Copper was a crucial element in making bullets for the war efforts. With the production of war materials increasing, congress and the U.S. Mint thought that striking the cent using another metal would help. After testing different materials in 1942, the U.S. Mint selected a zinc-coated steel planchet. In 1943, the U.S. Mint produced 1,093,838,670 steel cents between the three mints.
The coins were not well received by the public. Their size and lighter weight caused many people to confuse the steel cent with the dime. The zinc coating would wear as the coin circulated, allowing rust to form on the steel.
With over 1 billion coins struck, there are plenty of opportunities to collect steel cents. At the time, some people saved rolls, and others put the coins aside because they did not like to use them. They can be purchased online or from many dealers.
When looking for steel cents for a collection, look for a coin that continues to show its zinc color. The zinc will be a semi-bright silvery color that does not have a very shiny look. Grey-looking and dark grey coins have been handled and should be less expensive.
Nice examples of Steel Cents are not expensive. With over 680 million struck in Philadelphia, uncirculated examples of those coins cost $2.50 – $3.00. There were over 210 million struck in Denver, uncirculated 1943-D steel cents will sell for $3.25 – $4.00. There were fewer steel cents struck in San Francisco. Over 190 million struck, uncirculated 1943-S coins cost $5.00 – 6.50.
When buying coins for your collection, be careful with coins that look shinier than others. These coins may be reprocessed Steel Cents. Reprocessed steel cents are real coins but have a new coating of polished zinc. While they are pretty coins, numismatists consider these coins damaged and advise not collecting them if you are looking for value.
Rather than continuing to use the steel planchet, the U.S. Mint used copper recovered from the spent shell casing used for ammunition. The shell casing came from the training fields in the United States and not from the battlefields.
In 1944 and 1945, spent ammunition provided the copper used to strike Lincoln Cents. These coins are known as shotgun case cents and are darker than other copper coins because the smelting process could not remove all of the impurities from the ammunition.
There are famous 1943 Lincoln Cents struck on copper planchets, and 1944 cents struck on steel. These are rare coins and not as readily available.
The 1943 Steel Cent is the only circulating coin ever produced by the United States Mint that does not contain copper. Collecting a complete three-coin set adds a historic coin to your collection at an affordable price.
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