How to tell if a 1943 copper penny is real? In 1943, the U.S. Mint changed the composition of the penny from copper to steel due to copper shortages during World War II. However, a small number of 1943 pennies were erroneously minted in copper. These rare copper 1943 pennies are highly valuable to coin collectors, with some selling for over $100,000.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Look for a ‘1943’ date and examine the color, weight, and details to determine if it’s a rare copper version. Genuine 1943 copper pennies have a distinct reddish tint, weigh around 3.11 grams, show clear steps on Monticello, and magnets won’t stick to them.

This article will teach you how to examine 1943 pennies closely to determine if you have a genuine copper version. We’ll go over what to look for in terms of color, weight, magnet test response, and details, as well as how to verify authenticity.

Background on 1943 Steel Pennies

In 1943, the United States Mint was facing a copper shortage due to the demands of World War II. Copper was a critical material needed for making ammunition and other wartime necessities. As a result, the U.S. Treasury Department approved the temporary use of steel planchets for making Lincoln penny coins rather than the usual bronze (95% copper, 5% tin, and zinc) planchets.

This marked the only time in U.S. history that steel was used for pennies.

Switch to Steel Planchets

The steel switch was abrupt – the last 1943 copper pennies were struck in January 1943 at the Philadelphia Mint. The steel pennies bear the same Victor David Brenner design for the Lincoln cent on one face and the wheat stalks design on the reverse side.

They have the same specifications as regular bronze pennies in dimensions, weight, and thickness. About 700 million steel 1943 pennies were minted.

The steel pennies were met with strong public disapproval because they were prone to rusting and stamping imperfections. They were sometimes confused with dimes if the ridges on the rim were obliterated from use.

After public outcry, the mint decided to coat the 1944 steel pennies with zinc to protect them from corrosion and also added an initial S mint mark on coins from San Francisco.

How to Tell If Steel from Copper

There are a few key features that distinguish real steel 1943 pennies from their bronze counterparts or fraudulent copies:

  • A strong magnet will attract a steel penny, but not affect a copper one.
  • Steel pennies weigh around 2.7 grams versus 3.11 grams for copper pennies.
  • Steel pennies have a distinctive high-pitched “ring”, while copper coins make a dull thud when dropped.
  • Steel pennies lack the typical copper shine, often having a grayish hue.

The differences are easy to spot in a side-by-side comparison. There are also coin authentication services that can professionally verify if a 1943 coin is made from steel or copper.

Steel pennies in worn but recognizable condition can fetch $1 or more – far exceeding face value – while copper versions sell for upwards of $100,000 given their rarity.

Counterfeit Copies

Counterfeit replicas also turn up and sometimes deceive inexperienced collectors. Fakes are generally made by plating steel slugs with copper or bronze alloys. Careful examination and tests will show tooling marks, bubbles, seams, and other irregularities not seen on genuine coins.

The weight will also be incorrect on counterfeits. Authentication services use imaging and roughness sensors to easily weed out fraudulent 1943 pennies mimicking scarce copper composition.

Total 1943 Penny Mintage 706,694,320
Estimated Number of Copper 1943 Coins 35-40
Value of Worn Steel 1943 Penny $1-3
Value of Genuine 1943 Copper Cent Over $100,000

In 1944 and 1945, minting reverted to the standard 95%-copper bronze alloy as copper demands declined. No more steel pennies have been made since. The rare 1943 copper penny remains one of the most prized coins in circulation.

Color and Surface Appearance

The color and surface appearance of a 1943 copper penny can provide important clues as to whether it is real or counterfeit. Genuine 1943 copper pennies have a distinctive bright, reddish-orange color while fakes often appear more brown or bronze in hue.

Additionally, authentic 1943 coppers will exhibit a glowing luster when tilted under light whereas counterfeits tend to have a duller, darker tone.

When examining the surface of a 1943 copper penny, check for signs of wear and tear. Real coins that have been in circulation for decades will show some natural smoothing of finer details. However, the basic design elements should still be visible and not excessively worn down.

Fakes may attempt to mimic years of wear but often go too far, with details being virtually unrecognizable.

Lastly, examine the coin’s surface for any obvious man-made errors or alterations. Authentic 1943 coppers will generally not have any visible cuts, scrapes, scratches, or other unnatural defects. Counterfeits may display these signs of tampering if they have been manually tooled or altered to mimic the real thing.

Any such artificial defects are a clear warning sign that the coin may not be genuine.

By carefully inspecting the color, luster, wear, and surface quality of a 1943 copper penny, collectors can reliably judge authenticity. While fakes may at first appear convincing, their deviation from the specific qualities of verified museum-grade coppers will reveal their true nature upon close examination.

Weight and Dimensions

When examining a 1943 copper penny to determine if it is real or counterfeit, assessing the coin’s weight and dimensions is an important step.


A real 1943 copper penny should weight 3.11 grams. This is the standard weight for all Lincoln wheat pennies minted from 1909-1958. Counterfeit copper 1943 pennies may have an inaccurate weight that is lighter or heavier than 3.11 grams.

Using a jeweler’s scale or precision gram scale, weigh your 1943 penny. If the weight deviates significantly from 3.11 grams, it may indicate a fake. However, wear over time can cause slight variations in weight, so a small deviation like 3.08 grams may not necessarily mean it’s counterfeit.


An authentic 1943 copper Lincoln wheat penny should have a diameter of 19mm. This is slightly larger than a modern penny, which has a diameter of approximately 18mm.

Use a ruler, calipers, or coin grading tools to measure your coin’s diameter. If it strays too far from 19mm, the coin is likely not genuine.


The thickness of real copper Lincoln wheat pennies is approximately 1.5mm. This thickness applied to all coins in this series minted from 1909 to 1958.

Use calipers to test the thickness of your penny. Counterfeits tend to be thicker or thinner than the standard 1.5mm.

Keep in mind that some variation can occur in thickness due to wear over the years. But the difference should only be slight, usually no more than 0.1-0.2mm at most.

Magnet Test

One easy way to test if a 1943 copper penny is real is by using a magnet. Here’s a step-by-step guide:

  1. Get a strong magnet, such as a neodymium magnet. These powerful rare earth magnets are commonly sold as novelty items and can be purchased online or at many retailers.
  2. Hold the 1943 penny between your thumb and forefinger.
  3. Move the magnet slowly toward the coin until it makes contact.
  4. If the magnet sticks strongly to the coin, it is likely a steel replica or counterfeit. Genuine 1943 copper pennies will not stick to a magnet.

Copper is not magnetic, while zinc and steel – which counterfeits are commonly made from – are attracted to magnets. So if your 1943 penny sticks to the neodymium magnet, it is not authentic. Additionally, you can try sliding the magnet over the surface of the coin.

If there is any pull or drag, that is another sign it is made from a magnetic material and fake.

Using a magnet provides a quick, non-destructive test to gauge the coin’s composition. However, there are exceptions where a real copper penny may be slightly magnetic. This can happen if the coin becomes contaminated by iron or another metal over the years.

So it’s best to combine the magnet evaluation with a visual inspection, weighing, and other verification steps.

You can purchase neodymium rare earth magnets strong enough for coin testing on websites like SuperMagnetMan and K&J Magnetics. Useful strengths for assessing 1943 pennies are N52 and N55 grades.

If a dealer or collector is still uncertain after magnet testing, they may choose to get the coin professionally evaluated by a third-party grading service like PCGS or NGC. Their experts can perform material analysis and other authentication techniques to provide a definitive assessment.

Examine Details Closely

When trying to determine if a 1943 copper penny is real, it’s important to closely examine several key details on the coin. Here are some tips for what to look for:

Date and Mint Mark

Carefully check that the date on the coin says 1943. Also look for the mint mark, which will be a small letter near the year. 1943 copper pennies were struck at the Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco mints, marked with the letters P, D, or S.

Color and Luster

A real 1943 copper penny will have a smooth, glossy, red/orange copper surface. Fake pennies are often discolored or have a different hue. Examine the coin under bright light to check for any unnatural coloration or texture.

Wear and Marks

Many real 1943 copper cents exhibit signs of circulation like scratches, dirt marks, or slight wear. A coin that looks too new and clean could be suspicious. However, mint-condition 1943 coppers also exist and can be verified through professional grading.

Weight and Thickness

Weigh your 1943 penny on a sensitive scale. Genuine copper 1943 Lincoln cents weigh 3.11 grams, while zinc-coated steel fakes often weigh 2.7 grams. Additionally, measure the thickness with calipers. Real deals are 0.037 inches thick.

Carefully examining these details under good lighting and with a magnifying glass can help reveal clues about your coin’s authenticity. When in doubt, consult a professional coin authentication service like PCGS or NGC.

Authenticating With Experts

Verifying the authenticity of a 1943 copper penny can be tricky for non-experts. Consulting with professional coin dealers and appraisers is the best way to confirm if your 1943 penny is the real deal.

Coin Dealers

Many reputable coin dealers across the country specialize in rare and collectible coins. Bring your 1943 copper penny to a dealer in person for them to inspect. With their expert knowledge and tools like microscopes, magnification, and metal detectors, they can examine the coin’s features and determine if it is authentic.

According to the Professional Numismatists Guild, there are over 300 establishments in the U.S. that employ full-time coin experts. Search their directory to find a dealer near you.

Professional Coin Graders and Appraisers

Services like PCGS and NGC employ professional coin graders to authenticate coins and assess their condition. For a fee, you can submit your 1943 penny to them for a detailed analysis.

Their certification of authenticity is globally recognized and would exponentially increase the coin’s value if it were real.

There are also independent appraisal services and auction houses like Heritage Auctions that can determine if your coin is genuine. An appraisal establishes a value, while auction houses can broker the sale of rare coins.

Be Wary of Online Listings

While the internet is convenient, be very cautious of online coin dealers claiming to have a 1943 copper penny. According to the American Numismatic Association, most advertised specimens are counterfeits trying to dupe collectors.

Instead, have the coin evaluated by a reputable professional you can meet face-to-face.

Authenticating a rare coin like the 1943 copper penny requires expert assistance. By utilizing trustworthy coin dealers, grading services, appraisers, and auction houses, they can confirm whether your penny is legitimate.

How To Tell If A 1943 Copper Penny Is Real – Conclusion

Identifying a rare 1943 copper penny takes patience and a careful examination for signs of authenticity. While most 1943 pennies were steel, a few copper coins slipped through. Check the color, weight, magnetic properties, and design details closely.

Additionally, consult a professional coin authentication service before selling a purported 1943 copper penny of significant value.

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