What makes a 1943 S steel penny rare? The 1943 steel penny is one of the most famous error coins in U.S. numismatic history. But out of the different mints that produced steel cents that year, the 1943 S steel penny stands out as exceptionally rare and desirable to collectors and investors.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: The 1943 S steel penny’s rarity, condition, grade, and demand contribute to its high value compared to other steel cent varieties. Only 20 known examples exist today.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about the rare 1943 S steel wheat penny: its backstory and origins, mintage details, current value and worth, how to authenticate real examples and tips for proper storage and conservation.

The Backstory Behind Steel Cents in 1943

Why the U.S. Mint Switched Composition in 1943

In 1943, the United States Mint made a drastic change to the penny – switching from the standard bronze alloy to steel coated in zinc. This shift was prompted by critical copper shortages caused by World War II.

Copper was a vital material needed to manufacture essential war supplies like shell casings, telephone wires, and radio parts.

With ramped-up wartime production, the government faced over a potential 200,000 tons copper deficit in 1943. As pennies required significant copper – comprising over 95% of their metal content – the Mint took action to reduce reliance on this constrained resource.

By replacing bronze cents with steel, the government conserved enough copper for over 1.25 billion bullet cartridges.

How Steel Cents Were Produced

The technology used to mint 1943 steel cents was adapted from established steel pressing methods employed in the automobile industry. The process involved sandwiching a zinc coating between two steel layers to improve corrosion resistance.

Compared to softer bronze blanks, the tougher steel made striking coins more challenging. Despite early technical difficulties, nearly 1.1 billion steel cents were turned out in 1943 across three different Mint facilities.

While their steel construction gave the coins a distinctive silvery hue, many people confused the new cents with dimes due to their similar appearance. To address this, the Mint coated the 1943 steel coins with zinc, giving them a darker look.

The zinc coating led to some new problems though, as storage in humid conditions caused pennies to later rust with spotting or streaks.

Minting the 1943 S Steel Cent

The San Francisco Mint in the 1940s

The San Francisco Mint was one of the major coin production facilities in the United States during the 1940s. At the height of World War II, the mint was working overtime to produce coins needed for everyday commerce while vital war materials like copper were being rationed and conserved for the war effort.

According to records from the U.S. Mint, the San Francisco facility struck over 657 million coins in 1943 alone. This high output was necessary as large quantities of coins were sent to U.S. soldiers serving overseas where they were used at military bases and abroad.

The mint was operating 24 hours a day with three shifts of workers to meet the huge demand.

Mintage Figures for the 1943 S Steel Penny

The 1943 S steel wheat penny was produced solely at the San Francisco Mint in 1943 as a wartime substitute for the usual bronze (copper) cents. According to the Red Book guide to U.S. coins, the reported mintage for the 1943 S steel cent is 191,550,000 coins.

However, the actual number of surviving examples today is likely much lower for these 78-year-old coins. Many of the steel cents ended up circulating for decades and suffered corrosion or damage. The coins are also vulnerable to rust if not properly stored.

High-grade, well-preserved specimens of the 1943 S steel penny are quite rare. According to the data site NGC Coin Explorer, they have only certified 87 coins at the mint state 65-grade level or higher. This scarcity adds significant value and collector appeal.

Authenticating a Genuine 1943 S Steel Cent

Color, Luster and Surface Condition

A key indicator of an authentic 1943 S steel penny is its color, luster, and surface condition. Genuine examples exhibit a steely gray tone lacking the bright copper color of normal Lincoln cents. The surface should be mostly smooth and flat with a semi-gloss sheen, free from major marks, scratches, or other signs of mishandling over the years.

Verifying these attributes takes a trained eye and a quality magnifying glass. One tip is to compare the 1943 piece side-by-side with a common 1944 steel cent to check for consistency. Small dark spots or tiny carbon flecks are normal, but extensive dark streaks, heavy pitting, or unnatural rainbow toning bring the coin’s validity into question.

Weight Standards

The standard weight of a 1943 S steel penny is around 2.7 grams, the same as all Lincoln wheat cents of that era. Weighing any coin suspected to be from the rare 1943 S mint is an easy authentication method. Simply use a precision digital scale accurate to 0.1 grams.

Beware that decades of circulation wear or improper storage can lighten the mass over time. Most certified problem-free examples weigh between 2.6 and 2.8 grams. Coins that deviate too far from specifications merit further investigation into signs of counterfeiting or alteration.

For example, copper 1943 cents were once regularly plated to mimic the appearance of steel cents, but the extra density gives them away.

Magnet Test

A key physical property of any 1943 S steel cent is magnetic attraction from the presence of iron in the metal alloy. This stands in contrast to the non-magnetic copper-zinc composition of normal Lincoln cents.

Applying a basic refrigerator magnet provides a quick authentication check – it should cling strongly to a real 1943 steel matte rather than slide off. Powerful neodymium rare earth magnets are even more definitive for detecting if any copper lies underneath a deceptive surface coating.

Just be sure to safely store any verified steel pennies away from magnets over time.

Mint Mark Details

Carefully verifying clear details of the bold S or D mint mark beneath the year 1943 is imperative because Philadelphia coins do not have any mint mark. Many counterfeits lack the proper intricate shape and dimension of a genuine mint mark punched into the central reverse die.

Or they show an indistinct blob lacking crisp definition under magnification indicative of worn-out transfer dies. The relative mintage scarcity of just over 191 million for the 1943 S wheat penny compared to over 1 billion of the 1943 plain Lincoln sent from Philadelphia puts the value and notoriety behind this mint-marked issue.

Grading Condition and Current Value of 1943 S Cents

Grading Scale for Wheat Cents

The most popular grading scale used for wheat cents like the 1943 S steel penny is the Sheldon Numeric Scale. It assigns a number from 1 to 70, with 70 representing a perfect mint state coin and 1 being a barely identifiable coin.

A mint state (MS) coin showing no wear but may have small blemishes or marks is graded 60-70. A lightly circulated coin is Very Fine (VF), graded 20-35. Well-circulated coins fall in the Good (G) range of 4-12.

There are third-party coin grading services that will professionally assess the condition and attributes of wheat cents and encapsulate them with their assessment and a standardized grade. Top services include PCGS, NGC, and ANACS.

Impact of Condition on 1943 S Steel Penny Value

Higher-graded examples of the rare 1943 S steel wheat penny command significant premiums over lower grades. According to the PCGS CoinFacts price guide, an MS-65 example has a value of $285, while an MS-60 is $92. In lower “Good” condition, they are valued at around $15.

Grade Value
MS-65 $285
MS-60 $92
Good (G-4) $15

Condition and grade make a huge impact on 1943 S steel cent value. Even small differences in grade from MS-60 to MS-65 can mean double or triple the collector value. Key attributes that drive premium prices are strong strikes with sharp details and minimal marks or spots.

While lower-grade examples are more affordable, they lack strong eye appeal. Collector demand favors higher-grade specimens. This means value escalates rapidly for MS-63 or MS-64 coins and is finer relative to lower grades.

For valuation guidance from a leading authority, see:

Safe Handling and Storage Recommendations

Collecting and storing rare coins like the 1943 S steel penny requires care and planning to preserve their condition and value over time. Here are some tips for safely handling and storing these prized pieces:

Handling Tips

Whenever you handle your 1943 S steel pennies, it’s important to hold them by the edges or wear cotton gloves. This prevents the oils from your skin from getting onto the coin’s surface, which can affect its appearance and grade.

  • Always pick up coins carefully to avoid drops or damage.
  • Do not clean or polish coins, as this almost always reduces collector value.
  • Place coins in protective plastic flips or sleeves when not being handled.

Proper Storage Conditions

Creating the right storage environment helps rare coins last longer without degrading. Here are some key recommendations from professional coin dealers and collectors:

  • Stable temperature & humidity – Fluctuations can speed up chemical changes on coin surfaces. 65-70°F and 40-50% relative humidity are generally recommended.
  • Acid-free materials -Use non-PVC coin albums, sleeves, and boxes made from inert plastics or untreated wood.
  • Out of direct light – Sunlight or strong UV sources can fade delicate patinas.
  • Secure from movement – Loose storage can cause scratching or chipping during handling. Felt-lined drawers or coin capsules provide a snug fit.
Poor Storage Example Better Alternative
PVC flips Acid-free Mylar flips
Paper envelopes Acid-free cardboard holders
Warm attic Interior closet

By investing some time and effort into proper storage methods, collectors can preserve these little slices of history for decades or generations!

To learn more, see conservation tips from the Smithsonian Museum here and from the American Numismatic Association’s article on storing your collection here.

What Makes A 1943 S Steel Penny Rare  – Conclusion

The 1943 S steel penny stands out as an exceptionally rare 20th-century U.S. coin variety. From its origins during World War II to authentication tips and proper conservation, we’ve covered everything that makes the 1943 S steel cent so unique and valuable compared to other steel pennies from that year.

Understanding the backstory, production details, grading standards, and market demand for this coin informs smart investing and collecting. If you own an authentic high-grade example, proper appraisal, and conservation are key to preserving its worth for years to come.

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