin press in 1944. Due to the tiny number known, a genuine 1944 steel cent can sell for $100,000 to $250,000+ in mint condition.

How can you tell if a 1943 penny is steel?

Signs that a 1943 cent is made from steel, not copper:

  • Silvery-white color, not coppery brown
  • Magnetic, unlike copper cents
  • Heavier weight (2.7 grams)
  • Very durable, hard surface
  • Distinctive sound when dropped

A magnet test is the easiest way to distinguish steel from copper 1943 cents. Authentic 1943 steel cents are also quite worn, damaged, or corroded from over 75 years of circulation.


Steel pennies from 1943 represent fascinating transitional errors that provide an insight into the challenges and sacrifices of World War II. While common examples are plentiful, rare uncirculated specimens and famous key dates like the 1943-D steel cent can be extremely valuable to collectors and investors.

Despite massive original mintages, most steel pennies succumbed to damage and corrosion over the ensuing decades. This scarcity of top-grade survivors makes pristine uncirculated examples quite desirable. With ongoing popularity and limited supply, exceptional steel pennies should continue to appreciate in value and provide opportunities for discerning numismatists.

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