The year was 1943. The world was at war. Tensions are at all times high, both within the United States and in the world. Detroit sees a violent race riot that causes 34 deaths and over 300 injuries. Stalin, Churchill, and Roosevelt meet at the Tehran Conference to discuss war plans and what to do after the war ends.
America needed copper for bullets and shells. But they also need to keep producing money for domestic consumption. So they made pennies out of steel. They looked like silver, but they were not. They were cheap and plentiful. But they were also different.
Some people liked them. Some people hated them. Some people collected them. Some people threw them away. Some people found rare ones that were worth a fortune. Some people never knew.
This article talks about the story of the 1943 steel penny. You’ll walk away with everything you need to know about the coin; how it came to be, how it survived, and how much it is worth today.
The History of the 1943 Steel Penny
War is business, a business that needs lots of copper to build lethal weapons. The army needed all the copper they could get. Therefore, the U.S. government decided to make pennies out of steel instead of copper. Thus, to save copper, U.S. mints created pennies in steel and coated them with zinc so they wouldn’t rust.
The man who came up with this idea was Henry Morgenthau Jr., the Secretary of the Treasury. He thought it would save copper for the war effort and also save money by using cheaper metal. There was no shortage of steel, as mints could use steel from old shell casings as the base metal for pennies.
The folks at the U.S. Mint agreed to his plan and started making steel cents in 1943 in Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco. The man who designed the penny was Victor David Brenner, who had made the Lincoln cent back in 1909. His initials V.D.B. were on some of the coins on Lincoln’s shoulder.
The 1943 steel penny was a sight to see. It didn’t go over well with most people. They said it looked like a dime or a foreign coin. It looked like silver, but it wasn’t. Some machines and gadgets wouldn’t take it or get mixed up with other coins. Some people even tried to fake it by covering it with copper or painting it with bronze.
The U.S. Mint realized they had made a blunder and stopped making steel pennies after 1943. They went back to using copper in 1944, but with a different mix with some of the old shells.
The 1943 steel penny is now something collectors want.
Evaluating a 1943 Steel Penny
Do you have a 1943 steel penny in your possession? Did you find one for sale at a garage sale? If so, you might be sitting on a fortune. But before you get too excited, you need to make sure it’s authentic and not a fake. Here’s how you figure out if the penny in your hands is authentic:
- Weigh it. A genuine 1943 steel penny should weigh about 2.7 grams. If it weighs more or less than that, it could be a copper-plated fake or a different year of penny.
- Measure it. A genuine 1943 steel penny should have a diameter of 19 mm and a thickness of 1.5 mm. If it’s too big or too small, it could be a counterfeit or a different coin altogether.
Editor’s note: The values above don’t apply to bronze 1943 pennies. These are slightly bigger with a diameter of 19 millimeters, and heavier, at 3.11 grams.
Once you’ve figured out you’re dealing with a genuine piece, proceed to the actual evaluation. Grab a magnifying glass, we’re about to do the fun part.
Factors to Examine when Evaluating a 1943 Steel Penny
Each penny has a unique story, but the most value comes from a few factors. Not all factors affect a coin’s value equally — you’ll find coins in the same condition.
Here’s what you need to consider during your examination:
- Condition. A genuine 1943 steel penny should have signs of wear and tear from circulation, such as scratches, dents, corrosion, or discoloration. It could be a fake or a cleaned coin if it looks too shiny or new. Condition is measured according to this chart and goes from 0 to 70, with 70 being the highest grade.
- Mint mark. A genuine 1943 steel penny should have a small letter under the date that indicates the mint that produced it: D for Denver or S for San Francisco. If there’s no letter, it means it comes from Philadelphia. If there’s any other letter or symbol, it could be a fake or an altered coin.
- Surviving population: This is the number of coins from a certain mintage or series that still exist today. Some coins may have been lost, melted down, damaged, or destroyed over time, reducing their availability and increasing their rarity.
- Aesthetic appeal. A valuable 1943 steel penny should have some eye appeal that makes it attractive to collectors, such as precise details, sharp edges, coloration, and luster. It could lower its value if it looks dull, damaged, dirty, or ugly.
You can also consult an expert coin dealer or appraiser who can give you an accurate and professional opinion on your coin. They can also tell you how much your coin is worth based on its rarity and demand.
Let’s now look into the market value of 1943 steel pennies.
The Market Value of 1943 Steel Pennies
When shopping for 1943 steel pennies, you must first decide where to buy one. There are three main avenues for this:
- Online marketplaces like eBay. Here, you’ll find the widest selection of coins, often at reasonable prices. However, it would be best to be extra careful when buying from here, as you can’t inspect the penny before buying; the risk of scams is higher than in other places.
- Coin dealers. There are antique shops that specialize in coins. Here you can buy a coin with complete peace of heart, but prepare to pay a premium. Here is also where you can find an appraiser for your pennies for a fee.
- Auction houses. If you have money and enjoy participating in auctions, here is where you’ll find the next piece for your collection. Those looking for unique pieces should pay close attention to upcoming auctions at major auction houses like Heritage Auctions and Stack Bowers.
Editor’s note: Around 20 pennies from 1943 were mistakenly minted with 95% copper and 5% tin and zinc, making it a bronze penny. An estimated 20 specimens of this coin are surviving today, and their scarcity makes them extremely valuable, with a record auction sale of $840,000 for this MS64BN-D bronze penny in 2021.
For simplicity’s sake, we prepared a list divided by grading categories. This way, you’ll easily figure out visually how much you should pay for your next purchase.
1943 Steel Penny – Poor to Fine (Grades 0 to 15)
Coins in this category are so worn and damaged that they barely resemble their original design, and their value is only a fraction of their face. They are the coins that have been tossed, battered, and heavily suffered the ravages of time.
The cheapest coin in this category is this F12 coin that sold for $46. However, due to the rarity of coins in this category, most are way more expensive:
A couple pennies sold for over $10,000:
1943 Steel Penny – Very Fine to About Uncirculated (Grades 20 to 58)
These coins have varying degrees of wear and tear but have more character and detail than lower-grade coins. Coins with grades from 20 to 58 can range from very fine (VF) to about uncirculated (AU), depending on how well they were struck and preserved. Some of these coins may even have a plus (+) grade, which means they have exceptional eye appeal for their status.
Paradoxically, the most affordable coins in this category are way cheaper than those in the previous one, thanks to their lower rarity:
- This XF40-D coin sold for $6
- This AU58 coin sold for $7
- This AU50-S coin sold for $11
- This XF45/2-S coin sold for $39
Prices grow rapidly and reach the hundreds of dollars:
- This AU50-D/D coin sold for $185
- This AU50 coin sold for $411
- This AU50-S coin sold for $690
- This XF45 coin sold for $1,058
The next price cluster in this category happens at around $3-4,000:
If you are on the hunt for even rarer — and pricier — specimens, there are a few that went for tens of thousands of dollars:
- This EF40 coin sold for $23,000
- This VF35-S coin sold for $51,750
- This AU58 coin sold for $58,750
- This VF35-S coin sold for $62,100
Still not satisfied? Two pennies went for well over $100,000:
1943 Steel Penny – Uncirculated to Select Uncirculated (Grades 60 to 63)
These coins have never been circulated but still have minor flaws or imperfections. They are in mint state (MS), showing no wear or friction. However, they may also have weak striking, bag marks, die cracks, or planchet problems that affect their appearance and value.
Prices start at $3:
- This MS62 coin sold for $3
- This MS60-D coin sold for $7
- This MS61-S coin sold for $6
- This MS62-D/D coin sold for $15
- This MS63 coin sold for $31
Prices then quickly rise up to a few hundreds of dollars:
- This MS63PL-S coin sold for $184
- This MS60 coin sold for $207
- This MS61 coin sold for $307
- This MS61-D/D coin sold for $529
- This MS62 coin sold for $863
Interestingly, only coins from Philadelphia and San Francisco go beyond the above prices, with prices in the thousands and tens of thousands of dollars:
- This MS63 coin sold for $2,530
- This MS60 coin sold for $4,612
- This MS61-S coin sold for $7,763
- This MS62 coin sold for $21,850
The record auction price in this category belongs to this MS61-S coin that sold for $504,000.
1943 Steel Penny – Choice & Gem Uncirculated (64 to 66)
These coins are considered choice (MS-64) or gem (MS-65, MS-66) uncirculated, which means they have no signs of wear or friction and full mint luster. They may also have a star (*) designation, which means they have superior eye appeal for their grade. Coins with grades from 64 to 66 have only minor distracting marks or imperfections that do not detract from their overall appeal and value.
Prices in this category start at around $6:
- This MS64 coin sold for $6
- This MS65 coin sold for $7
- This MS64-S coin sold for $9
- This MS65-D coin sold for $10
- This MS66 coin sold for $18
- This MS66-D coin sold for $22
- This MS64-D/D coin sold for $36
The next big landmark for prices sits at a few hundreds of dollars:
- This MS66 coin sold for $235
- This MS64-D coin sold for $330
- This MS65 coin sold for $660
- This MS64-D/D coin sold for $715
- This MS66/2-S coin sold for $969
There are a bunch of coins that sold for thousands of dollars:
- This MS66/2-S coin sold for $1,440
- This MS66 coin sold for $1,898
- This MS65 coin sold for $2,115
- This MS66-D coin sold for $5,462
- This MS65-D coin sold for $9,400
The record price goes to this MS65 coin that went for $11,400.
1943 Steel Penny – Superb & Perfect Uncirculated (Grades 67 to 70)
If you are looking for antique coins with flawless quality and beauty, you might be interested in coins with grades 67 to 70. These coins are superb gem (MS-67, MS-68) or perfect (MS-69, MS-70) uncirculated, which means they have no signs of wear or friction and full mint luster. They also have no post-production imperfections visible at 5x magnification.
Prices in this category start at $16:
- This MS67-S coin sold for $16
- This MS67 coin sold for $18
- This mS67-D coin sold for $27
- This MS67-S coin sold for $39
The next big price cluster is at a few hundreds of dollars:
- This MS67-D coin sold for $264
- This MS68-D coin sold for $403
- This MS67 coin sold for $605
- This MS67+-S coin sold for $705
Going up in price, we find coins that sell for thousands of dollars:
- This MS67/2-S coin sold for $1,260
- This MS68 coin sold for $2,283
- This MS68-S coin sold for $3,055
- This MS68-S coin sold for $4,583
- This MS67-D/D coin sold for $6,250
Several pennies went for tens of thousands of dollars:
- This MS67+-D/D coin sold for $12,600
- This MS68+-S coin sold for $19,200
- This MS67-D/D coin sold for $21,275
- This MS68+ coin sold for $33,600
F.A.Qs about 1943 Steel Pennies
How do I know if my 1943 steel penny is rare?
The easiest way to determine whether or not a 1943 penny is made of copper or steel is to test it with a magnet. If the coin is magnetic, it is the standard steel version and is not as valuable. If the coin is not magnetic, it might be the rare copper version and should be authenticated by a professional coin dealer or grading service.
Are 1943 pennies legal tender?
1943 steel pennies are still legal tender and can be used to pay for goods and services. However, they are worth more than their face value as collectibles, so it’s not a good idea to spend them.
What is the most expensive 1943 steel penny?
The most expensive 1943 steel penny is this 1943-D stuck on a bronze planchet MS64 penny that sold for $840,000.
Who could have expected 1943 steel pennies to be so valuable? By default, money made of steel is less valuable than copper, silver, or gold money. But since these coins’ value is based on their collectible status rather than the metal they are made of, we see many pennies going for tens — or hundreds — of thousands of dollars.
It all depends on how much money you spend to expand your collection. Veteran collectors tend to have more disposable income and a bigger drive to complete their expansion. Newbie collectors are more about taking baby steps to grow a decent collection. Yet, if you’re on a tight budget, plenty of steel pennies are available at affordable prices.
If you are in the market for a 1943 steel penny, check for its authenticity, as it’s one of the most faked coins out there.
Good luck with your hunt, and remember: if you’re unsure about the authenticity or value of a coin you’ve found, consult a professional appraiser. They will give you an honest evaluation for a small fee, a small price to pay for substantial potential upsides.