During 1943 the US Mint was producing Lincoln pennies from zinc coated steel in a an effort to save copper for the war effort. But as chance would have it a few bronze planchets were still lodged in the machinery used to feed the coin press, from the production of 1942 copper cents.
As production began on these new steel cent coins at the three operating US Mint branches(Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco) these left over bronze(95% copper) blanks were inadvertently fed into the coining press and struck as bronze 1943 Lincoln penny coins.
Due to the second world war that was raging overseas at the time, the mint had to contend with inexperienced staff, working on skeleton shifts. As a result their quality control suffered greatly and a handful of these bronze coins made it through to circulation. Speculation about the existence of these so-called copper cent coins immediately caught the publics' imagination as the steel cent coins entered circulation.
It soon entered the realm of urban legend with some truly fanciful stories being reported around proverbial water coolers from wide and far. These included claims that Henry Ford had offered a brand new Ford to anyone who could produce one of these rumoured coins as a reward, a claim that was later proven false. Even more absurd were claims that a new car would be awarded to anyone who could collect a set of mint marks that would spell out F-O-R-D. Something that would of course be impossible as no “O”, “R” or “F” mint marks existed for these coins.
While the Mint maintained, even for decades after, that no such coins were ever minted or released – collectors kept searching all the same. Then in 1947 legend turned to reality as 1943 bronze cents were found in circulation.
Today it is accepted as fact that these coins were minted in error and that some have survived, albeit in very small numbers. Less than 40 of the 1943 bronze 1c coins are thought to be in existence today across all three mint marks, with less than 17 emanating from the Philadelphia Mint.
At the August 2017 ANA World's Fait of Money, held in Denver, one such surviving coin was placed on auction and as one would expect drew quite a bit of attention. The coin was certified by NGC as MS62 Brown, and stands as one of only ten such coins in the NGC Census report, making it one of only two known coins in this grade(the other is graded by PCGS) with only one finer example known.
After the final gavel fell, the coin which was presented as lot number 3889 by Heritage Auction as “1943 CENT Struck on a Bronze Planchet MS62 Brown NGC” had sold for $282 000.00. As remarkable as this is it does however, not stand as the record price for this type coin. That honour belongs to an AU55 example graded by PCGS. The coin was listed by Legend Rare Coin Auctions in 2014 and holds the auction record at $329 000.00.