Got a 1943 copper penny? Don't spend it

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World War II pennies were made mostly of steel. Dan Lewis on the rare and oft-faked coppers that made it out of the mint.

There are actually almost 200 billion pennies out there, not 200 million.

I have a bunch of the steel pennies that I found as a kid (1970’s) - I collected coins, so my mom and sister would let me go through their change.
The nickels from the same time period were made out of silver.
It was surprising what one could find in circulating change; three cent pieces (look like dimes), old silver coins, old nickels, etc.
My sister was a waitress and every once in a while I would find a bunch of old coins - I assumed that someone must have raided their old change jar…


I have heard that every attempt to eliminate the penny fails, but I can’t even imagine an argument for keeping it. Penny collectors, sure, but they’re not a very powerful lobbying group. So who’s keeping the penny mint rolling in 2014?

People hate change. And I guess they love change.


I’ve been refusing pennies for the last few years, offering to round up or down to the nearest nickel. Maybe I should stop that and start checking those pennies though - accepting them again is kinda like a free way to play the lottery, with a payoff of potentially $10k!

I see what you did there…

My father told me that living as a young man in the fifties, he had a friend who obsessively checked his change for 1943 copper pennies. So he copper plated a steel penny to prank him. It worked.


People who can’t actually explain how but who are absolutely sure that they will be cheated when they can no longer pay arbitrary amounts (or, more typically, get marginally useful pennies as change).


and putting copper into pennies seemed like a huge waste.

It still is, yet we continue to do it.


The last mostly silver quarter I found was from trying to put it into a vending machine and having it repeatedly rejected for being the wrong weight.

If you put change into a CoinStar machine, there is notice that old (silver) coins will not be counted or even returned! This must add up to a nice piece of change for them.

Hoarders that were saving “junk” silver up until 2004 made a very very wise investment. I wish I had 5 gallons of old dimes!


Have you not seen Superman III? Even fractions of a penny add up. Let the banks round amounts in their favor, and the next thing you know we’ll have supercomputer-powered killer cyborgs crawling out the Grand Canyon.

I think we can muddle through the inconvenience of dealing with pennies.


In 1943 the copper was needed for casings for cannon shells. 1944 copper pennies are made from old cannon shells.


My current system is to try to spend them by paying exact change whenever possible, and wait until I’ve gathered more than 5 or 6 in my pocket, at which point I throw them away.

I think that’s the wrong strategy - taking them out of circulation just means the US Mint will make more. My strategy is to encourage (in a very, very small way) merchants to consider giving up the penny. If merchants all put signs up saying “we round to the nearest nickel” then they would have no pennies to return to banks, and more importantly, wouldn’t ever need to get pennies from their bank. The pennies would accumulate to the point where they’d have a Scrooge McDuck situation, and ultimately theyd have to stop producing (and hopefully recycle) the penny. That would amount to about $4 billion worth of reclyable material, at zero cost.

This topic was addressed on an episode of the West Wing. Something about Illinois and the state motto “Land of Lincoln.”

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I have a 1940 penny. Is there anything special about it?

You can pick up a few non-magnetic 1943 copper pennies here pretty cheap!

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My aunt used to deliver bread when I was a kid and she knew I collected coins. So she cut me a deal. She said, “Just give me the same amount in face value change, and I’ll give you any silver coins and wheat pennies I find.” I got Franklin and silver Kennedy half dollars, silver dimes, quarters and buffalo nickels and too many wheat pennies to really know what to do with. She even coughed up a couple silver certificates for me. All from people paying the bread truck with whatever they had in the till.