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1943-S Lincoln Cent Struck in Bronze sold by Heritage for $207K

The Amazing Branch Mint Error Rarity Graded VF35 by PCGS

Coming on the heels of Heritage’s offering of a 1943 bronze cent struck at Philadelphia in their January 2010 FUN Auction, Heritage has just sold this 1943-S bronze cent in the February 2010 Long Beach Auction.

Few coins are so misunderstood, so mysterious, so legendary as the 1943 cents struck in bronze, known informally as the 1943 “copper” cents.

In 1943, the U.S. Mint switched from bronze to zinc-plated steel for cent coinage in an effort to conserve copper for use in World War II. Over a billion “Steel Cents” were struck by the three Mints combined in 1943, though a majority of the known 1943 “copper” cents were struck in Philadelphia, not Denver or San Francisco. Fewer than 20 are known.

Most experts believe the error occurred when left-over bronze planchets were mixed with a batch of the new Steel planchets that went through the usual striking methods, then escaped into circulation.

An article by Gary Eggleston stated “In the June issue of the “Numismatist,” 1947, it was reported that a Dr. Conrad Ottelin had discovered a 1943 bronze Lincoln Head cent. A few weeks before Dr. Ottelin’s discovery, Don Lutes, Jr., a 16 year old from Pittsfield, MA, found one in his change from the high school cafeteria. Then in 1958, a boy named Marvin Beyer also found the 1943 bronze cent. With the publicity from all three finds, and estimates that these coins could sell for at least 5 figures (at that time) at auction, a national frenzy was created. Every man, woman and child sifted through their pocket change looking for their fortune.”

Henry Ford, the automobile titan, supposedly offered a new car in exchange for a 1943 “copper” cent.

More Philadelphia Mint 1943 bronze cents are known than D-mint and S-mint errors put together; most recent censuses state that only one 1943-D bronze cent is known, plus seven 1943-S bronze cents. The latter figure, however, may overstate the actual population by one or even two pieces, since most of the known survivors are clustered in a narrow range from AU to low Mint State.

In that respect, this coin is unusual by virtue of its Choice VF grade. It is also a relatively recent entrant to the numismatic marketplace; it was unknown to David Lange in 1996, when he published his Complete Guide to Lincoln Cents, having been “kept for decades” privately by the owner, but sold alongside the Dr. Carl A. Minning, Jr. Collection in an August 1999 auction by Bowers and Merena. How the coin came to be VF, unlike its fellows, remains unclear.

As expected for a VF35 coin, this piece shows light to moderate wear over each side, and the surfaces show a number of light digs and abrasions under magnification. That said, the overall eye appeal is far better than the preceding sentence might suggest. The coin’s glossy olive-gold and mushroom-brown color, accented in cobalt-blue, is highly redeeming, as is the strike. In short, a memorable opportunity for the Lincoln cent enthusiast, which could be either a second chance at a 1943-dated bronze cent or the second step to assembling a “date set” of these famous 20th century rarities.

Ex: The Dr. Carl A. Minning, Jr. Collection (and Other Properties) (Bowers and Merena, 8/1999), lot 1122; The Collections of Phillip Flannagan et al. (Bowers and Merena, 11-12/2001), lot 6076.
From The Alfred V. Melson Collection, Part Two. (#2717)

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