During the war years (1944 to 1945), copper, tin, and nickel were required for weapons and military equipment. At the same time, residents were feeling the economic pinch, so they hoarded specie coins (gold and silver), melting them for bullion. So the mint switched to steel coins for a year. Let’s dig deeper to mine the precious secrets of 1944 Steel Penny Value.
1944 Steel Wheat Penny Value Chart
|Mint Mark||Good (G 4)||Fine (F 12)||Extremely Fine (EF 40)||About Uncirculated (AU 50)||Mint State (MS 60)|
|1944 ‘P’ No Mint Mark Steel Penny Value||$0.01||$0.01||$28,210||$33,981||$57, 109|
|1944 S Steel Penny Value||$0.01||$0.01||$399,637||$551,320||$741,587|
|1944 D Steel Penny Value||$0.01||$0.01||$33,981||$45,585||$60,537|
History of the 1944 Steel Wheat Penny
Generally speaking, the penny is known as the Lincoln Cent because it bears his image. The tails side (reverse) has changed at least four times, but the heads side (obverse) honored Lincoln since 1909. He was born on 12th February 1809 and assassinated on 15th April 1865. The penny was posthumously introduced to mark what would have been his 100th birthday.
Because the front of the Lincoln Cent is always Abraham Lincoln, the coins are more often identified by their back imagery. This includes the wheat sheaves on the Wheat Penny (1909 to 1958), the Lincoln Memorial on the Memorial Penny (1959 to 2008), the four designs on the bicentennial penny (2009), and the Union Shield Penny we still use today (2010 to date).
Important redesigns and alterations were affected by Lincoln’s birthdays as well. Memorial Cents arrived on 12th February 1959, marking the 150th anniversary of his birth. And the four reverse designs from 2009 celebrated Lincoln’s bicentennial. Incidentally, we refer to them as pennies instead of cents because that’s what 1-cent coins are called in the United Kingdom.
For most years, the 1c coin was 95% copper with the remaining 5% being a mix of tin and zinc. From 1982, that changed to 97.5% zinc coated with 2.5% copper for coloration. But let’s focus on steel pennies. They were minted in 1943 and 1944. In 1943, at least one coin was 86.41% tin, 1.75% copper, 8.37% antimony, and 1.02% vanadium. The rest were steel.
The steel used on these coins was fairly low grade, infused with carbon, and topped with zinc to add a touch of luxury. The zinc was meant to aid the coin’s rust resistance since iron is so susceptible to oxidation and corrosion (aka rust). But starting in 1942, experimental coins were being developed to save on war metals. The tin cents may have been part of the test batches.
Comparing 1943 vs 1944 Steel Pennies
Some 1943 coins were labeled as tin cents, but the 1944 coins were steel cents, minted from low-grade carbon steel coated with zinc. Both these coins were Wheat Pennies, so they had Lincoln on the front and two wheat sheaves at the back. However, that zinc-iron combination was susceptible to spotting and staining. Plus, people often mixed them up with dimes (10c).
To make these coins, a core of carbon steel was electrolyzed to coat it with 0.013mm of zinc. That’s 0.0005 inches. This metal composition was meant to continue until 1946. The process happened on the planchet sheet – the blank sheet that gets cut into discs for minting coins. Since the coins were coated before minting, their edges quickly rusted in people’s hands.
However, the government decided to drop steel cents by the end of 1943. They made over a billion in total, and the priciest 1943 D Steel Penny sold for over $1.7M in 2010. But once the war was over, the mint quietly recalled these steel pennies. They didn’t announce it for fear of hoarding, so while people did notice their absence, no official record appeared until 1959.
Only a handful of 1944 steel pennies were minted, which explains their pricing. Interestingly, some 1943 ‘steel’ cents were actually tin cents and had no iron in them. They’re visually similar but the tin cents are slightly heavier and will not respond to magnets. Keep a coin scale handy to conveniently distinguish those 1943 tin pennies from their 1944 steel cousins.
Features of the 1944 Steel Wheat Penny
Nicknames for the 1944 Steel Penny include the zinc cent, the wartime cent, the wartime penny, the steel war penny, or simply the steelie. Apart from its distinct metal composition (including semi-metals like antimony), the 1944 steel penny is a wheat penny. Its dimensions devices and edges are similar to its siblings from other years. Let’s check its specifications.
The Obverse of the 1944 Steel Penny
The obverse (heads side) of the 1944 Steel Penny has a portrait of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States. He faces right in the portrait, with the mint mark and mint year placed in front of his chest. The mintage year appears above the mint mark. As for the legends on the coin, In God We Trust is above his head while Liberty sits behind his neck.
The Reverse of the 1944 Steel Penny
The 1944 Lincoln Cent is a wheat penny, so the reverse (tails side) has two ears of durum wheat with One Cent and United States of America between them. The top collar of the coin reads E Pluribus Unum. Both the obverse and the reverse were designed by Victor David Brenner. But the initials VDB only appear on the obverse, at the cut-off of Lincoln’s shoulder.
Other Features of the 1944 Steel Penny
1944 pennies were made using the leftover steel sheets from 1943. These pre-galvanized sheets were punched to make planchets, and the metal composition reduced the weight of these coins to 2.7g. The coin is 19.05mm in diameter and 1.5mm thick. Its official mix of metals is 99% low-grade carbon steel with 1% zinc coating to protect the coin against rust.
These coins had some problems though. Slot machines often had magnets to catch fake coins, and these magnets would grab the steel pennies and jam the coin slot. Sweaty fingers also caused the coin’s edges to rust, and some people tried to pass off steel pennies as dimes. To avoid this, many coins dated 1944 to 1946 were infused with copper from recycled brass shells.
1944 Steel Penny Value Guide
The plan was to mint steel war pennies from December 1942 to December 1946, but in December 1943, the Treasury said they wouldn’t make any more steel cents. So when steel pennies popped up marked 1944, they attracted interest among collectors, resellers, and speculators. Let’s look at these silver-colored coins and find out what they’re worth today.
1944 No Mint Mark Steel Penny Value
In 1944, the Philadelphia Mint only made 30 steel pennies. The rest were bronze cents, and they made over 1.4B of those. Because of their relative rarity, 1944 ‘P’ Steel pennies fetch a premium. In EF 40, that’s about $30,000, but in MS 60, the price jumps closer to $60,000.
1944 S Steel Penny Value
1944 S Steel Pennies are the rarest of the bunch, with only 2 known copies. At EF 40, the coin sells for just under $400,000, while an MS 60 could earn close to $750,000. In MS 63, the highest recorded selling price was over $1.1M. In MS 66, one of these 1944 S Steel Pennies sold for over $370,000. The coin was slightly underweight at 2.6g instead of 2.7g.
1944 D Steel Penny Value
In 1944, only 7 steel pennies are known to exist with the D mint mark. In EF 40, these coins go for a little over $30,000 while the price hits $60,000 in MS 60. Prices are slightly higher than 1944 ‘P’ pennies (no mint mark). A 1944 D Steel Penny in AU 53 sold for over $37,000.
1944 Steel Penny Errors
Coin errors can be spotted at the mint, at the bank, or by the public. Some of these flaws are quite valuable. After all, low-grade coins with valid errors could score hundreds of dollars! It may also help to know where these 1944 steel cents came from. There are two main theories.
Some say the planchets got stuck in the machines in 1943 and accidentally dropped into bronze batches from 1944. Others claim the steel pennies were made using the planchets of Belgian 2-Franc coins minted in Philadelphia that year. Either way, time to spot some errors!
Finding flaws in the 1944 Steel Penny is surprisingly difficult because so few samples exist. None have been listed for sale in a while, and only 35 to 40 have been acknowledged to date. Lots of coin dealers list steel coins themselves as errors, but that was fully mint-sanctioned.
More of these steel coins have popped up in recent years, so more errors may be listed and discovered. But for the record, steel cents or zinc-coated pennies are not mint errors. They’re official coins made with permission from Congress and were all coined in 1943 and 1944.
On the other hand, the minting of steel coins was officially stopped in December 1943, so technically speaking, all the 1944 steel pennies can be counted as error coins. It’s why some people speculate that those 30 to 40 planchets were accidentally forgotten in the machinery.
This theory suggests that when standard 1944 bronze coins were being coined, the handful of 1944 steel planchets that remained jammed in the minting machines got minted and mixed into regular bronze cents. It sounds like a case of po-tay-toh po-tah-tow, but there you go!
FAQs About the 1944 Steel Penny
How Much is a 1943 or 1944 Penny Worth?
In low grades, a 1943 or 1944 penny is only worth its face value. But in high grades, a 1944 S Steel Penny once sold for $1,110,923, so your coin could be worth a million dollars! In 2021, a 1944 S Steel Penny sold for $108,000 in MS 64 while another sold for $408,000 in MS 66.
How Many 1944 Steel Pennies Are There?
According to USA Coin Book, about 40 steel pennies were minted in 1944. They include 30 from Philadelphia (no mint mark), 7 from Denver (D Mint Mark), and 2 from San Francisco (S Mint Mark). These listings cover the verified coins submitted to NGC or PCGS for grading.
How Can I Tell if my 1944 Wheat Penny is Steel?
First, weigh the coin. Most 1944 Wheat Pennies are bronze (95% copper), but counterfeits might be coated with nickel or zinc to mimic steel. Start by weighing the coin. Copper cents weigh 3.11g while steel cents weigh 2.7g. Next, use a magnet. Steel pennies have iron in them.
Other coins that have the same coloration include silver, nickel, tin, and zinc-laced coins. So if you want to be sure your 1944 wheat penny is steel, test it with a magnet. Iron coins react strongly and will let the magnet lift the coin. Zinc, silver, tin, and nickel coins barely respond.
What Years Were Pennies Made of Steel?
Steel Wheat Pennies were minted in 1943 and 1944. In 1943, almost 1.1B steel pennies were coined, but in 1944, less than 40 steel pennies were released from all three mints combined. Earlier sources listed all the 1944 steel cents as errors because the pennies were intended to return to their 95% copper content that year. Only the 1943 pennies were planned in steel.
What Steel Penny is Worth the Most?
The most valuable steel penny is a 1943-D. Let me explain. In 1943, all pennies were meant to be zinc-coated steel. That year was planned as the only year when pennies would have zero copper in them. So the 1943-D Wheat Penny that was accidentally struck in copper ended up being quite valuable and sold for over $1.7M. It weighed 3.11g instead of the expected 2.7g.
Conversely, all 1944 pennies should have copper. So those 40 or so steel pennies from 1944 ended up being quite pricy. They weigh 2.7g, and the most valuable one to date was a 1944 S Steel Wheat Penny. It was graded as an MS 66 by NGC (Numismatic Guaranty Corporation) and weighed 2.6g instead of the standard 2.7g. In 2008, this coin was sold for $373,750.