C - Cents-Small Cents-Lincoln Cents-Wheat Cents-World War II Steel Cents (1942-44)

With the US entry into World War II in 1941, copper and tin, which were both used in the cent, were in short supply. Experiments were carried out by several corporations under contract from the Mint; they tested various metallic and non-metallic substances, including fiber, tempered glass, and several types of plastic. These experiments used various designs, since actual Lincoln cent dies could not leave government custody. As the experiments proceeded, production of bronze cents was cut back drastically in July 1942, and ceased in December. On December 18, 1942, Congress gave the mint authorization to change the composition of the cent for a three-year period, and five days later, Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau announced that the coin would be made out of zinc-coated steel. Zinc and iron form an electromagnetic "couple"; the two metals soon corrode when in contact with each other in a damp atmosphere. The public soon complained that the new coins were becoming spotted and stained. Another common complaint was confusion with the dime, and some letters suggested that a hole be punched in the center of the new coins. Morgenthau responded that the new pieces would soon become darker, and that the Mint would be willing to darken them if it could figure out a suitable process.

In December 1943, the Treasury Department announced that the steel cent would be discontinued after 1943, to be replaced with coins containing 95% copper and 5% zinc (pre-1943 cents contained the same percentage of copper but might also contain tin in place of some of the zinc). The Treasury also stated that some of the metal for the new coins would be obtained by melting down small arms ammunition shells. However, numismatic writer Shane Anderson, in his study of the Lincoln cent, doubts that any shells were melted down, except perhaps ceremonially. After the war, the Treasury quietly retired as many steel cents as it could from circulation, while denying it was doing so—no public admission of the program was made until 1959, as the Treasury feared that were it publicly known, the coins would be hoarded. A few 1943 bronze cents and 1944 steel cents are known to exist, and are valuable. Only one 1943-D cent in bronze is known; it sold in September 2010 for $1.7 million.One of the four known 1943-S cents in bronze was sold to Texas Rangers baseball team co-chairman Bob R. Simpson for $1 million. There are also many cents dated 1943 that were coated with copper to imitate the genuine rarity. These pieces may be distinguished from genuine off-metal strikes by the use of a magnet. The planchets from which the 1943 and 1944 off-metal strikes were coined were most likely concealed in the coining equipment and were struck when coinage resumed after year end. The cent returned to its prewar composition in 1946.

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