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    Description

    1943-S Bronze or 'Copper' Cent, AU55
    Storied Wrong-Planchet Error Issue
    Third-Finest of Six Confirmed Examples
    Third Finest Graded at PCGS

    1943-S 1C Struck on a Bronze Planchet AU55 PCGS Secure. A bit of semantics before we begin: Although the 1943 bronze or copper cents are technically "error" coins -- they are considered off-metal or wrong-planchet errors -- they are eagerly collected, cataloged, and described alongside "regular issue" U.S. coins that are not errors. (Notice that the present piece is described in the Lincoln Cents section of this Platinum Night catalog, not in the Errors section.)

    Unlike many error coins that are fascinating and desirable because of their baroque, fantastic appearance -- off-center strikes, broadstrikes, coins struck on feeder fingers, die caps, brockages, gold Indian cents, cent obverses muled with dime reverses, and the like -- part of the broad mass appeal of the 1943-PDS bronze cents is precisely because they appear exactly like normal, quotidian, workaday coins that just happen to be incredibly rare. It is precisely this dichotomy -- super-rare error coins that appear completely "normal" -- that gives the 1943 bronze cents such renown that their fame has spread even to the non-numismatic level of American pop culture. Many Americans with little other numismatic knowledge are nonetheless aware of the rarity of the "1943 copper pennies," as they are frequently called.

    Their dual nature also leads to the 1943 bronze cents' being listed both in the 100 Greatest U.S. Error Coins reference by Nicholas P. Brown, David J. Camire, and Fred Weinberg (2010), where they occupy the number 4 position, as well in the fourth edition of 100 Greatest U.S. Coins by Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth (2014), where the 1943 bronze cents hold the number 11 slot, just ahead of the 1792 half dismes. In the third edition of 100 Greatest U.S. Coins (2012), the pieces were ranked #9, while the 1776 Continental dollars held the #10 slot.

    The 1943 bronze cents are the only coins listed in two editions of the 100 Greatest U.S. Coins and the 100 Greatest U.S. Error Coins.

    There are also examples known of the 1944 cents from each operating mint (Philadelphia, Denver, and San Francisco) struck on zinc-coated steel planchets -- first cousins to the 1943 bronze cents, although not subject to the same intense publicity that the 1943s have seen for decades.

    Genesis of the 1943 Bronze Cents
    The 1943 bronze cents owe their creation during the darkest days of World War II to the dire need for copper and bronze needed to supply munitions (shell) cases for the Allied war effort. In late 1942 Congress authorized the Treasury to strike Lincoln cents made out of an alternative material to bronze (which had been in the cent ever since 1864). After testing, a "suitable" composition was determined to be steel planchets coated with a thin layer of zinc. These cents debuted in 1943 and looked attractive when new, but they soon developed corrosion when exposed to oxygen and moisture and were often (and maddeningly so, during the frugal wartime economy) confused with dimes. In 1944 the Treasury reverted to using melted shell cases to make bronze cent planchets once again. David Lange writes in The Complete Guide to Lincoln Cents, "Zinc readily corrodes to a whitish, powdery texture, while the underlying steel is subject to plain old rusting. A worse combination of metals for coinage could not have been devised by a madman ... ."

    The 1943-Dated Bronze Cents Make Their Exodus From the Mints
    The wartime demand in America for cents was voracious and incessant. The Philadelphia Mint struck nearly 685 million 1943-dated cents, Denver 218 million, and San Francisco 192 million.

    Rumors of off-metal errors in the form of 1943 bronze cents or "copper pennies" began circulating almost as early as the coins themselves. In fact, save for the 1804 silver dollars, we would venture that no other U.S. coin issue has spurred so many oft-repeated rumors, half-truths, and outright fabrications -- figurative and literal -- as have the 1943 bronze cents.

    There were one (and possibly two) routes of escape for the 1943 bronze cents. The usual exit, as would be discovered later, was via the "copper in the hopper" route -- that a few unnoticed leftover bronze planchets from 1942 made their way to the coinage presses intermingled with zinc-coated steel blanks in 1943 (and similarly in 1944, from leftover 1943 steel planchets).

    At least two examples of the 1943 bronze cents demonstrably left the San Francisco Mint within a short time after their striking, as documented by contemporary evidence existing today (and despite the fact that there were, at the time, no grading or authentication services generally recognized as such by the numismatic community). For many years it was believed that the first 1943 bronze cent (of any mintmark -- this was a Philadelphia example) was discovered by 16-year-old Sam Lutes in 1947 in change received from his high school cafeteria. That coin was authenticated years later by Walter Breen, in 1959 to be exact.

    Sometime before 1965, Walter Breen also authenticated the 1943-S bronze cent, MS62 Brown PCGS, now pedigreed to the Simpson Collection and listed atop our roster below. That example was, according to earlier documents (to which we have not had access), "discovered in a Mint-sewn bag of 1943-S steel cents."

    This anecdotal evidence helped mollify the nagging suspicion among some collectors and professional numismatists that the 1943 bronze cents might have been "backdated fantasy coins" rather than contemporary off-metal error strikes, ones produced as part of the normal Mint manufacturing operations.

    Far stronger evidence, however, came in the form of a story on the cover of Coin World's August 11, 2008 issue, announcing that NGC had authenticated and graded an AU53 example of the 1943-S bronze cent that had been "found in circulation by 14-year-old collector Kenneth S. Wing Jr. around 1944 in Long Beach, Calif., while he was trying to assemble a set of Lincoln cents." Wing's family kept extensive correspondence from the 1940s and 1950s documenting their efforts to ascertain that the piece was genuine, including letters from the U.S. Mint, Smithsonian Institution, and dealer Abe Kosoff, among others. The cent was sold in 2008 for $173,000 and is pedigreed to the "Kenneth S. Wing Jr. Collection" by NGC and included in our roster.

    The authors of 100 Greatest U.S. Coins wrote in their 2014 fourth edition that "recently, national headlines announced the rediscovery of an example [of the 1943 bronze cent] that had had first been found in change in 1944. At that time, authentication was difficult, and the finder's family held the coin for more than 60 years."

    Such evidence put to rest any lingering doubts that the mint (or mints) had indeed accidentally produced bronze 1943 cents in error despite the change to zinc-coated steel planchets, and that those coins were released into circulation.

    The other exit route for 1943 bronze cents was, perhaps, via the Mint back door -- intentional creations on the part of Mint employees. Obviously, such fabrications on the part of Mint employees are unconfirmed, although for many years the Mint denied even the possibility that it could have created error 1943 bronze cents.

    All we know for certain is that the unique 1943-D bronze cent apparently traces to a former Denver Mint employee, a machinist who kept it a secret until 1979, when it was examined and authenticated by ANACS. Additionally, the David Lange Lincoln cent reference reports that a "female acquaintance" of former Mint Engraver John R. Sinnock sold a 1943 bronze cent and 1944 steel cent to dealer William Grichin around 1961. The two coins went from Grichin to Philadelphia dealer Harry J. Forman and thence to John J. Ford, Jr., in whose hands they remained until being offered in the 1981 Bowers and Ruddy ANA sale. The 1943 bronze cent was described as XF and the 1944 steel cent was Mint State.

    Despite the lack of certitude as to whether any of these latter coins were intentional creations or merely within-the-Mint discoveries of "copper in the hopper" off-metal errors, as the years pass, the difference seems more and more to be a moot point.

    "1943 Copper Penny" Publicity Whips Collectors Into a Frenzy
    John Wexler and Kevin Flynn write in the 1996 Authoritative Guide to Lincoln Cents, "In the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, millions of Americans were drawn into the frenzy of searching their pocket change in hopes of finding one of these elusive coins [1943 bronze cents]. False rumors that Ford Motor Company would give a new car if one was found and other high publicity stunts made this a fantasy coin."

    The 1943 "copper pennies" were the subject of a vast array of ads in magazines, comic books, and the popular press for decades. Some of these ads enticed readers to buy coin catalogs with headlines such as "$10,000 Reward for This Penny!" or "I'll Pay You $9,785.01 for This Penny!" Other companies took genuine 1943 zinc-coated steel cents and copper-plated them to sell for 69 cents each as novelty items: "Fool Your Friends! 1943 Copper Cents! The Penny That Never Was!"

    Wexler and Flynn write that in 1956 a "14 year old newspaper boy named Marvin Beyer found one [a 1943 Philadelphia Mint bronze cent] while going through receipts from his paper route." This piece was subjected to many tests of authenticity and offered at the 1958 ANA convention in an auction conducted by veteran numismatist Abe Kosoff -- but it was withdrawn at the last minute, much to Kosoff's dismay and leading to a lawsuit whose 1962 outcome was undisclosed. A 1959 article in The Los Angeles Examiner claimed that the coin was sold for $40,000 -- likely a trumped-up figure calculated to increase publicity. The ploy certainly worked, as the 1943 bronze cents were counterfeited by the thousands, most of them copper-plated steel cents whose spurious nature a magnet would instantly reveal.

    Today, three-quarters of a century after they were discovered, only a handful of 1943-S bronze cents are known. The example we offer here is apparently third-finest known and solidly in the middle of the Condition Census, certainly among the finest examples likely to be offered at public auction for years to come.

    The Bob Simpson Connection
    Fort Worth, Texas-based Bob Simpson is well-known in numismatic circles as the owner of the all-time finest PCGS Registry Set of Lincoln Cents Off-Metal Strikes, Circulation Strikes 1943-1944. This set comprises six coin, the three 1943-PDS bronze cents and the three 1944-PDS zinc-plated steel cent issues -- all Uncirculated!

    Simpson is the owner of the unique 1943-D bronze cent graded MS64 Brown PCGS -- a coin whose 2010 sale by Legend Numismatics to Simpson set a world-record price of $1.7 million for any U.S. small cent -- and the finest known Mint State 1943 Philadelphia bronze cent, MS62 Brown PCGS, for which he paid $1 million in 2012. The cents in Simpson's complete off-metal Registry Set include:

    1943 Bronze Cents
    --1943 Philadelphia MS62 Brown PCGS Secure. Certification #18523486.
    --1943-D MS64 Brown PCGS Secure. Unique. Certification #18523979.
    --1943-S MS62 Brown PCGS Secure. Certification #25510131.

    1944 Steel Cents
    --1944 Philadelphia MS64 PCGS Secure. Certification #18523968.
    --1944-D MS62 PCGS Secure. Certification #18523807.
    --1944-S MS66 PCGS Secure. Certification #18523808.



    The appearance at auction of a genuine 1943 bronze cent from any mint (much less an S-mint such as the present coin) is assured to stir up fresh numismatic ink, and the Bob Simpson Collection, a unique assemblage never previously completed by any collector, has kept these off-metal rarities squarely in the public eye during the last few years. Simpson has also been generous not only in keeping his online Registry Set open or "public," but also in exhibiting some of his spectacular coins at various national shows.

    The Present 1943-S Bronze Cent AU55 PCGS Secure
    This Choice AU 1943-S bronze cent, certified by PCGS in a Secure slab, is among the handful of genuine survivors known of this issue. Even though the PCGS CoinFacts site still shows the Condition Census as MS62, AU58, XF45, VF35, the present Choice AU coin was only recently certified by PCGS after residing with our consignor for around 30 years. It had previously been authenticated by ANACS.

    Generous luster remains on the chocolate-brown surfaces, creating top-notch eye appeal. The crisp strike visible throughout both sides is typical of genuine examples of this issue, as the 1943 Lincoln cent dies were spaced more closely together to compensate for the added hardness of the zinc-coated steel planchets. This piece shows a small arcing line from the top of Lincoln's ear and two nearby ticks that are the best pedigree markers on the obverse. The reverse shows a single dotlike indentation below the N in CENT to identify that side. These are minor quibbles on a coin of overall excellent quality. The infrequency with which certified examples of this rarity appear makes such considerations pale in comparison to the larger question that potential bidders must ask themselves: "When, if ever, will I be able to bid on a finer example?"


    An Infrequent Opportunity
    No other U.S. coin issue pervades the popular mentality of the American noncollecting public as do the famous 1943 "copper" cents. Even though the overwhelming majority of such pieces turn out to be obvious copper-plated counterfeits (as any 50 cent magnet will reveal), Americans still dream of someday snagging a "1943 copper penny" from change or from Grandma's old jar of wheat pennies.

    This is, simply put, a seldom-seen opportunity to obtain one of the rarest and most celebrated U.S. coin issues ever struck. And for the hordes of collectors who started out filling up blue Whitman folders with Lincoln cents (as did this cataloger) -- and given the ownership of the current coins -- this may be the finest example to be offered for many years to come.

    Roster of 1943-S Bronze Cents
    We can confirm only six examples of the 1943-S bronze cents certified by the two major grading and authentication services. Perhaps as many as a dozen to 15 examples survive of the 1943 Philadelphia bronze cents, while the 1943-D bronze cent, MS64 Brown PCGS, in the Simpson Collection (for which he paid $1.7 million in 2010) remains unique, despite decades of searching on the part of thousands of collectors. The roster is based on publicized trades and public auctions; private trades may represent other examples that are unlisted here.
    1. MS62 Brown PCGS Secure. "Found in the year of issue in a Mint-sewn bag of 1943-S steel cents" by Merl D. Burcham, per its early appearances with Superior Galleries (the Superior lot description from February 1974 is reprinted in Dr. Sol Taylor's Standard Guide to the Lincoln Cent, fourth edition [1999], page 138); later to error coin dealer Frank Spadone; part of a $15,000 trade of "regular and pattern silver coins valued at that time [1965] between Spadone and Walter Farris of Bristol, Tennessee, per the Superior ads (and covered in a Coin World story on page 41, January 20, 1965); authenticated at some point by Walter Breen (before 1965, by which time Farris had obtained the certification); Dr. Charles L. Ruby Collection, Part I (Superior, 2/1974), lot 1991; Superior (6/1977), realized $49,500; Dr. Jon Kardatzke Collection (Goldberg Auctions, 2/2000), lot 257, as MS61 Brown NGC, brought $115,000; Legend Numismatics to Bob Simpson as MS62 Brown PCGS for $1 million (9/2012); Simpson Collection. "A tiny fleck of zinc is ... lodged in the bronze, just above the 3 in the date," according to the Goldbergs description. Some muted mint red remains. PCGS certification #25510131.
    2. AU58 PCGS. Ex: Simpson Collection. Now listed in a "private Set Registry inventory." Diagonal (northwest to southeast) scrape through Lincoln's eye ends in the right obverse field. Obvious die polishing lines run north-northeast through the right obverse field. Bits of dark material appear in the upper loops of the 9 and 3, in the lower loop of the S mintmark, and at the upper obverse rim above the motto. PCGS certification #18523980.
    3. AU55 PCGS Secure. The present example. Purchased by our consignor from an unspecified auction "sometime during the 1980s" and newly certified at PCGS. Previously authenticated by ANACS. No further provenance available. PCGS certification #25653505.
    4. AU53 NGC. Ex: Kenneth S. Wing Jr. Collection. A few light flecks on the reverse help with pedigree identification, including one on the right wheat ear, one at the left bottom of T in CENT, and one right at the midpoint of M in UNUM. Other scattered, tiny flecks appear in the central reverse. A near-vertical tick on Lincoln's cheekbone is the most apparent obverse mark. "Discovered within a year of its issue, this attractive specimen remained in the same family for more than 60 years," according to its NGC Photo Proof certification and extensive documentation provided by its current owner. Found in circulation in 1944 by 14-year-old collector Kenneth S. Wing, Jr. in Long Beach, California; Kenneth S. Wing family; sold to Rare Coin Wholesalers for $72,500 (7/2008); purchased from Park Avenue Numismatics for $173,000 (8/2008); Kerry Rudin. NGC certification #3184796-001; formerly in a slab with NGC certification #3210930-001 (now listed as AU53/Deleted by NGC) but reholdered due to scuffs on the slab. Photographed on NGC Coin Explorer.
    5. XF45 PCGS. From a photo in the PCGS Condition Census on CoinFacts. A small tick at Lincoln's temple, and a hairline-thin scrape from the obverse field left of T(RUST) to a hair curl above Lincoln's head down to the ear, are the most obvious pedigree markers. Other small ticks show in the obverse field between the bowtie and goatee, and at the rear shoulder directly down from (LIBERT)Y. Copper spot at rear of head, below G(OD). PCGS certification #11456467.
    6. VF35 PCGS. Dr. Carl A. Minning, Jr. Collection (Bowers and Merena, 8/1999), lot 1122, brought $51,750; Phillip Flannagan et al. Sale (Bowers and Merena, 11/2001), lot 6076, realized $62,100; Alfred V. Melson Collection, Part Two / Long Beach Signature (Heritage, 2/2010), lot 178, garnered $207,000; Geyer Family Collection / New York Signature (Heritage, 11/2013), lot 3510, brought $141,000. An abrasion runs horizontally beneath the bases of US in TRUST. Described by the 1999 Bowers and Merena cataloger as "King of the Small Cents / Nationwide Publicity Item!" PCGS certification #3457896.

    Other Appearances
    Although these examples appear in the NGC Census Report, there are no public trades known for any of them, leading us to believe they may be duplications of some of the pieces above.
    A. MS61 Brown NGC. An example in this grade remains in the NGC Census Report. See #1 above, or this could be a duplicate.
    B. AU58 NGC. From NGC Census Report.
    C. AU55 NGC. From NGC Census Report.
    From The Sorensen Collection.

    Coin Index Numbers: (PCGS# 82715)

    Weight: 3.11 grams

    Metal: 95% Copper, 5% Tin & Zinc


    View all of [The Sorensen Collection ]

    View Certification Details from PCGS

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