We recently saw a bronze 1943 Lincoln Wheat Cent – non-collectors call them Wheat Pennies or Lincoln Pennies – sell for over $200,000.
But, perhaps you heard, there were mistakes made leading up to the sale. News outlets began promoting the fact that the coin could sell for $1.7 Million dollars, and everyone got in a tizzy.
Turns out that estimate was wrong only because some knucklehead didn’t know what they were talking about. All of the numismatic organizations involved had the numbers correct, it was some hack who didn’t know anything about coins who spread the false word to all of the news outlets.
Not the first time there would be confusion about 1943 Lincoln “Pennies,” surely not the last.
It’s not surprising because the 1943 Bronze Cent and the 1944 Steel Cents are probably the most confused coins in American numismatics. Every time one of these coins comes up for sale, every person and their uncle, and their sister, and sister-in-law and grandfather comes rushing into every coin shop across the country demanding One Million American Dollars for their rare 1943 Steel Cent.
And they turn in smirking disbelief at the proprietor of said innocent coin store, for trying to shirk them of their surely-owed One Million American Dollars. Their ’43 Steel or 1944 Bronze Cent lottery ticket is but a common penny? Surely, ye jest, knave.
Well, yeah, it is.
This isn’t hard.
1943 Steel Cents are common. You can buy them by the uncirculated roll. You can buy them by the pound. From all mints.
1944 Bronze Cents are common. You can buy them by the uncirculated roll. You can buy them by the pound. From all mints. (Though you should look out for the old D/S.)
Bronze (see that? Brown? Red? Et cetera…) 1943 Lincoln Wheat Cents (or Lincoln Pennies) are scarce.
Steel (see that? Silvery? Grey? Et cetera… 1944 Lincoln Wheat Cents (or Wheat Pennies) are scarce.
NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND.
I’ll reiterate: (and for the numismatists reading who know this plain as day, skip down a bit, because that’s where it gets interesting)
1943 STEEL CENT = COMMON. 1943 and grey? Normal.
1944 BRONZE CENT = COMMON. 1944 and brown? Normal.
1943 BRONZE CENT = SCARCE. 1943 and brown? Scarce, possibly counterfeit, possibly valuable.
1944 STEEL CENT = SCARCE. 1944 and grey? Scarce, possibly counterfeit, possibly valuable.
Think I’m being obnoxious about this? Try some of the thousands of customers that plagued the coin shops of mine and all of my colleagues here at AoC, and the thousands of coin shops around the country through the years. You have no idea. Everyone is an expert after misreading a newspaper article. Forget us, the people that have dedicated our lives to the study of these wonderful artistic little disks. We don’t know anything.
I digress. /rant.
Also, you should know that counterfeit 1943 Bronze Cents are common. And counterfeit 1944 Steel Cents are common. So if you think you have one, get it checked out by a professional (ahem, like PriceThatCoin.com) *grin* (Okay, ad over.)
So what’s going on with these coins lately?
Let’s fill you in.
Authentic Bronze 1943 Lincoln Wheat Cents
10 or so known to the numismatic community
Highest public auction price paid: $329,000
PCGS AU55 CAC
Legend Rare Coin Auctions, 5/22/2014
The coin that most recently sold was an NGC AU53, which sold for $204,000 (January, 2019).
It’s kind of a soft looking coin, which goes along with the story of it being found in lunch money in 1947. It’s got an odd tick under the 3. Incidentally, it’s exactly the kind of tick you should look for in counterfeits. This example it is definitely authentic, but that tick is often a great indicator. The recently sold piece is a well-dinged up example, as you’d expect for a lower AU grade copper coin to be. It has the wear of a 58, but the dings keep it down. Color is dark, but mostly even. Of the Bronze ’43s, it’s eye appeal is around a 6/10. The one pictured just below is a 9/10 for me. In terms of AU Lincolns, it’s more like a 4 or 5/10 – a coin you might pass on in this grade to find a more eye appealing example.
(Like toning, this is all subjective – we’re just trying to give you our baseline and you can interpret from there.)
(And when it comes to Bronze 1943 Cents, you don’t have as many choices, so you take what you can get!)
The highest graded certified coin is an NGC MS 62, which Heritage sold last in August of 2017 for $282,000.
It’s a coin with a sharp strike and okay eye appeal. Some discoloration, and strike brings it up to 62, it really looks like a 60 coin. The discoloration isn’t horrific, it’s something you see on AU+ wheat cents regularly, but on any other coin it would hold the grade down to 60. Eye appeal for this exact coin – among only other Bronze 1943 Wheats is probably a 7/10. But eye appeal for the type – if you saw any other Lincoln Wheat looking like this – it’d be a 4/10.
The lowest graded certified coin is a PCGS XF45, which the Goldbergs sold for $193,875.
That’s a straight up ugly coin. It’s actually AU, sharpness around 50. But it’s so dinged up, the grade makes sense. For Bronze 1943 Wheat Cents, I’d give this coin an eye appeal of about 4/10. As Wheat Cents on the whole go, it’s more like a 3/10.
This grader personally feels the Simpson piece, PCGS AU58CAC, is the most eye appealing example. Heritage sold it last year for a little over $300k. Legend’s PC55 (the record holder) isn’t far behind. If you were to argue which coin is more attractive, you’re not wrong. They’re both much better looking coins than the others mentioned here. Eye appeal on both counts up in the 8 range.
Authentic Bronze 1943-D Lincoln Wheat Cent
1 known to the numismatic community
Highest public auction price paid: $212,750
Goldberg Auctions, 2/24/2003
Estimated Current Value: $1.5M
This is the big cahuna. This is the coin the writer from the PR firm mistook. If this coin came up for auction today, an estimate of $1.7M is surely appropriate.
Not only is it the only ’43-D, it’s possibly the nicest bronze ’43. It’s lovely. Eye appeal around 8/10 for Lincoln Cents. It has some interesting spots on the reverse, but plenty of original bloom.
Authentic Bronze 1943-S Lincoln Wheat Cents
5 known to the numismatic community
Highest public auction price paid: $282,000
PCGS AU58BN CAC Ex; Simpson
Heritage Auctions, 2/6/2016
The Bronze 1943-Ss are tough, too – only 5 of them known.
The highest graded piece is a PCGS MS62BN. It’s also, in my opinion – feel free to disagree – the best looking.
The lowest graded piece in an PCGS VF35. Heritage sold it in 2013 for $141k.
The Simpson piece, which is one of the prettier bronze 1943s, is in my opinion not quite as nice as the 62. (Often, AU-58 coins have better eye appeal than MS-62 coins.) It’s close, but I actually prefer the ‘2 even though it has spots. I don’t like the uneven powdered luster look of the Simpson 58.
So what does this most recent sale of these scarce but sought, reasonably unattractive pieces say about the coin market?
That’s a good question. These coins have been hot for a while, with prices going up and up. A $120,000 price drop for one grade point over five years – it’s interesting. Other examples have continued to appreciate, so you wouldn’t expect a 30% loss over five years. That said, a 30% price difference between the finest known and the next finest known is expected – but the 55 isn’t the finest known. But it may be the most eye appealing.
The other thing it could be telling us is that the buyer overpaid for the record-setter in 2014. It was a bit of a different market then.
Then again, it’s very difficult to extrapolate from the rarified air surrounding bronze 1943 Lincoln Wheat Cents to the entire coin market.
In the end, $200,000 for a very decent, very scarce coin is not bad. The market is doing fine. Not great, but it could certainly be worse. There are still big money buyers for exciting coins, and they don’t have any problem paying for them.
Thank you for checking in again with us this week. I’ll follow this article up at some point in the near future with a piece about the ’44 Steels. (NOT the ’44 Bronzes.)