CentSearcher's Blog

21 Nov 2020

World War II compositions - The Steel Cent

| CentSearcher

Greetings, devoted Numismatists. This year we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II. Thus now is an appropriate time to review the unique compositions and changes made in order to save much needed materials for war efforts. Before I begin let us take a moment and remember those who served in WW2 and sacrificed themselves for their country. If there is any veterans who served reading this article I want to thank you so much for your service. Now, let us begin!

The Attack of Pearl Harbor in 1941 called America to war, which would drag on for 6 long years. As usual, when the war broke out demand for coinage spiked. At the time the Lincoln cent was composed of 95% copper, 4% zinc, and 1% tin. But copper and tin were also in high demand, as they were needed for various armaments and weaponry. Supplies had been cut off from Japan and several other resources in south eastern Asia, so a change in composition was called for. Seven companies were commissioned by the government to test temporary substitutes for the composition of the lincoln cents. Among the materials tried with was plastic, fiber, white metal, and tempered glass. But finding the right substitute took time, so meanwhile the bronze composition was switched to brass in 1942 (95% copper and 5% zinc). This seemingly small change saved 100,000 pounds of tin for war efforts. The 40,000 pounds that the US mint had at hand was handed over to the War Production Board. By this time Public Law 815 brought to life the chosen substitute, the steel cent. The current secretary of the Treasury, Henry Morgenthau Jr., announced the traits of the new cent in December 23:

1. It shall be composed of steel with the obverse and reverse sides covered with a coating of .00025 inches of zinc

2. It shall weigh 41.5 grains

3. It shall have a diameter of .750 inches

4. It shall not vary in weight by more than 3 grains; it shall not vary in diameter by more than .002 inches; and the zinc coating shall not exceed .001 inches

5. It shall contain the same design, devices, and legends as those used since 1909

The production of the new steel cents began on Abraham Lincoln's birthday - February 12, 1943 in the Philadelphia mint. The Denver and San Francisco mints would follow in March. 684, 628, 670 steel cents were struck in Dhiladelphia, 217, 660, 000 in Denver, and 191, 550, 000 in San Francisco. But before long numerous problems presented themselves involving the steel cent. The hardness of the planchet was the first issue faced by the mint. Certain vending machines didn't accept the new cents. They were also mistaken for dimes, which led to the mint considering punching holes in its center. Perhaps the problem which drew in the most complaints, was that the coins were overall ugly. They became tarnished very quickly, and were not at all attractive. In December of 1943 it was announced that the steel cent was to be abandoned, and the mint would return to the brass composition used in 1942. The steel cent was seen as a failure, though over time they became a very popular piece of history.

From 1944 to 1946, fired cartridge cases from World War II were melted down and used for the production of the lincoln cent. This gave the name "Cartridge Case cents" to the cents minted in 1944, 45, and 46. This fact isn't as well known as the steel cent, though they are just as much a piece of history, as they were directly involved with the war.

Before I close the history section of this article there is one more thing worth pointing out. In 1943, a few copper planchets found its was into the mint, causing an extremely rare variety known as the "1943 bronze". According to my sources, about 40 are known, but that number is changing. Whenever you come across a 1943 cent, always be sure to run a magnet over them.

That summarizes the history of the steel cent, but there is a bit more to share. What is the current value? In what grades are they rare? How easy is it to find a nice example? All these questions can be answered easily enough. While in varies, coin shops tend to have a bucket of steel cents for 10 - 18 cents apiece. But there isn't much point going for the low ball ones when the high grade examples are readily available for a decent price. Here are some prices for the following grades (graded by NGC): ms65 - $25 ms66 - $30 ms67 - $120. My recommendation for those of you who don't want to spend a ton but still get a nice example is to get a MS66. The coin in the photo is a MS66, and I got it for $26. So, in short, they are pretty affordable. But beware, as there are steel cents out there that have been "rezinced" or "remanucatured". What this means is they have been coated with a new layer of zinc. This is considered to have damaged the coin, and should be avoided. The difference is quite obvious, as they are way to shiny and a strange blue look to them.

That is all I have to share for now. Thankyou for reading, and stay safe! Your fellow numismatist, CentSearcher


Unless you get a 66 or higher, it isn't pretty to look at. It is still interesting though. It is fun showing people not knowledgeable about numismatics showing them the only magnetic coin. Thanks Centsearcher!


Level 5

Always liked the steel cents. Nice to see a hugh grade steel cent. Nice information. Thanks


Level 5

Great blog and coin. High-grade steel cents are very attractive, in my opinion.


Level 6

I know we aren't supposed to do it but I love that label. It is so very fitting for this issue. I am also glad you mentioned the cartridge cents. They tone very nice. It is nice that we are getting so many different blogs on WWII from YN's. Maybe we do have a chance of the kids learning true history. Thanks..


Level 5

I admit, I partially got his coin for the label XD


Level 5

Thanks for sharing! I found this a very interesting read. Nice coin pictured too!


Level 6

Enjoyed your blog! Interesting subject and beautiful coin! ; )


Level 5

Greetings CentSearcher, great blog! Very informative, you are so right, I've found hundreds of steel cents over the years searching through old folks collections for them and seemingly 99 out of a hundred are in lower avg conditions or worse. Well written and appreciated. Later! P.S. Great looking coin!


Level 5

Nice overview. Beautiful coin


Level 6

One of those Lincolns that even from the very first day of collecting, back in 1968, I was thrilled to own. It is just too bad the zinc coating wore so poorly, I think they are quite beautiful when in honest mint state. Thanks for your blog, it brings back great memories.

I. R. Bama

Level 5

Awesome blog. You covered the subject well and I enjoyed it very much! Littleton is a big offender on remanufacturing. There are there others as well.


Level 7

What about the silver nickels. . Yes they needed the metals used to make nickels so they made part of the nickels out of silver and put the mint mark on top of the reverse.. Thanks for the blog. And informatiin!!


Level 5

Yeah.. I though about covering the war nickels but I decided to stick with what I know best

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