Wheat Penny Sells for $1 Million

It’s incredible how costly a mistake can be–especially when it means that a penny sells for $1 million.  In late 2012, Bob Simpson, of Major League Baseball’s Texas Rangers, bought a Lincoln Head Wheat Penny, which was made as a mistake. Cast out of bronze instead of zinc covered steel as it should have been that year, this coin is believed to be exceptionally rare. And Mr. Simpson paid a pretty penny for it–one million dollars worth, to be exact.

History of the 1943 Penny

World War II efforts in 1943 caused a short supply of copper, which was the main ingredient in the penny at the time. Instead, it was decided that pennies that year would be made out of steel and covered in zinc in order to preserve the more important copper for manufacturing ammunition and parts for military use. The new composite pennies were sometimes known as the “white penny”. Many of these pennies may show a silver color peeping through from behind the zinc covering. It can easily be distinguished as a steel penny with a quick magnet check. Steel is attracted to magnets–copper is not.

In 1943, when the composition of pennies was changed to zinc covered steel, just a few of them were erroneously minted on copper planchets, presumably left over from the previous year. These rare pennies have the standard Lincoln head on the front and ONE CENT on the back, flanked by wheat sheafs. Some reports may also refer to these mistake pennies as bronze, as they were technically an alloy of copper mixed with 5% tin and zinc. The error in minting this particular coin purchase by Simpson was made at the San Francisco Mint, and experts believe there were less than twenty of these mistake coins ever made. Only four of them of the 1943-S error pennies are accounted for today, and Mr. Simpson owns the best of them.


Popular Wheat Pennies

Because of the first mistake penny that showed up in 1947, wheat pennies from 1943 quickly became items people thought might be valuable one day. This meant that many people saved the wheat pennies instead of spending them, just in case they were truly copper. For the steel pennies covered in zinc, the collection of wheat pennies didn’t do much to add to their value. They are now worth about fifteen cents each because of their novelty.

The wheat pennies that were worth saving were the few bronze mistakes that made their way out of the mint into circulation. Once it was known that these bronze 1943 pennies existed, people began trying to replicate them. Thefore, many fakes exist which people hoped to pass off as a rare and valuable Lincoln copper. For instance, after 1943 pennies were again minted out of bronze. Some folks took this opportunity to try to forge duplicates of the 1943 bronze pennies. Attempting to increase the value of the 1948 wheat pennies, they cut the 8 in half to make a 3. These fakes are fairly obvious, however, and will only fool novices. Avid collectors are fully aware of these schemes to create false value in the 1943 wheat pennies and this just enhances the rarity of the actual Lincoln coppers from that year.


A Complete Collection

The Professional Coin Grading Service attests to the authenticity of this rare Lincoln copper purchased by Simpson from a coin dealer in New Jersey. PCGS has a grading scale from 1 to 70 for coins, and this 1943-S penny ranked as Secure Plus Mint State 62. It was in fairly good shape without much damage, so it likely was held by someone for some time rather than in circulation for all of those years.

When Simpson was a child, he ran across one of these fakes and was quite disappointed to discover it was lacking in value. Now, it seems, he has made up for it.

Simpson has been an avid coin collector for many years. One of his other 1943 Lincoln coppers was purchased at a record  $1.7 million. That wheat penny was minted in Denver, and Simpson was in negotiations with the previous owner for several years before finally agreeing on the purchase. The anonymous previous owner of the 1943-D apparently donated all of the profits from the sale of that coin to charity.

Simpson added this most recent $1 million coin to two other rare wheat pennies minted in Denver (the $1.7 million coin) and Philadelphia as mistakes in 1943, each with their own stories behind the rare finds. This San Francisco version of the 1943 Lincoln copper wheat penny serves to complete Simpson’s collection. He now has three of the rarest pennies struck in the 20th century, one from each mint that was in production during 1943.

Monday, April 29th, 2013 Blog

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