A silver penny is a type of one cent coin that was minted in the United States in 1943. Silver pennies were not actually made of silver, but rather of steel that had been thinly coated in zinc. For a collector’s item, these coins are relatively common, and are easily found in coin shops, even though it is rare to accidentally find a silver penny still in circulation.
The 1943 silver penny was struck in steel instead of the usual copper. This was due to the increased need to dedicate all available copper to the military during World War II. Military forces needed copper for use in ammunition and other wartime applications, and the silver penny was just part of the plan to conserve copper for the war effort.
Despite the patriotic motivation for this change, the results included some unforeseen problems. Steel tarnished even more quickly than copper, because of its high iron content. Rust also formed at the edges of the coin, quickly deteriorating them. Perhaps the most vexing problem was that new silver pennies could easily be mistaken for dimes when giving or receiving change for a purchase, due to their color as well as their lighter weight compared to copper pennies.
The public outcry that resulted from these problems led the US Mint to stop production of the silver penny after just one year, though there were also a few 1944 silver pennies made before the transition was completed. Large numbers of 1943 pennies were collected by the mints and destroyed, meaning that those that have survived are somewhat collectible. A 1943 silver penny that is in circulated condition is worth about $0.12 to $0.15 U.S. Dollars (USD), whereas one in brand new, uncirculated condition is worth about $0.50 USD.
The few 1944 silver pennies that were made are sometimes considered to have been minted in error, and in any case, they are much rarer that the 1943 variety, and can fetch a significantly higher price. Because of another, similar error, some of the pennies made in 1943 were minted in copper rather than steel. Like the 1944 silver penny, the 1943 copper penny is quite rare, with fewer than 50 ever made, and only about a dozen that have been located. One of these coins, still in new condition, was sold at auction for more than $200,000 USD in 2004.
In light of such prices, many counterfeit examples have been made by plating 1943 steel pennies with copper. This was also sometimes done to produce novelty items, rather than an attempt at fraud. Either way, the best method to tell a copper penny from a copper plated steel one is easy; steel is attracted to a magnet, while copper is not.