In 1943 there was a critical shortage of copper due to WW2, so the government began to issue 1943 coins made of zinc coated steel.
The mints cleared out all the old copper cent planchets (unstruck coins) out of the big bins that fed the minting machines. Evidently all the old copper planchets were not removed and some 1943 copper cents were made by mistake. There are about a dozen known genuine 1943 copper cents. As for the reported half million dollar price, the record for a 1943 copper cent was $82,000 for a nice uncirculated coin minted at the Denver Mint, the only one known with a D mint mark, making this the rarest of all the known 1943 copper cents. Circulated 1943 steel cents are worth only a dime or so. They are not rare, as they were made only one year with a very high mintage. Everyone saved them, hoping they might be valuable some day.
In February 1999 a Utah man told local newspapers that his father had given him a rare 1943 copper penny. The man “hid” the coin in plain sight with some other cents in a jar. The story goes that he didn’t tell the wife who rounded up all the loose change around the house and spent the 1943 copper cent, which he estimated was worth about a half a million dollars or more. The wire services picked up the story and it appeared in about every newspaper in the US, and on many radio and TV stations. As a result, coin shops throughout the US were swamped with calls about 1943 cents. The first 1943 copper cent was sold in 1958 for more than $40,000. In 1996, another went for $82,500. But those sales pale in comparison with the latest $1.7 million.
Throughout the years people have copper plated the steel cents, apparently creating instant rarities. However, these are merely counterfeit coins of no great value. The easiest way to tell is to place a magnet on the 1943 copper colored coin. If it sticks to the magnet it is steel, thus only a copper plated counterfeit. If not, it could be real but there are cast counterfeits, altered dates and other ways of making bogus 1943 copper cents. If you have a copper 1943 cent and it passes the magnet test, it should taken to a coin shop for further examination by a numismatist.
We buy thousands of unsearched wheat cents from the 1940’s every week. Do we or any other coin dealers search these coins hoping to find a 1943 copper cent? The proverbial needle in a haystack would be much easier to find. The odds against it are more than a billion to one. We don’t look but what a kick it would be to find one!