A 1943 penny, or “one cent piece,” as the Mint would prefer to hear you say, is a penny produced in the year 1943. 1943 pennies are particularly remarkable because of the circumstances of their manufacture. Shortages of copper related to the Second World War forced the United States Mint to abandon the use of copper in the manufacture of one cent pieces in 1943, with zinc-plated steel being used instead. When 1943 steel pennies turn up, people are often surprised, and people who are not familiar with the history of the one cent piece may think that they have made a remarkable numismatic discovery, though this is not the case.
In fact, the more remarkable discovery would be a 1943 penny made from copper. Although the vast majority of pennies produced in 1943 were made from zinc-plated steel, giving them a silvery appearance, around 10 to 40 pennies, depending on which source you believe, were accidentally produced from copper. According to legend, this is due to a mistake made in a Mint facility, in which copper slugs were accidentally left in the dies for the pennies. A copper 1943 penny is an extremely valuable item, as so few were made, and collectors vie fiercely every time one appears on the open market.
The 1943 penny is part of a series of pennies known as “wheat pennies,” after the crossing sheaves of wheat on their backs. The wheat penny design was abandoned in 1958 in favor for a design featuring the Lincoln Memorial. Along with the 1955 double die penny, the 1943 copper penny is one of the most valuable pennies around. One 1943 penny sold for over $80,000 US!
Because the real copper 1943 penny is such a rarity, some people have attempted to forge this collector's item. There are several clues which can be used to confirm that a 1943 copper penny is genuine. These pennies do not have a magnetic attraction which is present in copper-plated 1943 pennies, and they also have an especially crisp impression, because the dies were calibrated to strike steel, a harder metal than copper. If you find a copper penny from 1943, it should be taken to a numismatics specialist for evaluation.
Incidentally, there are a few 1944 pennies made from steel, probably in much the same way that 1943 copper pennies were produced. 1944 steel pennies are also considered valuable due to their rarity, as are the 1974 pennies made from aluminum in an experimental test run which the Mint later abandoned.