The lowly penny and the nation’s most honored president

Steel pennies, which collectors sometimes refer to as “steelies,” were struck in 1943 because of a supply shortage of copper during WWII.

Story by Bryon Ennis
People who collect or are interested in coins and currency are called numismatists. I am not a numismatist, and that is perhaps why I find the occasional discovery of an old penny so surprising and rewarding. Occasionally, I have discovered old pennies during the mundane process of making a purchase. This is one of the lesser known benefits of paying with cash. Recently, I found a “wheat penny” among the change I received after buying an ice cream. For those young enough not to be familiar with wheat pennies, this design preceded the image of the Lincoln Memorial or the more recent Union Shield on the reverse side of our current pennies.
When I notice a rare penny like this in my change, I flip it into a little dish on my dresser and usually forget about it. But after this recent find of a 1949 wheat penny, I decided to count how many I had accumulated in just the last few years. There were six, and one was a 1943 steel wheat penny, even rarer than the copper wheat pennies. Now, as I said, I don’t intentionally search for rare coins, so I was particularly delighted to find a penny, by sheer luck, whose design had been discontinued nearly years earlier…

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