The biggest dream of any collector is to happen upon that prized crown jewel, the Monalisa, the Holy Grail of their field—especially doing so for only a fraction of its actual market value. In the world of coin collecting, the 1943 copper penny is one out of the small handful of coins that can lay any claim to this title.

The deepest desire of coin collectors everywhere, the 1943 copper penny is one of the rarest U.S. coins ever produced—a key reason it holds such value.

Editor’s Note:

The 1943 copper penny is also known as the 1943 wheat copper penny because of the image of two heads of wheat on the reverse side of the coin.

Further instrumental to its mystique and extreme financial value is the fact that the coin should have never been made in the first place.

In the years preceding 1943, the U.S. penny featured a mostly copper composition.

However, by 1943, the US, and the rest of the world, were in the heat of World War II. The war increased demand for various metals, including copper (which featured in telephone wires), shell casings, airplanes, automobiles, electronics, and other machinery.

Consequently, the United States Congress passed a law requiring the replacement of the copper penny with a steel variant for the 1943 mint. The U.S. Mint complied with this legislation, minting 1943 pennies that featured a steel core with a zinc-plated exterior.

However, in coin minting, errors occur, and an error from that year produced some of the most valuable coins today.

A production error during that year’s mint—possibly caused by existing copper blanks from the previous years being left forgotten in the mintage machinery—created some copper versions of the 1943 penny.

Editor’s Note:

There were speculations around some copper versions of the 1943 penny existing for years before the first real one was found years later in 1957. This (then phantom) coin instigated an intense search by coin collectors nationwide.

The first confirmed 1943 copper penny was found in circulation by 14-year-old Marvin Beyer, Jr. in 1957. Marvin reportedly turned down an initial $20,000 for the coin, which sold a year later for over $40,000.

Furthermore, the 1943 copper penny was also the topic of several urban legends and false rumors, including one popular one indicating that Henry Ford was offering a new Ford car as a reward to anyone who could provide a copper penny produced in 1943.

So, how much new value did this error create? How much is the 1943 copper penny worth?

For a coin this rare, every 1943 copper penny is guaranteed to be worth a lot irrespective of the condition grade of the coin. With no uncirculated versions of this piece, all of the existing 1943 copper pennies will be coins in circulation with varying levels of wear.

Based on the already found and auctioned pieces, the estimated current value for the 1943 copper pennies ranges between $100,000 and $900,000.

A very tiny amount of these rare specimens have been found (less than twenty so far), and there has been a marked rise in the average price of these coins over the years, with the record auction price moving from sub-$100,000 in the 90s to around $500,000 in 2020.

1943 Copper Penny Mintage and Rarity

Following the 1942 law that allowed the change in the composition of the Lincoln head penny from mostly copper to steel, the U.S. Mint swung into action, producing zinc-plated Lincoln pennies from 1943.

As we highlighted earlier, the 1943 copper penny is a rare error that occurred in that year’s mint, producing a handful of new coins that retained the metal composition from the previous year.

Hence, it is almost impossible to ascertain the exact amount of copper pennies produced in the 1943 mint.

Furthermore, since none of these coins were proof versions or uncirculated releases, all of the 1943 copper pennies that existed entered circulation in the same year. Consequently, it is reasonable to assume that many of these coins must have been lost, destroyed, or worn down beyond recognition over the years.

Consequently, the best we can do is to provide details of the 1943 copper pennies that have been found already and an expert estimate on how many exist.

According to a release from the U.S. Mint, a little over 40 1943 wheat copper pennies are known to exist.

Mint Mint Mark Total Mintage (including steel and copper coins) Total Coins Discovered Expert Estimates of Total in Existence
Philadelphia 684,628,670 12 29
Denver “D” 217,660,000 1 3
San Francisco “S” 191,550,000 6 8

If you discover a new 1943 copper penny, amidst the euphoria, the last thing that would be on your mind is its mint mark, and understandably so.

Any 1943 wheat copper penny is already super valuable irrespective of its mint mark.

However, in collecting, rarity is the name of the game, and even amongst rare items, a selection of even rarer variants often exists.

The rarer Denver (D) and San Francisco (S) variant of the 1943 copper penny will typically cost even more, sitting at or near the top of the estimated value range for 1943 wheat copper pennies.

Unsurprisingly, the most expensive 1943 copper penny ever auctioned, which sold for $840,000, belongs to the rarest category, a Denver mint with the “D” mint mark.

You can expect the 1943 copper pennies with no mint marks (Philadelphia Mint) to be the cheapest of the lot (even though they wouldn’t qualify as cheap compared to most other coins.)

1943 Copper Penny Value

Figuring out a good value chart for the 1943 copper penny is quite problematic, as there is only a tiny sample size of coins and hence the only valid price data comes from auction prices which can change dramatically on the day.

Consequently, the best price rule to follow for 1943 copper coins is that provided you have a full coin that isn’t broken in half, expect to get at least $100,000 for them.

Editor’s Note

Even a half piece of the 1943 copper penny will still retail for a considerable amount. This is because the 1943 copper penny’s value extends beyond the regular numismatics that applies to other collectible coins.

The 1943 wheat copper penny is something of a legend, and this helps to buttress its allure further.

Like other collectible coins, with 1943 wheat copper pennies, pieces with better conditions, top aesthetics, and higher ratings on coin grading scales will fetch a larger ransom, typically auctioning for $250,000 or higher.

Most other 1943 copper pennies will fall between the $100,000 and $250,000 price range.

Counterfeit 1943 Copper Pennies

For a coin with such fame and a matching high price tag, it is no surprise that the 1943 copper penny has spawned some counterfeits.

The extreme collector value attached to the 1943 copper penny has motivated unscrupulous elements to attempt to fool others out of their money by creating and selling fake 1943 wheat copper pennies.

Common methods for counterfeiting this rare coin include coating steel coins from the same year with copper or modifying copper coins from subsequent years (1945,1948, and 1949) by filing the last digit of the date down until it looks like a “3.”

Editor’s Note

During the height of the 1943 copper coin hysteria and the search for what was then a phantom coin, several flea items manufacturers copper-plated steel coins for sale as memorabilia at coin shows and flea markets without any intention to defraud.

However, over the years, these faux copper coins made their way into circulation, leading to false discoveries of 1943 copper coins and possibly factoring in some defrauding attempts.

The extreme rarity of the coin also means that it can be tough for most people to tell if they have an original coin. Almost every treasure hunter seeking the famed 1943 copper penny has never seen one in person and only has a handful of images of the few discoveries to guide their search.

Hence, it isn’t surprising that many people do not even know what a 1943 copper looks like.

What a 1943 Copper Penny Looks Like

A 1943 copper penny looks identical to the steel 1943 copper penny except for its copper constitution and resultant golden, brownish, or even reddish copper hue.

On the reverse, the coin features two wheat stalks flanking the inscriptions “One Cent” and “United States of America” in large bold letters, while the motto “E Pluribus Unum” sits on the top arch of the coin.

The obverse side of the coin features the motto “In God We Trust” up top, an Abraham Lincoln head portrait covering most of the surface area, an inscription of “Liberty” to the left of Abe, and the year 1943 (with a mint mark if any) inscribed to his left.

Unlike the “3” in older pennies (like the 1923 and 1933 pennies,) the “3” in the 1943 penny has a distinct style where the “3” has its lower end extended a bit and does not form a straight arch like the top end.

The 1943 penny was the first to feature this new font type for the number “3,” and all future iterations of the penny maintained this new design.

What a 1943 Copper Penny Looks Like
Credit: wikimedia.org

How to Identify a Real 1943 Copper Penny

So you just found a copper-looking 1943 penny in your granny’s old box and you are probably already mentally planning your trip to Cancun off of the proceeds from the sale. However, before any celebrations begin, you ensure your potential 1943 copper penny is the real deal.

We recommend you carry out 4 tests before furthering plans for that month-long vacation.

Magnet Test

The fastest way to eliminate most fake 1943 copper coins is to hold them up to a magnet. A steel copper-plated coin will stick to the magnet. Unlike steel, copper is a non-magnetic metal, so if your coin is attracted to the magnet, you can immediately rule it out of being an extremely valuable piece.

Eye Test

The next test to put your coin through is a check for its aesthetic integrity.

The best way to execute this test is to place the copper penny alongside a regular 1943 steel penny. An authentic 1943 copper penny must match its steel counterpart to the tee. Check for any discrepancy in the design and the size and shaping of all the elements, any such inconsistency indicates that you most likely have a fake.

We recommend you use a magnifying glass in this endeavor to get an even more precise look.

Furthermore, you should pay special attention to the “3” in the date as it is common way to tell that you have a fake altered coin. The “3” must feature the same elongated lower arch present in the “3” on the steel version of the coin.

1843 liberty error
Credit: thesprucecrafts.com

Weight Test

If your coin passes the first two tests, you should proceed to the weight test.

Weigh your coin using a high precision scale (preferably one with a precision level of at least a tenth of a gram to avoid false positives) to get the exact weight of your coin.

The 1943 copper penny weighs around 3.1 grams compared to the steel version, which only clocks in at 2.7 grams. Hence, if your coin weighs anything less than 3 grams, it is almost certainly a fake 1943 copper penny.

Using Professional Testers

If your coin successfully scales through the three previous tests, the chances are that you have a valuable original on your hands. However, you can never tell for certain until your coin is evaluated and authenticated by a professional.

To find coin experts in your area, consider visiting the dealers’ directory of the American Numismatic Association or contacting the association directly at (800) 367-9723.

What you need is a professional that specializes in grading coins. You want your coin verified for authenticity, graded, and encapsulated, a service that will cost you between $30-$100.

If you find the cost of testing an unverified coin prohibitive, you should consider visiting your local coin dealer or any local seasoned coin collector to get a second look. Most aficionados with trained eyes can tell a counterfeit from the original without hassle.

Editor’s Note:

When dealing with a third-party appraisal of your potentially valuable coin, you must take full safety precautions to avoid losing your coin.

Never let your coin out of your sight; no “testing backroom” where only the professional enters or using services where you send your coin via mail for grading. In either case, an unethical dealer can easily swap your coin for a counterfeit version.

Is the 1943 Copper Penny the Most Expensive Coin?

Due to its extreme popularity and the multitude of urban legends and rumors surrounding it, the 1943 copper penny is the initiation point for many into the world of coin collecting.

Almost every seasoned coin collector can retell details of a myriad of stories they heard about this legendary coin. One common thread that often pops up in many of these stories is that the 1943 copper penny is the most expensive U.S. coin ever.

However, while this tidbit is excellent at capturing the attention of people world over and does make for a great story it is far from the truth. While they might not pack as good of a story as the 1943 copper penny, there are at least a few hundred coins that are rarer and more expensive.

Currently, there are over 100 U.S. coin types that have sold at auction for at least $1,000,000, significantly higher than even the most expensive 1943 copper penny.

The current most expensive U.S. coin in existence is the 1933 double eagle, which auctioned for $18,900,000 in 2021. The 1933 double eagle has only 13 known specimens remaining, 12 of which are held by public institutions, and only the one auctioned coin is privately owned.

FAQs

Is the 1943 Copper Penny Worth $1.7m?

Another common story that floats around about the 1943 copper penny is that it sold for $1.7m and that other coins can be worth the same amount. However, like many similar stories about this coin, this one is false.

In various stories, you will hear different inflated values of these coins that further add to their mystique. Nevertheless, details of public coin auctions are in the public domain, and you can easily access them online.

The most expensive 1943 copper penny pulled in $840,000. So even the most expensive 1943 copper penny has not currently reached the $1m price point. Other average-rated coins from the collection typically retail for between $100,000 and $250,000.

However, future sales of the most expensive 1943 copper penny and other top-rated 1943 wheat copper coins will likely cross the $1m mark soon enough as the prices for the rarest collectible coins from all categories continue to rise yearly.

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