Why is the 1944 penny rare? The 1944 penny holds intrigue for coin collectors and history buffs alike. At first glance, this Lincoln cent may look ordinary. But a closer inspection reveals an unusual and scarce piece of Americana.
If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: The 1944 penny is rare because the U.S. Mint produced very few copper pennies that year due to copper shortages during World War II. Most 1944 pennies are made of steel.
In this guide, you’ll learn all about the unique history of the 1944 wheat penny. We’ll explore why so few copper examples were made, making them valuable collector’s items today.
Wartime Changes for U.S. Coinage
Steel Wheat Pennies
During World War II, copper was considered a critical war material and was needed to manufacture artillery shells and communication wires. To conserve copper for the war effort, the U.S. Mint experimented with alternative metals for coins in 1942.
One result was the 1943 steel wheat penny. These pennies were made of an alloy of zinc-coated steel and represented an important wartime sacrifice on the home front. Over 1 billion steel cents were minted in 1943 before the Mint reverted to using copper in 1944.
The 1943 steel penny was unpopular with the public because the zinc coating frequently rusted, giving the coins a brown and unattractive appearance. Many people believed the coins were temporary and would not retain their value, so they quickly disappeared from circulation during the war.
Today, steel wheat pennies are treasured by collectors and command significant premiums over face value due to their relative rarity.
Limited Copper Pennies
In 1944, the Treasury Department approved a limited run of new Lincoln wheat pennies made from reclaimed copper shell casings. These 1944 copper pennies were struck to commemorate the return of peace and prosperity after the war’s end.
But the war was still raging in 1944, and copper remained a critical material.
As a result, only a few million 1944 copper cents were minted in Denver before the pennies reverted to steel. The 1944 ‘D’ copper penny is considered one of the 20th century’s key coin errors and is highly coveted by collectors today.
About 20 confirmed 1944 Philadelphia copper pennies also exist, struck by accident when copper-alloy planchets were caught in the press. These coins are estimated to be worth over $100,000 each. Auction house Heritage sold a 1944 Philadelphia copper penny in January 2019 for the staggering sum of $204,000!
So next time you get some spare change, be sure to check those Lincoln wheat cents for a rare wartime copper treasure hiding in plain sight!
Identifying a 1944 Copper Penny
Date and Mint Mark
In 1944, the U.S. Mint switched the compositions of the penny from a bronze alloy (95% copper, 5% zinc, and tin) to zinc-coated steel due to copper shortages during World War II. As such, most 1944 pennies are steel and magnetic, while copper versions are rare and valuable to collectors.
Genuine 1944 copper pennies will have a small “D” (for the Denver mint), “P” (for the Philadelphia mint), or “S” (for the San Francisco mint) below the year to indicate where they were made. No mint marks indicate a Philadelphia striking.
Color and Weight
A real 1944 copper penny will have a distinctive bronzy orange-red color compared to the silver appearance of steel cents. They also weigh around 3.11 grams compared to 2.7 grams for the steel version since copper is denser and heavier than zinc.
Be wary of pennies that have been copper-plated to resemble a rare 1944 copper cent. Look for uniform plating and wear around the highest surfaces and edges. The difference in weight should also give away any copper-plated fakes.
Professional coin dealers and grading services like PCGS or NGC can authenticate and grade any 1944 pennies you find in circulation or collections. This includes analyzing the surface patina, strike marks, weight, metallic properties, and wear.
Grading sets like the Sheldon Scale help assess preservation and set fair market value.
There are only around 20-30 authentic 1944 copper cents known to collectors today. Most are well-worn and grade Good-4 to Very Good-8, with some costing over USD 100,000 in mint state grades. Even lower-grade copper examples sell for thousands to interested Lincoln penny collectors when verified as genuine.
The Value of a 1944 Copper Penny
The value of a rare 1944 copper penny depends greatly on its grading condition according to professional coin grading services. Higher grades translate into substantial monetary premiums for these scarce Lincoln cents.
Important factors examiners consider include the amount of wear, marks, scratches, and luster.
An example is an MS-65 RD designation from PCGS or NGC, indicating a coin with no discernible wear and remarkable eye appeal. Such a pristine gem will trade for over $100,000 at auction. This lofty assessment means protected surfaces without notable blemishes under 5x magnification and a complete original mint red color.
Toning can detract from value.
Lower conditions still carry significant premiums but diminish exponentially compared to mint state coins. For instance, an AU-58 specimen may realize around $10,000 during bidding. At this level, slight friction shows under scrutiny but no major marks or distractions are present.
Auction Sale Prices
In January 2022, an MS-63 RD example certified by PCGS sold on HA.com for $336,000. Its sharp strike and original bright red color attracted fierce bidding. Likewise, in 2018 Stack’s Bowers traded an MS-62 example for $282,000.
Toned around the peripheries but with blazing mint luster, it nearly reached mint state status.
On the lower end, dealers and collectors may sell coins with certified AU details for around $5,000-$10,000. This includes pieces with minor problems like light cleaning or scratches. Still an enormous profit versus face value!
Owning a Rare 1944 Penny
Buy from Reputable Dealers
When looking to purchase a rare 1944 penny, it is crucial to buy only from reputable coin dealers. Many counterfeits of this valuable coin exist, so having an expert evaluate the authenticity is key. Legitimate dealers will provide certification from grading services like PCGS or NGC confirming that your penny is real.
They often specialize in rare coins and can educate you on detecting fakes before buying. Checking dealers’ credentials with organizations like the Professional Numismatists Guild can help identify trustworthy sources too.
Reputable dealers may charge higher premiums for rare 1944 pennies in top condition, but they give you peace of mind that your investment is secured. Paying more for coins vetted by experts saves you from accidentally buying fraudulent copies. Always be wary of deals that seem too good to be true!
Safe Storage and Handling
To preserve the value of your rare 1944 penny, proper storage and handling methods are vital. Avoid touching the coin’s surface to prevent fingerprints or scratches which can significantly reduce its grade and worth. Wear cotton gloves when inspecting the penny.
For storage, specialty coin folders or capsules are ideal. These inert containers protect from exposure to air, which can trigger toning or spotting on coin surfaces. Storing coins in paper envelopes, cardboard holders, or uncirculated mint sets is not recommended long-term since these provide less protection.
An additional safeguard is to keep coins in a safety deposit box, home safe, or bank vault. This shields your rare pennies from fire, flood, or theft risks. Be sure your homeowner’s insurance policy has a rider covering your coin collection too!
Taking measures to properly handle and store rare 1944 pennies maintains their condition and value over time. Precious coins like these are investments worth protecting.
Other Key Date Lincoln Pennies
The 1909-S VDB Lincoln wheat penny is widely considered one of the most coveted and valuable Lincoln cents. The S mintmark indicates it was produced at the San Francisco mint, while the VDB initials of designer Victor David Brenner are inscribed on the reverse underneath the wheat stalks on Lincoln’s shoulder.
Only 484,000 of these coins were minted due to production halts to modify Brenner’s designer initials, making the 1909-S VDB one of the lowest mintage Lincoln pennies. Its scarcity and popularity amongst collectors means that an example in well-struck red uncirculated condition can sell for over $1,000 at auction.
With a mintage of only 866,000, the 1931-S Lincoln wheat cent is a prime rarity of the series. The 1931-S was struck at the San Francisco mint when demand for cents declined during the Great Depression.
As one of the lower mintage dates of the series, the 1931-S frequently sells for over $200 if nicely preserved.
Only two mintmarked Lincoln wheat cent dates have lower production figures – the 1909-S VDB and 1914-D. The 1931-S Lincoln cent is considerably more affordable and available than those two key dates, making it popular with collectors seeking an impressive rarity that won’t break the bank.
1955 Doubled Die Obverse
The most famous and widely collected Lincoln wheat cent variety is the 1955 doubled die obverse. This striking error occurred when the obverse die impression doubled during minting, creating strong split lines and notches around Lincoln’s portrait and date.
Around 20,000 to 24,000 of these coins were released into circulation before the error was caught at the Philadelphia Mint. As the most popular mint error in U.S. numismatic history, the 1955 doubled die is highly coveted amongst Lincoln cent enthusiasts, with prices frequently exceeding $1,000 for mint state examples.
Why Is The 1944 Penny Rare – Conclusion
While most 1944 pennies are common, the rare copper versions stand out as true numismatic treasures. These scarce coins give us a glimpse into the upheavals on the U.S. homefront during WWII.
Owning a 1944 copper cent is a special privilege. With only a few dozen authenticated samples known to exist, they’re emblems of both wartime sacrifice and enduring American craftsmanship.