US Coins

One cent, different opinions: Collector's Clearinghouse

It’s always newsworthy when a 1943 Lincoln bronze cent is discovered. Twenty-two of these rare transitional planchet errors have been authenticated, 14 from the Philadelphia Mint.

In 2004, veteran coin dealer Don Wenger discovered a 1943 Lincoln bronze cent while sorting through Wheat cents. After first testing to see whether it was attracted to a magnet (it wasn’t), and checking to see if the last numeral was an altered 8 (it wasn’t), Don submitted the coin to several leading grading services. Numismatic Guaranty Corp. declared it “not genuine,” with no explanation. Professional Coin Grading Service sent it back with “no decision.” ANACS stated it was unable to determine its authenticity “due to excessive wear, corrosion, damage and/or other factors.” This last boilerplate explanation makes no sense as the coin shows very little wear and retains its original surface luster.

Frustrated, Wenger had the coin examined by numerous well-respected experts including Bill Fivaz, Rich Schemmer, Bob Grellman, Don Bonser, Andy Garrison, and Coleman Foster. They could find no evidence that the coin had been struck by counterfeit dies.

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I also couldn’t detect any evidence that the coin was a counterfeit. Design details and margins are clear and the coin exhibits no tool marks or unexplained bumps or pits. The surface of the coin shows slight development of die flow lines, indicating that the dies had been used to strike other planchets. Die wear is uncommon in counterfeits. The weight (3.16 grams) and diameter (19.00 millimeters) fall well within the normal range of variation for bronze cents. Two different chemical analyses determined that it is composed of 94 percent copper and 6 percent zinc. This is very close to the official composition of 95 percent copper and 5 percent tin and zinc.

Unlike most 1943 bronze cents, the strike is a bit weak. On the obverse, the outer portions of IN GOD WE TRUST did not strike up fully. The same is true of the first three letters of LIBERTY and the last digit of the date. On the reverse, the first four letters of PLURIBUS, the U of UNUM, the O of ONE and the first three letters of AMERICA are quite faint. These areas lie opposite the deeper portions of Lincoln’s bust, where effective striking pressure is lower.

Most 1943 cents are struck exceptionally well, and for good reason. In order to bring up the details on the much harder steel planchets used that year, striking pressure was increased.

At least two other weakly-struck 1943 bronze cents are known. One can be found at the top of page 320 of the Authoritative Reference On Lincoln Cents (John Wexler and Kevin Flynn, 1996). The other was described in the March 11, 2013, Coin World shortly after it was auctioned off by Stack’s Bowers Galleries. Authenticated by PCGS, this latter coin was also unusual with respect to its composition, as the 91.7 percent copper and 7.5 percent zinc alloy was adulterated by 0.8 percent silver.

The degree and pattern of weakness seen in Wenger’s coin is identical to the Stack’s Bowers example. This similarity extends even to the elevated margins of the date’s last digit. This unusual effect is presumably related to the weak strike. Elevated margins are also seen on the first three letters of LIBERTY on Wenger’s coin. 

These same elevated margins may be present on the Stack’s Bowers cent, but the photograph is inconclusive in this regard.

While weakly-struck Lincoln cents will tend to show the same general pattern of weakness, it’s unlikely that any two examples — especially ones as rare as 1943 bronze cents — will be a perfect match. As a result, I’ve concluded that the Wenger coin and the Stack’s Bowers coin were probably struck by the same die pair.

If a side-by-side comparison of both examples confirms that they were struck by the same dies, then the unavoidable conclusion is that either both are counterfeits or both are genuine. If genuine, then it suggests that two bronze planchets were left behind in the same hopper, chute, conveyor, or tote bin and that both were shunted to the same press, which happened to be operating at lower-than-normal striking pressure.

At some point the grading services will need to reconcile their contradictory opinions regarding these two identically-struck 1943 bronze cents. At the very least, they should provide, in the greatest possible detail, the basis for their determinations the next time the Wenger coin is submitted for evaluation.

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