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Legendary Off-Metal Error

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1943 CENT Struck on a Bronze Planchet MS61 Brown NGC. Ex: Albert Michael Pratt. (3.09 g). Obverse die break.

Wartime demand for copper caused the U.S. Mint to change the composition of the Lincoln cent planchet in 1943, from the usual bronze alloy to zinc-plated steel. As might be expected, there were some rough spots in the transition, one of which resulted in the creation of the most popular and valuable wrong-planchet error in the U.S. series. It seems a small number of bronze planchets became lodged in the trap door of a tote bin used to feed blanks into the coin presses at the end of 1942. Then the tote bin was refilled with steel planchets to strike cents early in 1943. A few bronze blanks became dislodged in the process, and were fed into the coin press, along with the regular steel planchets, resulting in the famous 1943 “copper” cents. All three active Mints experienced this phenomenon, and perhaps 20 examples are known from the Philadelphia Mint today, with fewer examples from San Francisco, and a single coin from the Denver facility.

Rumors of the fabulous error became widespread in the national press long before any example was reliably confirmed. The general public became fascinated with the issue, and its fame reached far outside regular numismatic channels. Advertisements appeared in newspapers, comic books, and radio shows. It was rumored (falsely) that Henry Ford would give anyone who found a “copper” 1943 cent a new car. The hysteria spawned a large number of altered-date counterfeits and copper-plated 1943 steel cent fakes. When the first legitimate examples surfaced in the late 1940s, the issue already commanded astronomical prices that led to even more excitement in the press. Recent sales include the MS62 Brown NGC specimen that realized $282,000 in Heritage Auctions’ 2017 ANA Signature.

Because the zinc-coated steel planchets used to strike regular issue Lincoln cents in 1943 were much harder than the usual copper blanks, the Philadelphia Mint adjusted their coin presses to reduce the distance between the dies when the coins were struck. They also used a higher than normal striking pressure. As a result, most 1943 Lincoln cents (both steel and bronze issues) are found with sharp strikes. This impressive Mint State specimen is no exception, as the design elements are sharply detailed in most areas. However, the harder planchets were also very hard on the dies, resulting in an unusual number of die breaks. This coin exhibits a remarkable retained cud on the obverse rim at 6 o’clock. As might be expected, the corresponding area on the reverse experienced abnormal metal flow and design detail is weak from 12 to 1 o’clock. The steel-brown surfaces show a few hints of olive and original red patina, with the minimum number of minor contact marks for the grade. Traces of original mint luster shine through the toning and overall eye appeal is most pleasing.

1943 Philadelphia Bronze Cents Certified Populations

This is a listing of the certified grading events at PCGS and NGC. Duplications and crossovers are likely; some Genuine examples, ANACS-graded coins, and uncertified examples have been omitted.

PCGS-Certified Coins

1. MS62 Brown. Found in circulation by Marvin Beyer, Jr., age 14, around 1957; ANA Convention Sale (Abe Kosoff, 1958), where the coin was withdrawn by Marvin Beyer Sr. before the sale; reportedly sold to the Greer Company of Los Angeles for $40,000 in 1959; Pre-Long Beach Sale (Superior, 10/2000), lot 4146, as MS61 ANACS, $60,375; Benson Collection, Part II (Goldbergs, 2/2003), lot 148 as MS61 Brown PCGS, $97,750 (certification #50035361); subsequently graded MS62 Brown PCGS Secure; Bob Simpson (9/2012); Simpson Collection. Beautiful blue-brown surfaces with generous luster, softly struck on Lincoln’s beard and coat. Certification #18523486.

2. MS61 Red and Brown. “James Schirrippa,” per PCGS CoinFacts. Sharply struck with deep orange and purple-blue patina and some brownish toning on the lower reverse, hints of green in the obverse field. Carbon spot at L(IBERTY). V-shaped mark right of C(ENT). In the Staten Island Collection Lincoln Cents, Off-Metal Strikes Registry Set (#2 behind the Simpson Collection). Certification #50040291.

3, 4. MS61 Brown. Two submissions; one is certification #19228068, last seen in the High Desert Collection. Lovely orange-gold and light-blue surfaces on both sides. PCGS still shows two in this grade, although as mentioned, one with certification #50035361 was later upgraded to the #1 Beyer-Simpson coin above. It is unclear if there are still two other PCGS coins in the MS61 Brown grade.

5. AU58. According to a photo (page 322, #8) in the 1996 Wexler-Flynn Lincoln cent Authoritative Reference, this coin was earlier certified by ANAAB with certificate #FD0251. Bob Simpson; FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2016), lot 5266, realized $305,500. PCGS certification #25510132.

6. AU55. Americana Sale (Stack’s Bowers, 1/2013), lot 13257, brought $317,250; Regency Auction (Legend-Morphy, 5/2014), lot 12, realized $329,000. Currently in the Numism1 Set Registry inventory at PCGS and contained in the Hoiner 100 Greatest U.S. Coins Registry Set. Well-struck overall with medium milk-chocolate surfaces, small flecks at bottom of coat (below 1) and front of Lincoln’s head above the eyebrow. Weakness shows on O(NE) and AM(ERICA). Certification #26441689.

7. AU50. Sandy-tan example with a few scattered marks. Softly struck on 43 in the date. Photo on PCGS CoinFacts. Certification #22052180.

8. XF45 PQ. CAC. Pre-Long Beach Sale (Ira and Larry Goldberg, 2/2017), lot 756. Not identified by certification number.

9. Genuine PCGS (VF Details). A “teenaged newspaperboy”; bought at a Dearborn, Michigan, coin show around 1987; Goldberg Auctions (9/2007), lot 2462; New York Signature (Heritage, 11/2013), lot 3508, realized $88,125. PCGS #21445181, no longer listed. Some unfortunate test cuts are made in the surfaces. Photographed as #4 in the Wexler-Flynn reference.

NGC Certifications

These grading events will undoubtedly duplicate some coins previously listed.

10. MS63 Brown.

11. MS62 Brown. Certification #2067200-002. ANA Signature (Heritage, 8/2017), lot 3899. An attractive walnut-brown specimen with a tick over the 4 in the date.

13. MS61 Red and Brown.

14. MS61 Brown. Certification #2067200-001. Reddish-brown and steel patina, with a large obverse die break on the rim at 6 o’clock. The present coin.

15, 16, 17. AU58; three grading events. One coin is depicted on NGC Coin Explorer, unidentified as to grade or certification number -- but it is the Simpson coin, now in a PCGS holder.

18. AU55.

19, 20. AU50; two submissions. (NGC ID# 22E5, PCGS# 82709) Weight: 3.11 grams

Metal: 95% Copper, 5% Tin & Zinc








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