There are few coins as popular as the 1943 copper penny, an extremely rare mint error that is worth a lot of money.

The 1943 bronze Lincoln cent first came to light in the mid-1940s and quickly took the numismatic world by storm. During this time, the United States Mint was striking pennies from zinc-coated steel planchets. This was to help save copper for World War II ammunition shells. However, a small number of bronze planchets left over from the 1942 production remained in the mint presses. As a result, they were accidentally struck with 1943-dated dies.

The result? A total of perhaps 20 to 30 of these 1943 copper cents were minted cumulatively at the Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco Mints. Always worth big money, this error has commanded prices as high as seven figures. 

Identifying A 1943 Bronze Cent

1943 copper penny

1943 copper penny

One of the most common questions people ask is, “do I have a 1943 copper penny?” One of the points of confusion is behind “which” 1943 penny is rare. Many people hear that there is a rare 1943 penny out there and therefore assume all 1943 pennies are valuable. Others still confuse the 1943 steel penny (pictured below) as the rare coin because of its unusual appearance as a silvery-colored Lincoln cent.

The steel cents are quite common—more than 1 billion were made across the Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco Mints. But it's the copper 1943 cent that’s rare. 

Here’s how you can tell the difference between the common 1943 steel cent (typically worth 10 cents to $1) versus the 1943 bronze cent:

Does your 1943 penny stick to a magnet? – If it does, it’s a common 1943 cent. If it doesn’t, there’s a chance it may be the rare copper penny, but it still must be tested for authenticity. 

What does your 1943 cent weigh? – A common 1943 steel cent weighs 2.7 grams, while the rare bronze one would click in at approximately 3.1 grams. You must use a scale that measures down to at least a tenth-of-a-gram increments. Those cents weighing in increments of a gram will give a false positive here because of rounding. 

What about the “3”? – Your 1943 copper penny absolutely must look exactly like a 1943 steel cent in terms of design and the shaping of the letters and numbers. Any differences here suggest the coin may have been altered to appear as a 1943 copper cent. One of the most common diagnostics is the font of the “3” in the date—it must exactly match the “3” on a 1943 steel cent. Any differences here on a suspected 1943 copper cent should send up huge red flags. 

lincoln wheat cent steel

Steel Lincoln Wheat cent

What Do You Do If You Think You Have A 1943 Copper Cent?

Celebrate a little—but don’t spend all your money quite yet. You still need to make sure the coin is authentic! Even if the coin you believe to be a 1943 copper cent checks out with your own tests—meaning it is NOT magnetic and weighs about 3.1 grams and appears to have an unaltered design (notice all the “ands,” not “ors” here)—then you should consider having it authenticated by reputable third-party grading service. 

You see, the 1943 bronze cent isn’t the kind of coin you’ll be able to 100% authenticate on your own. And if you expect to walk it into your nearest coin shop only to dance out the door five minutes later with a stash of cold, hard cash in your hands, then you’re unfortunately bound to be a bit disappointed.

Why? Because that’s not how it works with the 1943 bronze cent! Even if you are sure you have the 100% real McCoy in your hands, there are too many fakes out there for anyone to buy a 1943 bronze cent without having complete certainty that it’s authentic. 

Lincoln cents Olichel Adamovich

Lincoln cents. Photo: Olichel Adamovich

Almost every day, your typical coin dealer in Anytown, U.S.A. receives at least one or two calls from an excited individual who has “the” 1943 cent. And what turns out happening virtually every time is the coin winds up being a fake—a 1943 steel cent plated in copper. Or maybe it’s an altered coin, perhaps a 1945, 1948, or 1949 Lincoln cent retooled to appear as a 1943. These dealers also see plenty of rusty 1943 cents that “look like” copper to the collector. 

What’s more, even if you have a 1943 bronze cent passed down in your family from somebody who was a diehard collector, that doesn’t necessarily mean that coin is authentic. Many old-time coin collections are found to have counterfeit coins that are sophisticated in appearance. These coins could easily sneak past even many of the more advanced collectors. Counterfeits, altered coins, and other fakes are among our hobbies' most significant problems and have been for a long time. This is partly why third-party coin grading services emerged in the 1980s. 

If you think you have a 1943 bronze cent—and everything checks out with it so far, what you could do is bring it to a reputable coin dealer for an in-hand inspection. Perhaps he or she could then assist you in getting it graded by a third-party coin grading company. Once the coin is certified as authentic and graded, that dealer may then be interested in buying the coin from you. You could also consider consigning the authenticated coin with an auction company, which is how many 1943 bronze pennies are sold. 

How Much Is A 1943 Copper Cent Worth?

It’s quite literally the million-dollar question! The all-time record price for a 1943 bronze cent is $1.7 million. This price was paid for the only known example of a 1943-D copper penny graded MS64BN by Professional Coin Grading Service.

Prices have gone way up for the 1943 copper penny over the years. Back in 1981, an example of the 1943 bronze cent made national news when it sold for $10,000. Some 15 years later, another example sold for $82,500 at a 1996 auction. Today, 1943 bronze cents typically fetch between $100,000 and $250,000. 

Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez is a journalist, editor, and blogger who has won multiple awards from the Numismatic Literary Guild. He has also authored numerous books, including works profiling the history of the United States Mint and United States coinage.

More coin values articles from the experts at Gainesville Coins:

1943 Steel Penny: Value & Legacy

Key Date Morgan Dollars: Collecting Tips & Prices

1965 Quarter Value: Error Coins and History

Bicentennial Quarter Value and Price Chart

2009 Lincoln Penny Value: Bicentennial Cents

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David | 2/8/2023
I am 83 years old and have been looking for a 43 copper penny all my live and yesterday i go to see one in a little museum.
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Ada | 5/4/2023
I think I have one
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Melissa | 10/16/2023
I have one 1943 copper penny.
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Carrie | 8/25/2022 Look at back FGF?
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