Pristine 1944-S Steel Cent MS66
1944-S 1C --On a Zinc-Plated Steel Planchet--MS66 NGC. 2.6
gm. Large S, one of two mintmark styles in use that year in San
Francisco, along with the Knob S. The other known 1944-S steel cent
is also the Large S variety.
One of Only Two Known
The Only Known Uncirculated Example
Within the past two years, Heritage has auctioned eight 1944-dated steel cents, three from the Philadelphia Mint and five from the Denver Mint. Among these lots, a 1944-D MS63 NGC realized $115,000 in lot 1583 of our 2007 Milwaukee ANA Signature, a 1944-D MS62 NGC brought $92,000 as lot 2715 of our 2008 FUN Signature, and an AU55 ANACS achieved $69,000 in our 2007 May Long Beach Signature.
As impressive as those three prices realized are, remember that the present lot grades MS66, three points higher than the finest of the past lots. Also, those lots were 1944-D cents. The present off-metal cent is from the San Francisco Mint. A search of our online auction archives, which date to 1993, shows no steel 1944-S cents offered within that 15-year span.
This is unsurprising, since David W. Lange states in his Complete Guide to Lincoln Cents (2006) that "the rarity of this issue is so great that it may be considered non-collectible in the practical sense. The only known specimen appeared as Lot 787 in Bowers & Ruddy Galleries' auction of January 25-27, 1983. It was graded XF and had been cleaned." That lot realized $5,390.
The (6/08) online NGC Census data lists a grand total of seven 1944-dated steel cents, four 1944, two 1944-D, and one 1944-S, which grades XF and is presumably the same piece last auctioned in 1983 (the present piece was apparently certified too recently to appear in that Census). Among those, the two highest certified are an MS63 1944 and an MS63 1944-D. PCGS omits off-metal 1944-dated cents from its online population report.
The Complete Guide to Lincoln Cents states that 27 1944 steel cents are confirmed and "no more than 10" 1944-D steel cents are known, in addition to the solitary cleaned XF 1944-S. It is logical that a greater number of steel 1944 Philadelphia cents are known than from the two branch mints, since the Philadelphia Mint struck 25 million Belgium two francs on the same zinc-coated steel alloy planchet type used for the 1943 cents, an economy measure to use leftover planchets from 1943. A two francs planchet could easily have wandered into the wrong bin, and would have made it through the riddlers because it had the expected diameter.
According to David Lange, "Since the San Francisco Mint did not participate in producing the two francs coinage for Belgium, it must be assumed that this coin was the result of a planchet intended for 1943-S cent production finding its way accidentally between 1944-S dies." Under the steel 1944-D listing, he adds, "all of the 1944-D steel cents must have resulted from steel planchets adhering to the inside of tote bins during 1943 and being struck during 1944."
A similar happenstance apparently caused the off metal 1943-dated bronze cents, which are perhaps even more famous than the 1944-dated steelies. Zinc-plated steel cents adhere to a magnet, which makes that non-destructive test essential for authentication of any steel cent. According to an October 1960 article in Numismatic Scrapbook, Richard Fenton was the first to discover a 1944-dated steel cent, circa 1945. He failed to report the find until a different example was published in the December 1956 Mint Error Collector Bulletin.
Although other 1944 and 1944-D steel cents have emerged since, the only known 1944-S steel cent, until now, was the aforementioned XF example. The arrival of the present MS66 on the market is nothing short of remarkable. It is only the second known 1944-S steel cent, the only known Uncirculated 1944-S steel cent, and the finest certified of any 1944-dated steel cent, three grades ahead of any others seen by NGC.
As expected of the MS66 grade, the present piece has booming luster. There are no visible marks or spots. The strike is very sharp. For pedigree purposes, we note a tiny area of russet granularity near the reverse rim at 3 o'clock. Light gold toning is present on the left reverse, and to a lesser extent on the left obverse field. Given the superlative quality and immense rarity of the present coin, the opportunity for the Lincoln cent specialist cannot be overemphasized.
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