Off-metal 1943 and 1944 Lincoln cents star at FUN auction

A rich offering of these legendary error coins
By , Coin World
Published : 01/15/16
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The desirable 1943 and 1944 Lincoln cent  wrong-planchet errors are, categorically, the priciest error coins, and Heritage’s Jan. 6 to 11 auctions held during the Florida United Numismatists convention in Tampa had one of the richest offerings seen in a generation. Most were from the collection of Bob R. Simpson, co-owner of the Texas Rangers baseball team and former chairman of the Board and founder of XTO Energy Inc.

Simpson has been a lifelong coin collector and as Heritage noted, “Ever since he found what he believed was a genuine 1943 copper cent as a child, his love of the hobby has only grown.” 

The top lot of Simpson’s World War II off-metal Lincoln cents was his 1943 Lincoln cent struck on a bronze planchet, graded About Uncirculated 58 by Professional Coin Grading Service with a green Certified Acceptance Corp. sticker. 

Simpson’s coins offered at FUN were duplicates or from series that no longer fit into his collection. One of his primary goals in selling the coins at auction was to make sure the coins “end up in good homes with collectors who share his passion.”  

As Heritage pointed out, “It must be noted that, despite consigning four different issues from the six 1943-44 off-metal cent issues, Bob Simpson still retains, to our knowledge, a complete 1943-PDS set of bronze cents, all Uncirculated.” This set includes the only 1943-D Lincoln bronze cent, which Simpson purchased in 2010 for $1.7 million. The 1943 bronze cent from the Philadelphia Mint offered at the 2016 FUN show was Simpson’s duplicate, with Simpson retaining an example graded Mint State 62 brown by PCGS for his collection. 

In light of the recent frenzy surrounding the record-setting Powerball jackpot, the 1943 Lincoln bronze cents have similarly captured the imagination of people with the possibility of instant riches. As Heritage notes, “No other U.S. coin issue pervades the popular mentality of the American noncollecting public as do the famous 1943 ‘copper’ cents. Even though the overwhelming majority of such pieces turn out to be obvious copper-plated counterfeits (as any 50 cent magnet will reveal), Americans still dream of someday snagging a ‘1943 copper penny’ from change or from Grandma’s old jar of wheat pennies.” Today all authentic 1943 bronze cents are six-figure rarities that make headlines when they sell. 

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Error coin royalty

1943 Lincoln bronze cents are legendary for their rarity: fewer than two dozen are known to collectors today from all Mints. However, as the catalog notes, the question of how many genuine 1943 bronze cents survive is “complicated not only by the many myths, fakes, and wishful thinking that surround this issue.” 1943 Lincoln cents were supposed to be struck on zinc-plated steel planchets, as copper was needed for the war effort. Through accident or intention, a few 1943 Lincoln cents escaped the U.S. Mint struck on copper-alloy planchets, and today, these are what expert David Lange calls “error coin royalty.” 

The 2016 FUN auction also included a 1943-S Lincoln cent struck on a bronze planchet from a different consignment, graded PCGS AU-55, that sold for $211,500. 

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