War Coins of the United States

War Coins of the United States

War Coins Had Different Metallic Content

War coins were minted to allow metal to be committed to the war effort.


On December 7, 1941, the United States of America was brought into World War II by a devastating attack by Japan. Before that, the United States did assist with supplying the British who were already engaged in the war in Europe, but did not commit troops to the effort. However, shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hitler on behalf of Germany declared war on the United States, bringing a war in two major theaters to be fought. Now the United States had to supply its own troops with ammunition, and this in turn caused several changes in the United States’ coinage to be made.


The two coins involved are the penny and the nickel. In fact, there were two changes made to the penny.


War Coins:  The One Cent Coins

The Two Changes

In 1943 the cent had its composition changed from ninety-five percent copper and five percent tin and zinc to a zinc coated steel one cent piece. These looked different, and were much lighter, but the physical dimensions were preserved. Once in circulation, these coins often turned black. They also had the property that they could be attracted by a magnet.


After 1943 the United States Mint went back to ninety-five percent copper, but the zinc and tin alloy was replaced with just zinc. Both the diameter and the weight resumed the old standards, and these slightly altered cent coins continued being minted through 1946.

In circulated condition these tend to look reasonably close to the 1942 and earlier issues.


Learn more on Lincoln cents and find albums to collect them at Barnes and Nobles.


The War Coins: Nickels

Silver Nickels

The nickel before the war was seventy-five percent copper and twenty-five percent nickel. During the war the nickel, improperly named, was composed of fifty-six percent copper, thirty-five percent silver, and nine percent manganese. While silver is more valuable, wartime needs of strategic metals outweighed the cost of the raw materials from which nickels were minted.

In 1942 the United States Mint was striking five cent pieces at both Philadelphia and Denver, and changed to the war coinage during the year at the Philadelphia Mint. The United States minted only war nickels at the San Francisco Mint during 1942. These pieces are easily distinguished by the large mintmark above the dome on the reverse, neither its normal size or location. They were minted at all three mints through the 1945 run. This is a short, easily collected series of eleven coins, two in 1942, and three in each of 1943, 1944, and 1945.


When these coins are circulated they often take on a greenish hue or darker shade.


The only difference in the war nickels and other Jefferson nickels is the location and size of the mint mark, and the fact that the Philadelphia mint mark was used. The pennies, except for color, look just link any other Lincoln cent. No new designs were made for these special issues, the main change was to the metal content of the respective coins.


The quality of any Jefferson nickel including those minted with the special alloy is determined by the number of clear steps on the reverse. If you can count six steps, you have a higher quality coin.


Learn more about nickels with a good book on nickels from Barnes and Nobles, then use a folder to collect them.



Copper Cents in 1943

War Coins Exceptions

A few copper cents slipped through the minting process in the 1943 run. These are very rare. These few are valuable. However, be aware that people have coated steel cents with copper and tried to pass them off as rare copper coins. If you ever encounter a penny that appears to be copper bearing the 1943 date check it with a magnet.


In reality, no copper cents were supposed to be released in 1943, and those few that got out were not supposed to be released.


War Coins and Collectability

Coins of the War Years

The cents, except for the 1944 D over S and the 1943 D bold double mintmark error, are rather inexpensive. But, one cannot take mint errors as indicative of value of a typical group of coins. Yes, higher grade 1943 steel coins are somewhat higher in value, but not outrageously so.


Wartime nickels do have some support from their silver content, yet remain affordable. The three exceptions are the 1943P 3 over 2, the 1943P double eye, and the 1945P double die reverse. Again, prices of error coins are often much higher than those of other coins.


The dime, quarter and half dollar remained unchanged. Their compositions were not altered during the years of World War II. There were no dollars produced during that period.


Other War Coins and Currency Changes

The Major Changes Caused by the Civil War

The Civil War had an even more radical effect on money. With metal becoming scarce because of use during the war, paper currency called fractional currency was printed in small denominations. These small denominations, parts of a dollar, became known as fractional currency. The quality of fractional currency was poor because the paper from which it was made was rag paper. Occasionally, large pieces of the original rag from which the paper was made would make a very unsightly splotch in the paper. This was not something that could later be removed, so fractional currency is not only made of paper, but a low grade of paper.


Compared to fractional currency, the changes in the content of the penny and of the nickel during World War II is a minor thing. At least coins were still coins, and their sizes remained unaltered.


Please visit out other article on Fractional Currency at http://www.blackspanielgallery.com/fractional-currency-of-the-united-states/ which is on this same coin blog.


Finding War Coins

Circulation Searches May Prove Difficult

While it is rare to find any of the wartime coins in circulation, they do occasionally show up. The nickels appear more often than the steel cents, simply because they are less conspicuous and avoid detection. A cent coin that is the wrong color really stands out. However, finding these for sale is easy. The problem with lower grades is that if you buy lower grades online you are not so likely to get a bargain, simply because the shipping cost is high compared to the value. A 50 cent item or even a two-dollar item is less attractive when a dollar or two shipping is applied. With that in mind, opting for higher grades makes the shipping a smaller percentage of what you will pay. This allows a chance to recoup your money if the value of the coin goes up.


When will values go up? That cannot be determined, but during a bad economy people often release what they were holding onto, and others are inclined to put less into acquiring pieces for their collections. Perhaps if the economy improves the values of these coins will appreciate. But that is just something we can hope for, not something we can have assurance of happening.


Graded War Coins

Assurance of the Grade

First, there is a huge price difference between grades that are close, like MS63 and MS65, in grade, yet many of us would be hard pressed to be able to make the determination. And, taking someone’s word for a grade is problematic when that person is selling the coin So, involving a third party grading service gives some credence to the grade claimed. True, grading services make errors, but not as often as a person hoping for more money from a sale.


Silver nickels can be uncirculated, yet have too many or too deep bag marks. A bag mark occurs when coins bump or rub against each other in a bag from the mint. The surface of the silver nickel and the softness of the metal, allow for bag marks to occur more easily. Some minor bag marks are not a problem, but excessive bag marks allow the seller to claim uncirculated but decrease the value of the coin. Bag marks are less of a problem with steel pennies.


Many coin collectors consider PSCS to be the best, and NGC second in accurate grading. Some grading services will grade what they think will make the coin owner happy in the hope of getting more business from that person.  In fact, the grading services usually are paid higher for more valuable coins, so inflating the grade can be a conflict of interest.


So, selecting a coin in a slag by PCGS should solve the grading problem, right? Wrong. Even the best grading services make mistakes. Another thing is that a coin exposed to environmental damage might have a problem that does not become apparent for years, so the grade, even for a coin in a slag, can change over time.


One thing a graded coin may not have indicated on the slab is the number of full steps, a critical point in having a nickel be more desirable.


Please visit Black Spaniel Gallery Coins to see out inventory.  Also, we have other informative articles, and will continue to add articles at Black Spaniel Gallery Blog.

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