World War II changed everything in American society. From people moving from farms to cities and women assuming a greater role in the workplace to a shortage of cotton leading to shorter dresses, much of American life was disrupted from 1941–1945. Changes in coinage also led to errors by the United States Mint — and some of these so-called “error cents” can be worth thousands or even millions of dollars!
These errors resulted from the change in metals during the war when the U.S. Mint had to divert much of the copper used to strike cents to the wartime production of weapons and ammunition. In 1943, the composition of the cent was changed from 95 percent copper, 5 percent zinc to zinc-coated steel. Near the end of the war in 1944, the mint returned to the former copper alloy.
In mint facilities, the transition from copper to steel and then back to copper didn’t go so smoothly. Sometimes, pre-1943 bronze planchets were struck with dies for the 1943 cents, which created copper-alloy strikes instead of zinc-coated cents. Then, in 1944, some of the 1943 zinc-coated steel blanks made it into the production facilities, leading to zinc-coated steel 1944 strikes instead of copper-alloy cents.
The mistakes were usually discovered pretty quickly, so these wartime error cents are in short supply —, the rarest ones are some of the most valuable American coins produced in the 20th century. The highest recorded price paid for an off-metal 1943 or 1944 cent was $1.7 million for the only known bronze 1943-D cent.
At a recent Heritage Auction in New York, several of these wartime cents went under the gavel. One of the highlights was a bronze 1943 Lincoln cent produced at the Philadelphia Mint that sold for $88,125. In addition, several other important off-metal errors sold for big bucks, including a bronze 1943-S cent that went for $141,000, and zinc-coated steel 1944 and 1944-D cents, which sold for $30,550 each. Pretty nice prices for a coin whose face value is only one cent!