AoC Market Report: How Much are Steel 1944 Lincoln Wheat Pennies or Cents Worth?

We recently saw a bronze 1943 Lincoln Wheat Cent (non-collectors call this type of US coin “Wheat Pennies” or “Lincoln Pennies”) sell for over $200,000.

Aside: And if you’re new to numismatics and curious if you might have a $200,000 Lincoln Wheat Penny (we collectors call them Lincoln Cents), the Academy of Coins© put together a page of Lincolns to look out for. What Lincoln Pennies are worth money? Get your start there. (And it’s a handy reference for the rest of us experienced numismatists.)

I wrote up an article about what that sale said about the numismatic market. And at the end of the article, I explained I’d put together about the 1944 Steels, too.

So here we are.

Steel 1944 Lincoln Penny AU, Obverse
Steel 1944 Lincoln Cent, AU, Obverse. Ah, the dull dark gray of oxidized zinc over steel. Were this coin were dated 1943, it would be one of hundreds of millions worth a few cents at most. But it’s not – it’s a 1944. And suddenly, we’ve got something interesting…

But before I get into it, I need to make the same disclaimers about off-metal cents from 1943 and 1944. (Again.)

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 1944 Lincoln Wheat Penny, Mint State Red, Obverse
Bronze 1944 Lincoln Wheat Penny, Mint State Red, Obverse. This coin is common. There are hundreds of millions of them from each mint. (Though, if you have one that you think looks this nice, it might be worth having a professional getting it checked out! Most are not this nice.)

Bronze – brown or red or copper or anything in between – 1943 Lincoln Wheat Cents (or Lincoln Pennies) are scarce.

Steel – silvery or gray or dull black – 1944 Lincoln Wheat Cents (or Wheat Pennies) are scarce.

1943 STEEL CENT = COMMON.

1944 BRONZE CENT = COMMON.

1943 BRONZE CENT = SCARCE.

1944 STEEL CENT = SCARCE.

Steel 1944 Wheat Penny, AU, Obverse
Steel 1944 Wheat Penny, AU, Obverse. Suuuuuurrrrre, that’s AU, right? But, no. Just stop. NO. But hey, it’s authentic and therefore it’s an extremely valuable coin – if… er… liberally graded.

So if you have a 1944 Steel Cent, it’s likely counterfeit. You should have it checked out by a professional. If you want to spend a lot of money and take a lot of time to mail your coin off, use PCGS, NGC, ANACS, or ICG. If you don’t want to spend a lot of money and you want it checked out quickly, take fantastic pictures with your phone camera and try PriceThatCoin.com

So what’s going on with Steel 1944 Lincoln Wheat Cents lately?

Authentic Steel 1944 Lincoln Wheat Cents

30 or so known to the numismatic community
Highest public auction price paid: $158,625
PCGS MS64
Stack’s Bowers, 7/27/2013

Steel 1944 Lincoln Penny, Mint State, Obverse
Steel 1944 Lincoln Cent, Mint State 63, Obverse. NGC graded this coin Mint State 63. Were it any other coin, it probably would have Unc Detailed or 62d, max. But it’s not any other coin.

That 64 is one of two, the highest graded certified P coins. One of them has a really pretty color, but kind of a weak strike. The other has a sharper strike, but the color is off and the coin has a giant fingerprint all over the reverse. It also has some dark spots – typical for Steel Wheats. I’d rate the first coin at about a 7/10 for eye appeal, the second coin about 4/10.

(Like toning, this is all subjective – we’re just trying to give you our baseline and you can interpret from there.)

The lowest graded certified coins are 50s. The last one of those to sell was January of last year, and it sold for $33,600. It’s an ugly coin. If you’re familiar with Steel Wheats, you know how ugly they get when the zinc coating oxidizes, and then wear marks come in at the high points. It’s kind of a dull medium dark gray. Were it any other coin, it wouldn’t have straight-graded, but probably gotten environmental details. Anyway, it’s not nice.

The most recent sale for a ’44 Steel was in August of last year. Actually, we got to see the gamut a bit here. An NG63 sold and and NG55 sold through Stack’s Bowers. The 63 is an ugly, spotted coin. It sold for $48,000. The 55 sold for $21,600. And it’s among the ugliest Steel Cents you’ve ever seen. Again, a coin that would otherwise get environmental damage. Heavily pitted, discolored, horrible strike. It’s so rough and porous, it’s actually a bit of a shock the thing is authentic. If it came to me I’d probably think it is a fake. But the folks at NGC know what they’re doing, so we’ll trust them. I don’t agree with the grade, however. Not one bit.

But people still want these coins! Here we are – less than a year ago, a couple of folks paid big bucks for scarce but ugly coins.

Authentic Steel 1944-D Lincoln Wheat Cent

7 known to the numismatic community
Highest public auction price paid: $115,000
PCGS MS63
Heritage Auctions, 8/9/200

There is 1 MS63 coin, though it is not considerably nicer than the 62. As such, if it came to auction today, I’d guess it’d get around $200 – $250k. I don’t think it would break $300k. And if the 62 came up, it might get the same, but if it came up after the 63, it would only get $100 – $150k.

Authentic Steel 1944-S Lincoln Wheat Cents

2 known to the numismatic community
Highest public auction price paid: $373,750
PCGS MS66
Heritage Auctions, 7/1/2008

Steel 1944-S Lincoln Wheat Cent, Gem, Obverse
Steel 1944-S Lincoln Wheat Cent, Gem, Obverse

Now we’re getting warm! Not only is this a spectacular Steel 1944 Lincoln Wheat Cent… This is actually a rather nice Steel Lincoln Wheat Cent, all on it’s own. The finest of the ’44 Steels and one of only two San Fran coins known. That’s a special coin.

The XF40 coin came up last August and it got $50,000. And it’s just one of two known. So that doesn’t bode well for the ’44-S in ‘6. Had that 40 coin hit a respectable $100 – $150k, the 66 piece would be a million dollar coin. But it didn’t. So it’s not.

Steel 1944-S Lincoln Penny, XF, Obverse
Steel 1944-S Lincoln Penny, Extremely Fine, Obverse. Again, were it any other coin, it would obviously go in a Details holder. The surfaces are pitted and corroded from environmental damage. And there are obviously XF coins that don’t look like this. But NGC wanted it in their holder, so they straight-graded it. I’m sure the owner is ecstatic.

My guess about the 66 is that were it to come to auction, there would be heated bidding to about $400k. I think it could make $600,000 on a good day, but realistically, it’s over $400 today. Now, I could be wrong. There are a couple of whales out there vying for the finest of everything. If Dell Loy wanted to get his hands on it and Morelan decided he wanted it more, things could get exciting.

The 40 coin is again pitted, but the color isn’t so bad. I’m guessing the coin was conserved. It should be in a details holder, but it’s not.

The MS66 coin is gorgeous. It’s realistically a 5+, not a 6, but who am I to judge?

The market for Steel Wheats is an interesting one. Finding a nice coin is hard. And by that I mean, all things are realative. Most of the 1944 Steel Wheats are ugly. There are few that aren’t. Any other coin, any other denomenation, we would all be scoffing at the majority of them. But there are so few, we can’t afford do scoff. If you want one, you will have to pay serious megabucks to get a decent example.

What, exactly, are serious megabucks? You’d have to get two somebodies with lots of fake stock market money together to find out. And it would be fun to watch.

I’ll make the popcorn.

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