1943-S 1C Struck on a Bronze Planchet MS63 Brown PCGS. CAC...Click the image to load the highest resolution version.
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1943-S Bronze Lincoln Cent, MS63 Brown
1943-S 1C Struck on a Bronze Planchet MS63 Brown PCGS. CAC.
Ex: Simpson. The 1943 bronze Lincoln cents are among the most
famous rarities in American coinage and examples always command
astronomic prices in their infrequent auction appearances. The
coins have been widely publicized since the 1940s and have captured
the public's imagination to an extent that few numismatic issues
have equaled. Rumors that Henry Ford would reward the finder of any
1943 "copper" cent with a new car swept the country in the 1940s,
despite frequently published denials by the Ford Motor Company. The
lowly cent was a familiar everyday object that everyone could
identify and the prospect of finding one that was miraculously
worth a fortune was mesmerizing. Legions of coin collectors were
inspired to search countless bank rolls of cents in search of these
fabulous treasures. After more than three quarters of a century of
this relentless searching, only six examples of the 1943-S bronze
Lincoln cent have been discovered, along with a handful of examples
from the other U.S. Mints. Heritage Auctions is privileged to
present the finest-known example of this celebrated rarity from the
fabulous Simpson Collection in this important offering.
Celebrated Wrong-Planchet Error
Only Six Examples Traced
CAC Approved, Finest-Known Specimen
Origin of the 1943 Bronze Cents
Copper was a strategic metal in 1943, at the height of World War II, an essential element in munitions and communication equipment needed for the war effort. Accordingly, the Treasury Department ordered the U.S. Mint to strike cents on zinc-coated steel planchets in 1943, rather than the traditional bronze planchets which had been in use since 1864 (Q. David Bowers notes the wartime "copper" planchets of this era were actually brass, since tin was also being conserved). The three active U.S. Mints struck more than 1 billion "steel" cents of this wartime composition in 1943, with the San Francisco Mint turning out 191,550,000 pieces. Unfortunately, the "steelies" were unpopular, because they could be easily mistaken for dimes in everyday transactions when new, and they were highly susceptible to tarnish and corrosion after a short time in circulation. The Mint returned to using bronze planchets in 1944, with much of the metal reclaimed from melted down shell casings.
As fate would have it, a small number of bronze planchets became lodged in the trap doors of the big tote bins used to feed planchets into the coin presses at the end of the year in 1942. When the bins were refilled with zinc-coated steel planchets to commence coinage in 1943, these bronze planchets were dislodged and fed into the coin press, along with the regular-issue "steel" blanks. They were struck and passed into circulation unnoticed in the flood of millions of "steel" cents that were issued that year. This accidental coinage of "copper" cents happened at all three Mints in 1943, creating the rare error coins that are so popular with collectors today. Perhaps 15-20 1943 bronze cents from the Philadelphia Mint survive today, along with six specimens from the San Francisco Mint, and a single example from the Denver facility. Because the coin presses were set at high pressure to strike the harder zinc-coated steel planchets, most bronze 1943 cents feature sharply detailed design elements.
Rumors of the 1943 "copper" cents began to circulate almost as early as the coins themselves, but actual finds were rare and the United States Mint steadfastly denied any bronze cents were struck in 1943. When teenage collector Kenneth Wing, Jr. inquired about his 1943-S bronze cent in 1946, acting Mint Director Leland Howard replied "there were no copper cents struck during the calendar year 1943 at any of the coinage Mints." The Mint continued to officially deny the production of 1943 bronze cents until the 1960s, by which time too many obviously genuine coins had been discovered and authenticated by experts to make the denials plausible. The coins remain extremely rare today and any 1943 bronze cent is an important find, with examples regularly bringing six-figure prices at auction.
The Present Coin
The 1943-S bronze Lincoln cents are much more elusive than their Philadelphia Mint counterparts, but they seem to have been discovered first. As might be expected with San Francisco Mint issues, the earliest finds were in California, where two examples were discovered within a year of the time of issue. Kenneth Wing, Jr., a 14-year old collector from Long Beach discovered an example in circulation in 1944, but the present coin surfaced even earlier. The early history of this specimen was reported in its first auction appearance, in lot 1991 of the Dr. Charles L. Ruby Collection, Part I (Superior, 2/1974):
"Discovered in a bag of 1943-S cents in the main office of the San Diego Bank of America by Merl D. Burcham. Later it came into possession of Frank Spadone, author of a paperback book on mint errors. It was subsequently included in a trade involving regular and pattern silver coins valued at that time for $15,000 (1965), between Spadone and one Walter Farris of Bristol, Tennessee. COIN WORLD ran a story about Farris and the trade on page 41, January 20, 1965. Farris obtained an authentication certificate from Walter Breen and this lot will include all papers and articles concerning this important mint error. The 1943 bronze cent is undoubtedly the most prized of all mint errors and certainly ranks with the 1794 dollar, 1804 dollar and 1913 Liberty nickel in sheer publicity. The present offering is, to the best of our knowledge, the first time a 1943-S bronze cent has ever been put up at auction. With all the publicity surrounding this coin and the great demand today for important rarities, this coin should easily surpass the price paid nine years ago. In a custom plastic holder. PHOTO."
This coin, which is evidently both the finest known and the discovery example of this famous rarity, passed through the hands of several collectors and dealers in succeeding years, appearing at auction on two other occasions before Bob Simpson acquired it in a private transaction for a record price of $1 million in 2012 (see roster below for a detailed history). The coin offered here was a cornerstone of Simpson's All-Time Finest PCGS Registry Set of Lincoln Cents Off-Metal Strikes, Circulation Strikes (1943-1944). It will certainly become a centerpiece of some other fortunate numismatist's fabulous collection when this lot passes the auction block.
The present coin is the finest-certified example of this sought-after American rarity by four grade points. This impressive MS63 specimen exhibits the sharply detailed design elements expected of this issue, with intricate detail in Lincoln's hair and the wheat stalks. A tiny fleck of zinc, from one of the millions of "steel" cents struck in 1943, is impressed into the obverse surface, just above and to the right of the 3 in the date. The lightly marked surfaces show a mix of light brown and crimson patina, with traces of original red in sheltered areas. Close inspection with a loupe reveals a few microscopic specks of carbon on both sides. The quality and eye appeal of this remarkable specimen are confirmed by the CAC Sticker. It has been more than 20 years since this spectacular coin has been publicly offered and it may not appear again for another generation. We expect intense competition from series specialists, error collectors, and Registry Set enthusiasts when this lot is called. The 1943-S bronze Lincoln cent is listed among the 100 Greatest U.S. Error Coins, along with its Philadelphia and Denver Mint counterparts. This coin is pictured on PCGS CoinFacts. Population: 1 in 63 Brown, 0 finer. CAC: 1 in 63, 0 finer (10/20).
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, including several resubmissions and crossovers. Perhaps as many as 15 to 20 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. MS63 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 , 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  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; Jan Bronson; Alan Van Vliet, in 1976; Margene Heathgate Collection (Superior, 6/1997), lot 145, 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. Possibly the MS61 Brown NGC example listed on their Census Report. Wexler-Flynn #3, PCGS certification #25510131. From the Simpson All-Time Finest PCGS Registry Set of Lincoln Cents Off-Metal Strikes, Circulation Strikes (1943-1944). The present coin.
2. AU58 PCGS. Central States Auction (Kurt Krueger, 4/1989), lot 979; Dave Berg in 1989; private collection; Haig Koshkarian Collection (American Numismatic Rarities, 3/2004), lot 380; Simpson Collection; Long Beach Signature (Heritage, 2/2016), lot 3087, realized $282,000. This piece became the Bob Simpson "duplicate" when he purchased a 1943-S bronze cent in MS62 Brown PCGS Secure for $1 million in September 2012, a transaction arranged by Legend Numismatics (see number 1 above). Formerly graded AU58 NGC, still listed on the NGC Census Report. Wexler-Flynn #1, PCGS certification #18523980.
3. AU55 PCGS Secure. Fred Weinberg in 1979; Dwight Berger in 1983; purchased from an unspecified auction "sometime during the 1980s" and newly certified at PCGS in autumn 2015. Previously authenticated by ANACS. The Sorensen Collection / FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2016), lot 5267, brought $211,500. Wexler-Flynn #2, PCGS certification #25653505.
4. AU55 NGC. Saint Louis Signature (Heritage, 3/1989), lot 56; Dwight Berger; ANA Signature (Heritage, 7/1997), lot 5919. Wexler-Flynn #4, listed on the NGC Census Report.
5. AU53 NGC. Ex: Kenneth S. Wing Jr. Collection. "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 previous 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; FUN Signature (Heritage, 1/2018), lot 4764; realized $228,000; ANA Signature (Heritage, 8/2019), lot 3703, realized $216,000. NGC certification #3184796-001; formerly in a slab with NGC certification #3210930-001 (now listed as AU53/Deleted by NGC), also formerly certified as XF45 PCGS, certification #11456467, and still pictured on the PCGS CoinFacts site. Photographed on NGC Coin Explorer.
6. VF35 PCGS. Dr. Carl A. Minning, Jr. Collection (Bowers and Merena, 8/1999), lot 1122, brought $51,750; Pre-Long Beach Sale (Superior, 10/2000), lot 4147; 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. Described by the 1999 Bowers and Merena cataloger as "King of the Small Cents / Nationwide Publicity Item!" PCGS certification #3457896. PCGS Cert Verification still confirms this coin, but it no longer appears in the Population Report. We believe it is incorrectly listed as the VF35 steel cent in the population data.
Coin Index Numbers: (PCGS# 82715)
Weight: 3.11 grams
Metal: 95% Copper, 5% Tin & Zinc
Learn more at the Newman Numismatic Portal at Washington University in St. Louis.
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