What Is Special About the 1943 Wheat Penny?

The 1943 wheat penny is unique because it is made of steel-coated zinc, rather than copper and nickel, according to the U.S. Mint. In 1943, copper and nickel were needed for ammunition to fight World War II rather than coin production. However, 40 coins were minted in copper inadvertently, making them amongst the rarest and most sought-after U.S. coins.

Steel pennies were only minted in 1943, and the USA Coin Book states that nearly 500 million were produced in the San Francisco, Denver and Philadelphia mints. In 2014, the value of a steel penny ranges from about 14 cents for a circulated coin in good condition to $7.65 for an uncirculated coin in perfect, or "mint," condition. The wheat penny is so named because two durum wheat ears appear on the reverse, while Lincoln appears on the front.

The Huffington Post reports that Bill Simpson, co-owner of the Texas Rangers and coin enthusiast, paid $1 million, the highest amount known as of 2012, for a copper 1943 wheat penny. Because of its collector value, the 1943 wheat penny is frequently counterfeited by changing the date on 1945, 1948 or 1949 pennies or by coating the steel cents with copper, according to the U.S. Mint. One can easily test a penny's metal, though, by applying a magnet. A steel penny will attract a magnet, while a true copper penny will not.