World War 2 Penny Errors Star at ANA Convention, Part 1: 1943-S Copper trades on the bourse floor
by Greg Reynolds for CoinLink
From July 30 to Aug. 3, thousands of coin collectors flocked to Baltimore to attend the annual Summer ANA Convention. Among the most newsworthy of events at the Convention were the sales of two San Francisco Mint pennies. On July 30, a 1943-S copper cent sold on the bourse floor and, on July 31, a 1944-S steel cent sold at auction. The topic here is the copper cents of 1943, with emphasis upon this specific 1943-S copper cent. In part 2, steel cents of 1944 will be discussed, with the focus being upon the 1944-S that set an astounding record, along with additional reasons as to why 1943 coppers and 1944 steel cents are interesting and important.
Why are certain 1943 and 1944 pennies valuable? More than one billion Lincoln Cents were minted in 1943 and more than two billion in 1944!
From 1864 to 1942, and from 1944 to early 1982, U.S. one cent coins were typically 95% copper. Usually, the other 5% was a mixture of tin and zinc. For simplicity, it makes sense to refer to a coin that is 95% or more copper as being ‘copper’! From 1982 to the present, Lincoln Cents have been made of copper-plated zinc. Though the overall percentage of copper is very small, the copper plating of post-1982 cents causes them to appear to most people as if they consisted primarily of copper. So, people are accustomed to thinking of cents as being copper.
In 1943 only, in order to devote more copper for purposes relating to World War II, U.S. cents were made of zinc coated steel. In 1944, copper was employed again, and steel cents were not supposed to be minted.
Steel cents of 1943 have sort of a silvery-white look. It is readily apparent that these are not composed of copper. For unknown reasons, however, a few 1943 cents were minted in copper, and are extremely rare. It is generally believed that a few leftover copper planchets (prepared blanks) were stuck, for a while, in the mechanism that channeled the planchets to the coinage presses. As these copper planchets became unstuck eventually, due to the movements within the mechanisms, and joined the flow, they were struck into coins. Conversely, in 1944, a few steel cents were minted as a consequence of leftover steel planchets joining the flow of copper planchets.
So, 1943 copper cents and 1944 steel cents are off-metal strikings. These are the most famous of all mint errors. Moreover, as there are no extremely rare dates in the Lincoln Cent series, wealthy collectors often collect certain errors ‘as if’ these were regular issues and include them in sets of Lincoln Cents.
In the history of coin collecting, 1943 copper cents and 1944 steel cents are especially famous. These are of great sentimental value to adult collectors who collected Lincoln cents as kids. As 1943 copper cents and 1944 steel cents have been found in circulation, or in bankrolls, these became rarities that are legends among beginning collectors and the general public.
These 1943 and ‘44 Lincoln Cent rarities gained much more attention than rarities that are known only to people who have made an effort to learn about rare coins. U.S. gold coins, for example, have not widely circulated since the early 1920s, if then. Very few people alive now have witnessed a rare gold coin being found in change. Moreover, people who now possess rare gold coins are usually aware that they have valuable coins even if they do not understand them. In contrast, a 1943 copper cent could very surprisingly emerge from a trunk in someone’s basement, a storage box in an attic, or a chest of family heirlooms. Further, many people have jars of pennies lying around, some of which have remained untouched for years or decades. The fact that steel cents of 1944 and especially copper cents of 1943 have been found by kids, by beginning collectors, and by people who are not affluent, has contributed greatly to the fame of these items.
The 1943-S copper cent that sold at the 2008 ANA Convention was, in 1944, found in change by Kenneth Wing, Jr., who was fourteen years old at the time. Later, he became an architect and practiced in Long Beach, California. In 1948, Wing’s family traveled to San Francisco and showed it to officials at the Branch Mint. Informally, San Francisco Mint officials rendered an opinion that it is genuine. In 1957, two curators at the Smithsonian Institution stated that it is definitely authentic.
In Walter Breen’s comprehensive encyclopedia, which was published in 1988, Breen discusses two 1943 copper cents that were found by teenagers in circulation. In 1959, Breen authenticated a 1943 copper cent that a student found in change in 1947, at his high school cafeteria in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
Another teenager found a 1943 copper cent in circulation at some point prior to June 1958. It was to be auctioned by Abe Kosoff’s firm at the ANA Convention in 1958. Shortly before the auction was to begin, the father of the kid who found it withdrew it. Kosoff mentions this event in a letter to Kenneth Wing, Jr., which was dated October 8, 1958. This 1943 Philadelphia copper cent was later PCGS certified ‘MS-61 Brown.’ It was auctioned by Superior Galleries in Oct. 2000 and by the Goldbergs in Feb. 2003, at which time it realized $97,750.
The Kenneth Wing 1943-S copper cent has never been auctioned. Wing died in 1996 and his heirs did not view his coins for a long time. This summer, they sold the Kenneth Wing 1943-S copper cent to Steve Contursi’s firm, Rare Coin Wholesalers. Contursi has owned many of the greatest, most famous, and/or most valuable U.S. coins. He currently owns the finest known 1794 dollar and the ‘King of Siam’ Proof Set, which includes an 1804 dollar. Contursi, however, declared that he had never before owned a 1943, ‘43-D or ‘43-S copper cent. This was his first 1943 ‘off-metal’ penny, and Contursi had wished to own one for a very long time.
On the first day of the ANA Convention, Wed. July 30, Paul Simonetti spotted the Kenneth Wing 1943-S at the RCW bourse table. Simonetti was thrilled to see it. Simonetti started collecting Lincoln Cents when he was eight years old and eventually found a 1914-D in change. By age twelve or thirteen, he desired 1943 copper cents, but he never found or otherwise acquired one. Simonetti was recently appointed Senior Vice President at Park Avenue Numismatics.
Simonetti has a client who enjoys owning special coins, and “dreamed” of owning such a cent. At the Rare Coin Wholesalers table, Simonetti was told that the 1943-S copper was “not for sale.” Undeterred, Simonetti talked to Bob Green, the president of Park Avenue Numismatics. A short while later, Green and Simonetti went over to the RCW table to converse with Contursi and Todd Griffiths. Bob and Paul persuaded Steve and Todd to sell the coin at a substantial profit for RCW. Although the dealers involved will not specify the purchase price, a reliable source suggests that it was in the neighborhood of $150,000.
Very soon afterwards, Simonetti sold the Wing 1943-S copper to his client, who, Paul says, “definitely has a passion for coins.” This client does not seek to complete sets. Instead, he buys coins that he finds to be exciting, including a 1916-D dime, a 1916 Standing Liberty Quarter, a Gobrecht silver dollar, and “a few early $10 gold coins.”
Green would like his firm to buy another 1943 Philadelphia, Denver or San Francisco copper cent. Green declares that he “will pay a $10,000 finder’s fee to anyone who provides a lead” that results in his purchase of another genuine piece. When Kenneth Wing’s heirs brought the Wing 1943-S to Rare Coin Wholesalers, Contursi arranged for it to be submitted to the NGC, where it was authenticated, encapsulated, and graded AU-53 with a designation that its color is ‘Brown.’
When I viewed this Kenneth Wing 1943-S, I was puzzled by the level of design detail, especially for a coin that had several scratches and other marks, considerable rim wear, and noticeable friction from brief, though significant, circulation. In particular, I was startled by the boldness of the numerals and the relatively high relief of the ‘S’ mintmark. To be honest, I was concerned. I was re-assured, however, when I read Walter Breen’s explanation as to why 1943-P, -D and -S copper cents all have “exceptionally sharp strikings” [encyclopedia, 1988, p. 227]. Steel planchets (prepared blanks) were thinner than copper cent planchets. In 1943, the dies were ’set-up’ to come closer together in order to properly impact the thinner steel planchets. Therefore, in the extremely rare instance that a copper blank was struck, more of the hot metal of the planchet was forced into some upper recesses of the dies resulting in some higher, crisper design elements.
On the whole, the Wing 1943-S is an interesting coin that has a neat look. A gem quality 1943-S copper cent does not exist.
In February 2000, the firm of Ira & Larry Goldberg auctioned a 1943-S copper cent that is (or was) NGC certified ‘MS-61 Brown.’ The price realized is reported to be $115,000. This same coin was sold by Superior Galleries in 1974 and in June 1997.
A PCGS graded VF-35 1943-S copper cent was auctioned two or three times from 1999 to 2001. It is likely to be the same one that was offered by Jay Parrino, in a fixed price, during the same era.
Laura Sperber states that she “personally owned the PCGS AU-58 ‘43-S and the 1943 [Philadelphia] NGC MS-63 Brown — the finest known 1943 copper.” She had these in 2005, and sold them in 2006 or 2007. Her ‘43-S is probably the same one that ANR auctioned for $138,000 in March 2004.
The ANR cataloguer, in 2004, listed four different 1943-S copper cents, and mentions the possible existence of one other. The Kenneth Wing 1943-S was not then known to the ANR cataloguer. The consensus now among Lincoln Cent experts seems to be that there are seven known, though it is not clear to me that seven distinct, clearly authentic 1943-S coppers have really been identified.
In a June 2001 presentation to the Chicago Coin Club, researcher Tom DeLorey stated that there are thirteen 1943 Philadelphia copper cents known. My guess is that there are, at most, ten or eleven. Sometimes, 1943 coppers that were previously thought to be authentic are later found to be forgeries.
On several occasions, especially from 1999 to 2001, Heritage has auctioned a circulated 1943 Philadelphia copper cent. In addition, Heritage and other firms have auctioned 1943 Philadelphia Cents that were struck on planchets (prepared blanks) that were intended for foreign coins, some of which are primarily copper. Over the years, the U.S. Mint has struck millions of coins for foreign countries, presumably as a business. It seems that quite a few non-steel planchets entered the manufacturing process for 1943 Philadelphia cents.
Is only one 1943-D copper cent known? The Goldbergs auctioned one in 2003. DeLorey believes that this 1943-D copper cent is unique, as does David Lange, who authored a book on Lincoln Cents. The same coin was auctioned in May 1996 by Superior Galleries, which was then operated by the Goldbergs. My impression is that it was NGC certified MS-64 Brown in 1996 and PCGS certified MS-64 Brown before the Feb. 2003 auction, in which it realized $212,750. This was the auction record for a Lincoln Cent until it was broken when a 1944-S Steel Cent sold for more during Platinum Night on July 31, 2008. This new record, 1944 steel cents in general, and additional reasons as to why 1943 coppers and 1944 steel cents are important, will be discussed in part 2.
©2008 Greg Reynolds
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About the Author
Greg Reynolds is a numismatic writer, researcher and analyst. Greg has examined almost all of the greatest U.S. coins and most of the finest type coins and patterns, He has extensively researched the pedigrees of important numismatic properties, and he has written about and analyzed numerous auctions, private sales and collections.
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