COINage Profile: 1943 Steel Cent

What’s the most common coin that many people think is rare? It’s the 1943 Lincoln steel cent, and it’s the coin profiled here. Struck for one year during the height of World War II to help save copper for the war effort, the 1943 steel cent is a unique-looking coin that relatively few Americans today have seen in-person. Because the 1943 steel cent is scarcely seen in circulation, a lot of folks who happen to find one automatically think it’s a rare coin.

It also doesn’t help that many non-collectors who do know something about 1943 penny often confuse the common steel cent with the rare transitional 1943 bronze cent error. About two dozen 1943 cents were struck on bronze planchets from 1942. These rare errors often make headlines in the general media, and thus the 1943 penny does register as a rarity in the minds of many laypersons who have “heard of” the “rare 1943 Lincoln cent” and therefore think all 1943 pennies are of significant value.

While the 1943 bronze Lincoln cent is indeed a rare coin, it’s much more common steel counterpart is anything but. More than 1 billion 1943 steel cents were struck across the three mints that made them, including those in Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco. A typical, worn 1943 steel cent from any of the three mints is worth about 10 to 50 cents. Uncirculated examples are worth about $1 or more. One widely collected variety, the 1943-D boldly doubled mintmark, is worth about $40 in circulated condition and $100+ in Mint State grades.