What a difference a penny makes

1943 pennyIt’s time to put all of my nerdiness on the table: I collect coins. I don’t have anything valuable, but they interest me. So it’s a 20-lb. box that gets moved every year or so.

Last weekend I went with my mother to north central Missouri so she, her sister and her brother could start cleaning out my grandmother’s house. Day One had its drama as they went through jewelry, argued about crystal and made a list of what was going to an appraiser.

Day Two was much the same. They found even more jewelry in Grandma’s dresser drawers, along with some small, aged envelopes. While going through the jewelry, my cousin Katie began going through the envelopes, which had loose change in them. I was excited — I’m sure I’ll never see those coins again, but like I said, this is something that interests me. Katie also found a note in one of the envelopes: “1943 penny worth 12,000.”

My aunt promptly jumped up and practically yelled, “Forget about the jewelry! Find the pennies!” Clearly, not a greedy woman.

For the record, 1943 was the only year pennies were made of steel. A lot of people mistakenly think they’re silver. (Copper was needed for other things during World War II.) But there were a few pennies that were accidentally made of copper that year. Those are the ones (from that year) that are actually worth more than a couple of cents.

I cataloged the coins in the envelope — mostly American, but there were a few foreign coins — so they could be sent to an appraiser. There wasn’t a 1943 penny in there.

(Fun enough, the three kids had decided to split everything three ways. So the spare change found in coffee mugs and cups and on counters was evenly split among the three of them. Mom picked well: Her pile of change had two wheat pennies, one from 1943 — steel not copper — the other from 1956. She let me have them.)