In 1944, the United States was embroiled in the bloody conflict of WWII. Citizens had to put up with blackouts, raid sirens, rationing and shortages, but they needed good and usable coinage, and something they would not stand for was the substandard quality of the then new steel pennies of 1943. Complaints to Government prompted their action, and they issued a new cent made of copper.
The Lincoln wheat penny steel cent is an oddity of U.S. coinage. The steel proved inferior to the standard copper blanks used in manufacture, but as copper became more vital to the U.S. war effort, the Mint made the decision to remove the metal in its coins in 1943. In just the next year the U.S. Government made another change to the Lincoln Wheat Head Cent. Recycled spent shell casings were used to boost copper supplies enough to resume the pressing of copper coinage. The copper coins were a welcome replacement for wartime steel issues, and the change over also brought numismatists, those who collect coins that is, a new collectible error coin. When steel planchets (the sheets of raw material that are used to produce blanks for striking) were used mistakenly instead of the replacement copper the second most valuable Lincoln Wheat Cent error was born.
The U.S. Mint prides itself in its quality control in its production facilities, and as such very few error coins of any year are produced. The 1944 steel pennies were punched on blanks suspected to have been loaded into the hoppers of coin preses readied for the previous year’s coins. The rarity of these error coins makes them valuable in almost any condition. Of course, coins must be at least ‘poor’ by PCGS grading standards (meaning that at least the year and mint mark are legible) to interest collectors. What collectors desire is something rare and distinctive, and this penny has both.
When searching loose coins for additions to your collection, take precautions to prevent further damage to the surface of the coin. Having a systematic approach, such as processing one type of coin at a time, will aid in detecting of rare coins as the repetition of objects will help your eye ‘map’ the fine details on the coin. If possible wear non-tarnishing jeweler’s gloves. The oil and residue that handling coins with bare hands will inevitably deposit may sometimes erode the finish on coin surfaces. Don’t store coins in old acrylic coin holders, as they may tarnish coins after time. Some types of paper may also release gases that accelerate coin degradation, so avoid storing coins with books or coin reference materials. Proper care will help maintain the luster of your pocket change gem.
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