Ever since 1909, the Lincoln penny has been in circulation. It has had several variations throughout the decades including a complete redesign of the tail side. For most of the 20th century, the U.S. Mint used copper to create these common coins. But during one year during World War II, they needed to change their process.
Because copper was needed for the war effort, pennies produced during 1943 needed to be made of another kind of metal. Before we discuss what happened during this exceptional year, we will introduce the more common makeup of Lincoln pennies and how you can know if your penny is worth much more than one cent…
Lincoln pennies usually fall in one of two categories. The pre-1982 penny, which was made of mostly copper, and those minted after ’82. All pennies produced before 1982 were made of 95% copper, with the remaining materials either zinc or tin. After 1982 copper became too valuable so 97.5% of the penny is made from zinc and the rest is copper-plated.
But during the World War II year of 1943, the government decided to strip coppers out of their pennies altogether. Instead, they created pennies of zinc-plated steel or in rarer cases zinc-plated bronze. Instead of putting the useful metal into coins, the government needed the copper for ammunition casings.
The government did their best to remove the steel pennies from circulation after the war. But nonetheless, a few escaped their mass recall. These pennies are rare and highly collectible.
But the few pennies that were minted in bronze during 1943 were done so only in error. Because of this mistake, they are extremely valuable and collectors will pay exuberant sums to obtain them.