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Coin Rarities & Related Topics: 1943-D copper cent, 1795 Reeded Edge cent, 1811/0 cent, and half cent errors

News and Analysis on  coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community, #20

A Weekly Column by Greg Reynolds

I had originally intended to write this week about a variety of coins that were offered in the recently concluded Southern California auctions by the Goldbergs and Heritage. News regarding auction results, however, has been superseded by a 1943-D copper cent selling privately for a reported price of “$1.7 million.” So, I will discuss this piece, some of the early copper in the Goldbergs auction, and the 1811/0 overdate large cent that Heritage sold. This column is devoted to copper.

I. 1943-Denver Mint Copper Cent

In 1943 only, in order to allocate more copper for purposes relating to World War II, U.S. cents were made of zinc coated steel and have a whitish-steely appearance. Probably by accident, a few were struck in copper, almost certainly on planchets (prepared blanks) that were leftover from 1942. Perhaps a few copper planchets were temporarily stuck in the hoppers and became loose over time. Likewise, some 1944 cents were accidentally struck on steel planchets dating from 1943.

I am very skeptical of claims that any of these off-metal strikings were intentionally made. It is possible that U.S. Mint employees may have discovered one or more such errors and intentionally released them from the premises. These are, though, probably true errors. In the 1940s, it would have been extremely difficult, perhaps impossible, for U.S. Mint employees to strike their own fantasy pieces.

Ten or eleven 1943 Philadelphia Mint copper cents and five to seven San Francisco Mint 1943 coppers are known. Curiously, only one 1943-Denver Mint copper cent is believed to exist. It is PCGS graded MS-64 and Laura Sperber sold it to a collector for “$1.7 million.”

Stewart Blay feels “the price has been inflated because the buyer seeking the coin is a billionaire. He loves coins. He wanted to own it and eventually paid what the owner was willing to accept.” Blay is the leading collector of Lincoln Cents and is a long-time participant in coin markets. Stewart also collects silver coins.

A price of “$1.7 million” is, by far, a record price for a Lincoln Cent and for a Mint Error of any kind. For the same collector, Sperber was responsible for the previous record of $373,750 that a 1944-S steel cent realized in the Summer 2008 ANA Auction, which was conducted by Heritage in Baltimore. Furthermore, a 1943-S copper cent was sold privately, a day or so earlier, at the Summer 2008 ANA Convention. I focus on both coins in a two part series that I wrote shortly after this convention ended (Part 1).

Sperber reveals that this “deal really was four years in the making. We agreed to terms in late July. The deal closed Sept 16th.” A total of $2 million, she says, was paid for three items, this 1943-D, a 1944 Philadelphia Mint steel cent and a 1942 pattern cent in “white metal.” This collector is “not seeking” patterns, Sperber relates, “the white metal pattern was just part of the deal.”

Sperber used to collect these off-metal strikings herself. The building of this set “started when” Laura sold this collector her “personal 1943-S PCGS AU-58” copper cent, “which he still has.” She and this collector “have been working on [a set of 43-PDS coppers and 44-PDS steels] for about five years.” Sperber maintains that “completing the 1944 [three piece steel] set was a very underrated piece of work.” I (this writer) point out that there are only two or three known 1944-S steel cents and Sperber acquired the finest 1944-S steel in 2008, as I then reported (in part 2).

Much background information regarding the rarity and importance of 1943 coppers and 1944 steel cents may be found in my two part series in 2008: part 1, part 2.  I also discussed then the reasons why 1943 coppers and 1944 steel cents are extremely popular.

To save time and space, I usually refer to all coins, patterns, and errors that are at least 90% copper as being ‘copper.’ The distinction between copper and bronze, which is usually 95% copper, is beside all points put forth herein. (more…)