The smart collector: Older readers will remember odd-colored wartime pennies
Danielle Arnet Tribune Media Services
Sunday, February 24, 2013 12:00 am

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Q: After a family member died, we found these bottles with 1942 pennies inside. Some are copper, but others are darker. I haven't found them anywhere on the Internet. Any info?

A: I assume that this query comes from a young reader, and I don't mean that as a ding. The point is, she's probably young enough to have not seen steel-gray pennies in circulation. More senior readers will remember the wartime pennies.

We contacted a spokesperson for the Professional Numismatists Guild,, and here's the short answer for her question: While the 1942 penny is 71 years old, almost all are now worth about 3 cents each. Pristine and uncirculated versions can be worth $5 to several hundred dollars, depending on condition and whether they were struck at the Denver, Philadelphia or San Francisco U.S. Mint.

Some collectors saved the 1942 penny because that was the year we entered World War II, though Congress declared war in December 1941. That made 1942 the last year for wartime copper pennies. In 1943, zinc-coated steel was used for pennies to conserve copper for other uses during the war. With time and use, some became a near-black color.

Almost 100 percent of 1942 pennies have more historic than monetary value. Perhaps that's why these were saved.

In a photo sent, three pennies are displayed in clear glass miniature bottles. Unfortunately, it's impossible to read dates on the coins at such low resolution. Might the date on the dark coins be 1943? If so, there's the solution.

But anyone who follows this column knows that what makes collecting endlessly exciting is wild cards that happen. In the case of pennies, consider a unique Lincoln cent, mistakenly struck in 1943 at the Denver Mint.

In 2010, that red cent sold for $1.7 million. Made in bronze instead of zinc coated steel like other 1943 pennies, it was sold by a coin dealer to a private collector.

Admittedly, this is a one-in-a-million coin and the only one known to come from the Denver Mint. But wild cards happen often enough to make one wonder.

Might our reader have one or more unique pennies? A smart collector never says "never" without checking possibilities. If the family member who saved those pennies was a coin collector, there's even more reason to check them out.

I suggest that our reader use the PNG website ( to find a qualified dealer in her area. Let them take a look. Should they make an astounding offer or say anything that strikes you wrong, say thanks and take your time checking it out.

Q: I have a lovely collection of 22 Avon Christmas plates dating to 1975. I'm downsizing and need to sell the collection to one buyer. Can you tell me what they're worth?

A: Collecting has changed drastically since our reader started collecting the annual plates. Unfortunately for this reader, the secondary market in collectibles such as plates has tanked. On the upside, it's not totally dead.

Current buyers hunt for specific plates that will fill out or complete a collection. For that reason, selling the plates as a whole will be difficult.

We checked Avon Christmas plates on eBay and found 1,803 for sale. Right there, you know the market is flooded with easy picking for buyers. Moving to completed sales, we found results ranging from $5 for a 1974 plate to 99 cents for others.

The highest results ranged up to $25 and were for bright, artistic designs, regardless of year. Across the board, best prices were for plates in pristine condition with their original boxes.

Since our reader must sell and soon, perhaps a friend or someone in the family can group several plates per post and try selling online. That's where motivated buyers for the plates hunt.

Donation is another possibility. Surely a local charity or thrift store would love to benefit from the collection.


Q: Smart collectors know that collecting runs in trends. The hot trend today is "steampunk." Which of these characteristics are not facets of steampunk: Goggles, industrial looks repurposed for a home setting, elegant keyboards, ankle boots with metal, gears as decoration, Victorian froufrou?

A: Elegant keyboards and Victorian froufrou are absolutely not steampunk.

Danielle Arnet welcomes questions from readers. She cannot respond to each one individually but will answer those of general interest in her column. Send email to or write Danielle Arnet, c/o Tribune Media Services, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 1400, Chicago, IL 60611. Please include an address in your query. Photos will not be returned.