US Coins

World War II era U.S. Mint mistake brings $298,125

A coveted 1943 Lincoln cent — an issue normally struck on a zinc-coated steel planchet but with some erroneously struck on a bronze planchet — sold for $298,125 at a Nov. 13 GreatCollections auction. It was graded About Uncirculated 50 by Professional Coin Grading Service and had a green Certified Acceptance Corp. sticker. 

The issue is among the most famous error coins in the world, the result of a leftover planchet being likely stuck in the tote bins used to feed coin presses for the 1943 Lincoln cents. With copper being conserved for use in World War II, all of the 1943 cents were supposed to be “steel cents,” and the existence of errors was not discovered until 1947. They were instantly popular with collectors, even appearing in contemporary comic books that encouraged people to look at their pocket change.

The auction benefited from plenty of advertising, so that by Oct. 30, bids numbered 119, with the top one at $167,500, along with 2,700 page views. Ultimately, 24 bidders placed 138 bids and there were 9,177 views by the time of the sale. The online auction house’s president, Ian Russell, told Coin World something that rings true with many coin professionals for this error, sharing that, “Over the past decade at GreatCollections, we have had countless calls, emails and letters about people purporting to have a new discovery of this famous error. Not a single coin was genuine, and this is only the third authentic example we have had the pleasure to handle.”

Many falsely believe that all 1943 cents have significant value.

Indeed, it’s easy to copper-plate a regular issue 1943 steel cent and give it the appearance of a rare off-metal error. This modification can be detected with a magnet, as steel is magnetic, but non-magnetic fakes such as altered date fabrications and struck counterfeits also exist. The occasional dealer publicity stunt that offers significant rewards for the discovery of a new example keeps these in the public eye, as do the significant prices they bring when offered at auction, where they are joined with press releases encouraging the public to keep looking for one among their 1943 Lincoln cents.

Heritage had offered another PCGS AU-50 example this summer that brought $336,000, and the catalog entry featured a roster of 26 certification events.

Auctioneers lately estimate that around two dozen are known. It is ranked 11th in the fifth edition of Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth’s 100 Greatest U.S. Coins, where they share, “Until the 1960s, the Mint’s official policy was that it did not make mistakes, despite the fact that its own chief engraver once owned a 1943 bronze cent. Later, that stance was relaxed, and the Mint acknowledges that some 1943 bronze cents could have been produced in error.”

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