US Coins

Previously unreported 1943 copper alloy cents surface

Two previously unreported copper alloy 1943 Lincoln cents, one exhibiting a major obverse die break, have surfaced and been authenticated, graded and encapsulated by Numismatic Guaranty Corp.

The two coins are among four wrong-planchet Lincoln cent errors — three dated 1943 and one 1942 — that Florida collector Michael Pratt inherited upon the 1992 death of his father, Albert Michael Pratt, a former die setter at the Philadelphia Mint. Michael Pratt says he has no evidence of how the wartime cents came to be in his father’s possession, since he doesn’t recall his father discussing the coins while he was alive.

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The intended alloy for Lincoln cents struck in 1943 was zinc-coated steel, since copper was needed for military applications during World War II.

Planchets composed of the 1942 alloy — first of 95 percent copper, 3 percent zinc and 2 percent tin, and later 95 percent copper and 5 percent zinc — presumably remained in hoppers that were eventually filled with zinc-coated steel planchets. The planchets of different alloys were subsequently fed into the coinage presses and struck into coins.

Copper-alloy 1943 Lincoln cents were struck at the Philadelphia, San Francisco and Denver Mints.

With the certification of the two Pratt 1943 cents, the number of copper alloy Philadelphia Mint strikes increases to more than 12. The exact number is not known because of duplicate listings and grading service resubmissions.

Only one copper-alloy 1943-D Lincoln cent is known, along with six examples of copper-alloy 1943-S Lincoln cents.

The four Lincoln cents certified for Michael Pratt by NGC are:

??A copper alloy 1943 Lincoln cent, graded NGC Mint State 62 brown.

??A copper-alloy 1943 Lincoln cent with major die break, graded NGC MS-61 brown. The major die break, referred to in the error specialty field of the hobby as a “cud,” occurred when a portion of a coin die broke and separated from the die. During striking, the planchet’s metal flowed into the resultant cavity, creating a raised featureless blob on the resultant coin, in place of the missing design elements. The cud on this piece appears along the truncation of the bottom of Abraham Lincoln’s coat with the bottom border. The NGC Price Guide lists a value of $575,000 for the error.

??A 1943 Lincoln cent struck on a planchet intended for a Netherlands 25-cent coin, graded NGC MS-61. The composition of the planchet is .640 fine silver. The Philadelphia Mint was contracted by foreign governments to strike coinage for their respective countries during World War II.

??A 1942 Lincoln cent struck on a planchet intended for a 20-centavo coin of Ecuador, graded NGC MS-63. The composition is brass.

All four NGC grading labels bear an Albert Michael Pratt pedigree.

The 1942 coin struck on the 20-centavo planchet has been purchased for an undisclosed sum in a private transaction by Florida dealer John A. Zieman Jr. of Z-man’s Coins. Zieman said he is retaining the coin for his personal collection with his daughter, Alexandrea, who is an NGC grader.

The elder Zieman arranged for Pratt’s submission of the four coins to NGC for authentication and grading. 

According to Zieman, he was still discussing with Michael Pratt possibilities for the disposition of the copper-alloy 1943 Lincoln cent with major obverse die break, the 1943 cent struck on a Netherlands 25-cent planchet and the NGC MS-62 brown 1943 Lincoln cent.

News of the discovery jolted the collecting community. “1943 cents struck on bronze planchets are one of the ‘Holy Grails’ of U.S. numismatics” says David J. Camire, NGC grading finalizer, error coin specialist and co-author of 100 Greatest Mint Errors, which ranks the 1943 copper alloy cent struck at the Philadelphia Mint as the No. 4 coin. “It is very exciting to see two examples in a single submission, especially the unique example featuring the die break on the obverse.”

Almost discarded

The four cents that Albert M. Pratt possessed for nearly five decades before his 1992 passing were almost discarded, according to his son.

Pratt said during the executing of their father’s estate, Michael’s eldest of two sisters, who was executor of the estate, told her siblings to take whatever remained in cardboard boxes stored in their father’s garage, because otherwise the boxes and their contents would be sent to the landfill.

It was then that Pratt discovered a small wooden box with a sliding lid inside one of the cardboard boxes he chose from the garage. Inside the wooden container were the four cents, each wrapped in paper.

The nondescript wooden container was the right size to hold a single cigar. Michael Pratt said his father smoked cigars.

Michael Pratt said he initially made attempts to have the pieces authenticated, but the professionals to whom he showed either the coins or pictures of them questioned their authenticity.

Pratt said he didn’t aggressively pursue detailed analysis of the pieces at the time. He said he subsequently moved from New Jersey to Florida, bringing the coins with him and storing them.

Pratt said he didn’t become a coin collector until circa 2005, when he began a collecting interest in Walking Liberty half dollars, small U.S. cents and American Eagle silver coins.

Despite his father having spent a nearly 25-year career at the Philadelphia Mint, Pratt said, his father introduced him to philately (collecting stamps).

Albert Pratt began his employment at the Philadelphia Mint on Dec. 26, 1941, as a machine operator, and was promoted to die setter on June 4, 1944. He retired from the U.S. Mint effective June 30, 1971.

The Treasury Department recognized Pratt with the Albert Gallatin Award, the department’s highest career service honor. The award is named after Albert Gallatin, who served the longest tenure as Treasury secretary, from May 14, 1801, to Feb. 8, 1814, spanning the presidencies of Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.

Only 18 months ago, Michael Pratt, while thinking about his father and his legacy, rekindled his interest in those wartime Lincoln cents his father had left behind.

Pratt’s initial contact with John Zieman occurred in January 2017 in Florida at the West Hernando Coin Club coin show, when Pratt showed Zieman the copper-alloy 1943 Lincoln cent with major obverse die break.

“I got out my loupe and took a closer look,” Zieman said. “First thing I noticed was the rather large die break (CUD) on the obverse. My thoughts were if someone was trying to counterfeit this coin why would they complicate it by adding a cud? I then told Mike that if a fake, it was the best fake 1943 copper I have ever seen.”

Zieman said he preliminarily examined the remaining coins Pratt owned during several subsequent encounters at flea markets where he was set up.

‘I was stunned’

During the opening day of the ANA National Money Show in March 2017 in Orlando, Zieman showed the copper alloy 1943 Lincoln cent with the major die break to error coin specialist Fred Weinberg.

“I was stunned,” Weinberg said. “I looked at it carefully with a magnifying glass, and couldn’t see any potential casting marks, pitting on the surface, or any hint that it was plated. The weight was correct, the surfaces looked good, but I was quite excited to see in-hand what might have been a genuine 1943 copper cent struck with a large cud on it.”

Zieman then presented to Weinberg for examination the 1942 Lincoln cent struck on the Ecuador 20-centavo planchet and told Weinberg his client had two more 1943 cents that Weinberg would likely be interested to examine. Zieman also explained to Weinberg the origin of the coins.

Weinberg said he advised Zieman to take his client and all of the coins to NGC’s offices in Sarasota, Fla., along with the supporting Treasury Department documentation on the client’s father’s Philadelphia Mint employment, and deliver them to Camire.

The following day at the National Money Show, Weinberg said Pratt came to his bourse table and showed him the other copper-alloy 1943 Lincoln cent and the 1943 cent struck on the Netherlands 25-cent planchet.

Weinberg said he first examined the copper-alloy 1943 cent.

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“I weighed the first 1943 copper cent and the weight was correct,” Weinberg said. “As I had done the day before with the ‘cud copper’ cent, I looked carefully with a glass for any indication that the coin might be a struck counterfeit and could not find any indication of this.”

Weinberg said he then weighed the 1943 cent struck on the Netherlands 25-cent planchet. The coin, much darker than the ones he had previously examined, weighed 3.6 grams, 0.5 gram heavier than the 3.1 grams it should have weighed if struck on a normal copper alloy Lincoln cent planchet.

Weinberg said he re-emphasized to Pratt the same recommendation he had made to Zieman the day before to hand deliver all of the coins with documentation to Camire at NGC.

They subsequently did. 

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