Monday, June 7, 2010

Coin Monday: Cents of Steel

June 7, 2010
Written by John Dale

While the Man of Steel dates to 1938, America’s “cents of steel” date to 1943—the vast majority of them, anyway. Comic book superheroes, Superman included, were influenced by World War II, and so too was America’s coinage. The steel cents of 1943, such as this 1943-D/D variety cent in the upcoming July Summer FUN Auction, came about this way, with bronze (and its scarce component copper) taken out and more plentiful steel substituted.

The switch didn’t work out so well; circulated steel cents became dull quickly and were easily confused with dimes. In 1944, the coinage metal for cents reverted to a copper-based alloy, not strictly bronze but similar.

The two transition periods, copper to steel and then the reverse, created two distinct classes of off-metal errors. The first type, the 1943-dated cent made out of bronze instead of steel, has been covered on this blog before. The flip side of the 1943 bronze cent is the steel cent struck in 1944, after the steel planchets should have been retired; hence “the vast majority” above, since there are a relative handful of error coins that serve as exceptions.

The 1944-dated steel cents show up only occasionally at Heritage, though Heritage will be auctioning a pair of them in back-to-back auctions. Lot 170 in the just-completed June Long Beach Auction was a 1944-D steel cent graded AU55 by NGC.

Bidders who missed out on that coin will get a second chance in July, when another 1944-D steel cent, this one graded AU53 by PCGS, will be a standout of Summer FUN. Incredibly, both coins are pedigreed to The Brenda John Collection, a fact which gave me a rare case of collector envy when I heard it. Just imagine me shaking my head and muttering to myself, “Two 1944-D steel cents? You have to be joking…”

The two coins are plenty serious, though, just as serious as the collectors who bid on the first and will chase after the second. If the 1944-D steel cent is a bit too much for your budget, the auction also has a number of 1943-D steel cents to go around, including this Superb Gem.

Happy bidding!

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