A Man’s Birthday Penny Is Actually Worth $30K

By: Sam Watanuki | Published: Mar 28, 2024

Ray, a dedicated coin collector, was celebrating his 70th birthday when he received a seemingly ordinary gift: a 1944 penny. Little did he know, this small token, mirroring his birth year, would kick-start an incredible journey.

At first glance, the penny seemed typical, but Ray’s keen eye noticed something different. This wasn’t just any old coin but a piece of history that would take him from curiosity to the bright lights of a TV show.

The Error Coin

Ray’s penny was an anomaly, a product of wartime confusion. In 1944, pennies were meant to transition back to copper after a year of steel due to a wartime copper shortage (via SD Boullion).

Small US coins sit on top of a one dollar bill.

Source: Kenny Eliason/Unsplash

However, Ray’s penny was made of zinc-coated steel, a leftover from the previous year’s materials. This mix-up made Ray’s find extremely rare, a needle in a haystack of common copper coins.

Historical Mix-up

The story of Ray’s penny starts in the tumultuous times of World War II, where copper was more valuable for ammunition than for coins. Thus, in 1943, the U.S. Mint produced steel pennies (via Time).

A black and white photo of a row of military cannons and tanks in the countryside during the beginning of Operation Barbarossa in World War II.

Source: Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

But in 1944, the mint was supposed to revert to copper. However, some steel blanks slipped through, creating what should have been an impossibility — a steel 1944 penny.

Discovery and Valuation

Ray, aware of his coin’s potential uniqueness, took it to Rick Harrison from “Pawn Stars.” He entered with high hopes, suggesting, “I have a coin I think you might be interested in” (via The Sun).

1944 steel wheat penny

Source: YouTube

Initially, Ray dreamed of a valuation as high as $102,000. Yet, reality set in when Rick’s expert assessed it to be worth around $30,000 — a sum reflecting its rarity but not reaching Ray’s lofty expectations.

Rarity and Speculation

The rarity of Ray’s 1944 steel penny lies in its accidental creation. It’s estimated that only between 25 to 30 of these coins were ever minted, making them exceedingly rare (via Coin Codex).

Exterior image of US Mint

Source: American Numismatic Society

This scarcity fuels collectors’ dreams worldwide, making Ray’s find an incredibly rare treasure.

Price Factors

Several factors contribute to the penny’s worth: historical significance, rarity, and condition (per The Sun). While Ray’s initial valuation was ambitious, the expert’s assessment acknowledged these elements but tempered them with realistic market expectations.

Graph and Line Chart Printed Paper

Source: Lukas/Pexels

Despite not hitting the hoped-for six figures, the $30,000 valuation still showcased the unique nature of Ray’s birthday gift.


A Record-Breaking Sibling

Ray’s coin is part of a prestigious but small family. Another 1944 steel penny, in pristine condition, once sold for a staggering $408,000 due to its MS 66 grade (via CoinValueChecker).

A briefcase filled with $100 bills.

Source: Pixabay/Pexels

This comparison highlights the importance of condition in the value of collectible coins and sets a lofty benchmark for collectors.


How to Spot a Steel Penny

Identifying a steel penny from 1944 is straightforward but requires a discerning eye. These coins weigh 1.3 grams, lighter than their copper counterparts, and are magnetic (per The Sun).

A steel furnace in the middle of smelting steel.

Source: Alfred T. Palmer/Wikimedia Commons

This simple test can turn an average day at the beach or a rummage through old change into an exhilarating treasure hunt.


Unexpected Treasure Finds

Ray’s story is not unique in the world of unexpected treasures. Across the globe, people find valuable coins in the least expected places, like beaches or in old furniture.

A pile of several ancient coins

Source: Coin World

These finds, sometimes worth thousands, continue to fuel the hopes and dreams of treasure hunters and collectors alike.


Starting Your Coin Hunt

You might not think it, but your spare change could hold hidden gems. Looking for coins from specific years, with minting errors, or made from unexpected materials could lead you to your own version of Ray’s penny.

A selection of ancient Chinese coins laid out on a small table

Source: Wikimedia

The thrill of the hunt is what keeps collectors like Ray passionate and always searching.


Utilizing Resources

For those inspired by Ray’s story, plenty of resources are available. Platforms like eBay allow collectors to gauge the current market value of their finds.

Some examples of some Medieval coins, however, these were not the ones found in Norway. There are fourteen coins here and most have been perfectly preserved but some have been bent a bit. They all have prints and symbols on them.

Source: Portable Antiquities Scheme/Wikimedia Commons

By comparing similar items and their final sale prices, anyone can get a sense of what their own discoveries might be worth.


The Joy of Collecting

While Ray’s penny might not have reached his initial valuation, his story goes beyond just numbers. It’s about the excitement of discovery, the connection to history, and the joy found in each piece of a collection.

An underwater image of coins in the sand from a shipwreck

Source: Colombia Armada

Whether you’re a seasoned collector or a newcomer, the world of coin collection is full of surprises, just waiting to be uncovered.