A 1944-P Jefferson 5-cent coin struck on a zinc-coated steel
planchet highlights a mail-bid sale offered by Jim’s Coins &
Stamps that closes Feb. 10.
According to James Essence of the Madison, Wis., firm, “Apparently
this coin was originally found by a lucky collector searching through
a bag of wheat cents!”
The coin is certified by Professional Coin Grading Service and
graded as Extremely Fine 40, suggesting that the coin circulated at
Since the 1944 error coin was struck on the same planchet used in
1943 for the Lincoln cent and in 1944 for Belgian 2-franc coins
produced at the Philadelphia Mint, the error could be considered both
a “transitional error” and an error struck on a planchet for a foreign coin.
The piece in the Feb. 10 mail-bid sale has a minimum bid of $38,000.
Although the lot description in the Jim’s Coins mail-bid sale
catalog states, “NO AUCTION OR SALE RECORDS OF ANY OTHER COINS OF THIS
TYPE,” at least two others are reported.
One 1944-P Jefferson 5-cent coin graded Very Fine 20 by PCGS sold
in Bowers and Merena’s 2003 American Numismatic Association convention
auction in Baltimore, where it realized $8,050 with the 15 percent
buyer’s fee. The piece had been consigned by Bill Fivaz, a noted
collector of error and variety coins.
Another example of the coin was acquired on eBay by a poster using
the online identity of “jonathanb” on the Collectors Universe forums.
The poster commented in a thread discussing an example of the error
1944-P 5-cent coin appearing in a November 2012 sale on eBay.
“Jonathanb” posted images of the piece he acquired and stated, “I
snagged one on eBay a couple years ago” for a price the writer
described as “rather less than” what was realized in the 2003 auction.
Essence confirmed on Jan. 9 that the piece appearing in his
mail-bid sale is the same piece that was offered on eBay by another
seller in November 2012. The piece did not sell in that eBay auction.
Essence, whose firm offers frequent mail-bid sales of error and
variety coins, also said he was unaware that other examples of the
1994-P 5-cent coin existed.
In the same Collectors Universe thread from November, Tom DeLorey
of Chicago, another noted researcher of error and variety coins,
noted, “A 1944-P nickel on a steel cent planchet is a wonderful error,
but an odd duck that stands alone” in comparison to higher-profile
transitional error 1943 and 1943 Lincoln cents.
Such transitional errors, which are highly prized in the collector
community, resulted from compositional changes for U.S. coinage during
World War II.
The United States Mint facilities at Philadelphia, Denver and San
Francisco used planchets of alternative compositions for two
denominations of U.S. coins during World War II and immediately
afterward, from 1942 through 1946. The compositional changes were made
to divert more copper and nickel — both metals used in coinage — to
the American war effort.
Starting on Oct. 8, 1942, the composition of the Jefferson 5-cent
coin was switched from the standard 75 copper, 25 percent nickel mix
to an alloy of 56 percent copper, 35 percent silver and 9 percent
manganese. This “Wartime Alloy” was used through the end of 1945, with
the original composition resumed in 1946.
A minor design change was made to the reverse of the Wartime Alloy
5-cent coins. The Mint mark was enlarged and moved from its original
position to the right of the base of Monticello to the fields above
the structure’s dome. In addition, the P Mint mark was introduced for
the first time for coins struck at the Philadelphia Mint.
The Lincoln cent underwent several compositional changes from 1942
to 1946. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on Dec. 7,
1941, the cent was made of 95 percent copper and 5 percent zinc and tin.
Because the Mint obtained most of its tin from Bolivia, which had
to be shipped through waters patrolled by German submarines, tin was
in short supply. Treasury Department officials on Jan. 23, 1942,
ordered tin be dropped from the alloy once existing stocks of metals
had been used up. According to researcher David Lange, it is uncertain
whether tin was dropped entirely from the alloy in 1942 or the amount
merely decreased. The minor change in the cent’s composition resulted
in no physical difference in the cent’s appearance, Lange writes.
A more significant change to the cent’s composition in 1943,
however, did change the cent’s appearance drastically, and set the
stage for the production of the error 1944-P Jefferson 5-cent coin
offered in Jim’s Coins’ mail-bid sale.
After testing a number of alternative compositions, including
glass and plastics, Mint officials selected a new composition for the
cent in 1943 — zinc-coated steel. Low-grade steel was coated with
0.0005 inch of zinc before planchets were punched from the coinage
strip. The process left the steel edges of the planchets and cents
uncoated with the zinc.
Normal 1943 Lincoln cents, when newly struck, had a bright, silver
color. However, the zinc-coated steel reacted quickly to environmental
factors, and the cents quickly darkened and rusted. Mint officials
switched back to a 95 percent copper, 5 percent zinc alloy from 1944
through 1946, with copper-based spent cartridge cases used to supply
some of the metal.
A small amount of tin was restored to the cent alloy in 1947.
The use of multiple compositions for cents and 5-cent coins
resulted in the creation of a number of off-metal pieces during World
The most famous of these pieces are the 1943 Lincoln cents struck
on copper-alloy planchets. These copper cents, indistinguishable in
color from all other Lincoln cents struck from 1909 to 1942 and
afterward, could have been struck in error on left-over planchets from
1942, or possibly deliberately in late 1943 during testing for the
resumption of a copper-alloy cent in 1944.
Copper-alloy 1943 Lincoln cents were struck at all three Mint
production facilities. All are rare, with just one 1943-D cent struck
in bronze known from the Denver Mint. The latter unique cent sold in a
private transaction for $1.7 million in September 2010. Examples of
the Philadelphia Mint and San Francisco Mint 1943 bronze cents have
realized more than $200,000 at public auction in the 21st century.
In addition, some 1944 Lincoln cents were struck on zinc-coated
steel planchets of the type used for the 1943 cents. These coins can
also bring six-figure prices.
The Mint continued to use the zinc-coated steel planchets in 1944
to strike 1944 2-franc coins for Belgium, an American ally during the
war. All of these 2-franc coins were struck at the Philadelphia Mint facility.
Origin of the 1944-P 5¢ coin
The continued use of the zinc-coated steel planchets in 1944 for
the Belgian coins made such errors as the 1944 steel cents and the
1944-P Jefferson 5-cent coin on zinc-coated steel planchet possible.
Wrong composition Jefferson 5-cent coins from World War II are
also known, though they have not attracted as much attention as the
1943 bronze and 1944 steel cents, and prices tend to be lower for the
error 5-cent coins.
Several other war-era 5-cent coins are what are generally called
“transitional errors” — pieces struck on planchets of a composition
intended to be used in a different year.
Among them is a purported transitional 1942-P Jefferson 5-cent
coin bearing the large P Mint mark on the reverse that was struck on a
copper-nickel planchet rather than on a copper-silver-manganese
planchet. In addition, at least five transitional 1944-P Jefferson
5-cent coins are known struck on the standard copper-nickel planchets.
Mail-bid sale details
The Jim’s Coins mail-bid sale offers more than 500 lots of
exclusively error coins and paper money. “Many pieces come from an
old-time hobbyist who only collected rare and spectacular errors, and
whose collection has been off the market for many years,” according to
Other highlights in the sale are a 1945 5-cent coin struck on cent
planchet, graded Mint State 64 by Numismatic Guaranty Corp.; a 1943-S
cent struck on a dime planchet, graded Fine 12 by ANACS; an undated
Proof Kennedy half dollar struck on a dime planchet, PCGS Proof 66;
A copy of the catalog for the sale closing Feb. 3 can be obtained
by sending $2 to Jim’s Coins, 705, N. Midvale Blvd. B-2, Madison, WI 53705.
A free digital catalog is available by sending an email request to
by telephoning the firm at 608-233-2118. ■