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Ask SAM: The rare 1943 copper Lincoln penny
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Ask SAM: The rare 1943 copper Lincoln penny

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Q: I believe I have a 1943 copper Lincoln penny.

J.S.

Answer: It’s extremely unlikely that you do have one, but it could be worth a lot if you actually do.

“The odds are basically like playing the lottery,” said Jeff Nolen, the head of the Winston-Salem Coin Club, who runs the Gold N Silver Shop in Greensboro. He said his shop gets calls all the time from people who think they have found a genuine 1943 copper penny, but in 15 years of business they have never seen a real one come through the door. Most often what people think are the genuine article are copper-plated steel coins, some of which were made for novelty and others as a hoax.

In a report on its website, the U.S. Mint explains that “the 1943 copper–alloy cent is one of the most idealized and potentially one of the most sought–after items in American numismatics. Nearly all circulating pennies at that time were struck in zinc–coated steel because copper and nickel were needed for the Allied war effort.

“Approximately 40 1943 copper–alloy cents are known to remain in existence. Coin experts speculate that they were struck by accident when copper–alloy 1–cent blanks remained in the press hopper when production began on the new steel pennies.”

CoinTrackers.com estimates the value of a genuine 1943 copper penny at more than $60,000, possibly more depending on what mint it’s from and its condition.

Because of their value to collectors, 1943 copper cents are often counterfeited, often by coating steel cents with copper or by carving the dates of 1945, 1948 or 1949 pennies to make the last number look like a “3.” There are even reports of Chinese counterfeits that are virtually impossible for the average person to distinguish from a real one.

“The easiest way to determine if a 1943 cent is made of steel, and not copper, is to use a magnet,” according to the Mint. “If it sticks to the magnet, it is not copper. If it does not stick, the coin might be of copper and should be authenticated by an expert.”

A number “3” in a cent that has had the last number altered looks different; typically, the altered version does not have the “long tail” at the bottom that a legitimate “3” does (the photograph J.S. attached looks like the legitimate 3 on first glance, but it would take careful examination by a coin expert to be sure).As for Chinese counterfeits, you may need a third-party grading service to tell the difference.

If you want to learn more or contact fellow coin enthusiasts for advice, the Winston-Salem Coin Club meets on the second Tuesday every month at 7 p.m. at Miller Park Recreation Center. You can contact Nolen for more information at jknolen@triad.rr.com. The club will have a coin show next month at Miller Park, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, March 28 and 10 to 3 on Sunday, March 29.

Email: AskSAM@wsjournal.com

Online: journalnow.com/asksam

Write: Ask SAM, 418 N. Marshall St., Winston-Salem, NC 27101 

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