US Coins

1943 bronze cent's origins puzzle researchers

Stack’s Bowers Galleries will offer on Jan. 24 the above 1943 Lincoln bronze cent that is struck on a planchet of unknown purpose.

Images courtesy of Stack's Bowers Galleries.

A 1943 Lincoln cent struck on a bronze planchet of a composition whose purpose cannot be determined is crossing the auction block Jan. 24 in New York City.

The unique composition cent will be offered by Stack’s Bowers Galleries as part of its Rarities Night session during its Jan. 22 to 24 New York Americana Sale.

The newly identified bronze 1943 Lincoln cent is certified Mint State 63 red by Professional Coin Grading Service.

The composition of the bronze 1943 Lincoln cent consigned to the Stack’s Bowers Galleries auction is 91.7 percent copper, 7.5 percent zinc, and 0.8 percent silver, according to an elemental analysis arranged by PCGS.

The wrong-planchet error was consigned for auction by a New England family, one of whose members found the rarity in a roll of Lincoln cents decades ago, according to Stack’s Bowers.

Lincoln cents struck in 1943 at the Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco Mints were intended to be produced on zinc-coated steel planchets. The composition was changed from a bronze alloy to zinc-coated steel to conserve the much-needed copper for war efforts.

An unknown number of 1943 Lincoln cents were struck at the Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco Mint production facilities on cent planchets remaining from 1942. The 1942 composition had been 95 percent copper, 3 percent zinc and 2 percent tin, and changed during the year to 95 percent copper, 5 percent zinc — the latter the same composition restored in 1944.

According to the analysis, the composition used for the coin in the auction not only does not match the expected specifications for a 1942 Lincoln cent, it also did not match any of the known compositions for similarly sized world coins struck at the Philadelphia Mint.

The piece weighs 3.08 grams, slightly below the 3.11-gram weight of a 1942 cent. The weight of the 1943 zinc-coated steel cents was either 2.69 grams or 2.75 grams, depending on when in 1943 a particular cent was struck.

The bronze 1943 cent to be offered by Stack’s Bowers was first inspected at the firm’s Wolfeboro, N.H., premises by numismatists John Pack and Melissa Karstedt.

“My initial impression was that the coin was struck at the U.S. Mint, but both the strike and color of the planchet raised some question as to the exact nature of the piece,” Pack said.

According to Pack, since the zinc-coated steel planchets of 1943 were harder than those leftover copper ones intended for the 1942 coins (and so required a higher striking pressure), and the errors were, in theory, struck from fresh 1943 dies, the expectation is that error coins struck on leftover planchets should be sharply struck throughout, but this coin is not.

Secondly, according to Pack, the somewhat lighter tone would be unusual for a 1942 bronze planchet, though less so for the shell-casing alloy planchets used on cents of 1944 to 1946.

Pack’s secondary supposition was that the consigned cent might be a coin struck on a planchet intended for a world coin, as it is well known that the United States Mints were striking millions of coins for several governments at that time.

The bronze 1943 cent was sent to PCGS for examination and additional analysis to address Pack’s suspicions.

Pack also discussed the coin and PCGS’s findings with noted numismatic researcher Roger W. Burdette. Burdette has conducted extensive research on 20th century coinage production at the U.S. Mint, using original documents as source material.

An upcoming book by Burdette focusing on the wartime coinage experiments reveals, according to Stack’s Bowers, “that the Philadelphia Mint struck experimental cents in late 1943 to test the production of the shell-casing planchets in preparation for their large-scale use in 1944.”

“Further, the Mint documented these tests by date and recorded that 1943-dated cent dies were used, also giving compositions for the test planchets,” according to Stack’s Bowers. “This piece of data was fascinating, and the thorough presentation in Burdette’s coming work might well change the way certain ‘errors’ of this period are studied, including 1943 bronze cents now in collections.

“However, in regards to the present coin, it provides no concrete answer, as the composition did not match those recorded for these experiments, either.”

According to a January 2011 census published in Coin World, 13 examples are known of the “standard” 1943 bronze cent, one for the 1943-D cent in bronze and seven examples of the 1943-S bronze cent.

Prices for the coins are among the highest for any small cents.

A 1943 bronze cent struck at the Philadelphia Mint, graded PCGS About Uncirculated 58, sold for $218,500 in a Heritage Auctions sale in January 2010.

The unique 1943-D bronze cent, certified PCGS Mint State 64 brown, sold for $212,750 in a Feb. 24, 2003, sale by Ira and Larry Goldberg. Legend Numismatics acquired the coin for one of its clients on Sept. 22, 2010, in a private transaction for $1.7 million, still the highest price paid for any small cent.

A PCGS Very Fine 35 example of the 1943-S bronze cent realized $207,000 in a February 2010 sale by Heritage. A Numismatic Guaranty Corp. Mint State 61 example brought $115,000 in a 2000 auction by Ira & Larry Goldberg Coins & Collectibles.

For more information on the New York Americana Sale, contact Stack’s Bowers Galleries on the East Coast toll free at 800-566-2580 or on the West Coast at 800-458-4646. Email the firm at info@stacksbowers.com or visit at www.stacksbowers.com. ¦


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