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Brit Tip #5

Why are the Pennies of 1944, 1945 and 1946 so ugly?

The pennies of these years had their bronze alloy’s tin content changed from 3% to 0.5%. This caused premature and unattractive corrosion/toning. The coins were thus intentionally darkened, so in most cases a true uncirculated specimen would be a shiny brown. In that state it is actually quite attractive. Refer to Figure 1 for a nice example of a mint state 1946 penny. Figure 2 shows a standard red penny from 1948.

A side effect of this toning was that the 1944-46 pennies were not hoarded because they looked used. In many cases, a coin graded EF is actually UNC – one of the very, very few instances of consistent undergrading I’ve seen. Also watch for 1944 pennies that were not toned. These command a 100% or more premium over their toned counterparts.

Pennies of 1934 were also darkened at the mint. Be on the lookout for these in their brown UNC state. They are grossly undervalued in the catalogues. Some pennies of 1935 were also mint darkened, so there are actually two “varieties” of that date.

Figure 1.  Mint darkened Penny, 1946.

Figure 2. Standard red Penny, 1948.

The source of much of this info is the 1999 edition of Coincraft (refer to my bibliography for more information).

Posted on CU 7/23/2003