Friday, March 8, 2024

Silver Nickels, Steel Pennies, and More

by Martha Hutchens

1943 United States Nickel
Image by Martha Hutchens

A little piece of history landed in my hand today.

Somehow, I received a nickel from 1943 in my change.

The nickels from this time period are different in more than their date. Nickels are normally made from 75% copper and 25% nickel. However, soon after the United States entered World War II, they realized that nickel was an element critical to the war effort. It was used to in armor plating, anti-aircraft guns, ordnance, and many other things.

In early 1942, Congress passed a law requiring that the nickel in nickels be replaced. The first alloy suggested was half silver and half copper. This failed certain requirements for vending machines. Other alloys were tried, but finally a combination of 56% cooper, 35% silver, and 9% manganese was accepted. So the nickel in my pocket had 35% silver, because at that point in time, nickel was more valuable than silver. It was perhaps not more valuable than silver monetarily, but it was in its usefulness.
History of American Cents, Deposit Photos, @tab62

Other money was changed for the war effort. Pennies were made of zinc-coated steel to conserve copper. These pennies were only minted in 1943 because they were uniformly disliked. Some people hated them because they were too easy to confuse with dimes. Others disliked the fact they tended to rust once the zinc coating wore off. Another problem was that these cents were magnetic. This caused them to be refused by vending machines, which had magnets in them to prevent people using steel slugs.

There were a few error pennies minted in copper in 1943, and these are incredibly valuable. Be careful, however. They are also easily and frequently counterfeited. The 1943 cents are inexpensive and irresistible to a history buff like myself.

Deposit Photos, @alancrosthwaite

In Hawaii, a different problem arose. After Pearl Harbor, many believed it was only a matter of time before Japan invaded Hawaii. If they did, they would have access to legitimate United States bills. In January 1942, the military governor of Hawaii issued caps on the amounts of cash people and businesses could keep on hand. In June of that year, residents were required to trade in their cash for bills that had the word “Hawaii” overprinted on it in three places, two on the front and one on the back. In this way, if the Japanese did invade Hawaii, all money with these stamps could be declared valueless. While the overprinted notes were eventually recalled, many kept them as souvenirs. Unfortunately, I was unable to find an image that I was able to use in this post, but you should be able to find it easily if you’re interested.

French and German coins from my husband's
Image by Martha Hutchens

Labeled stones from my husband's grandfather
Image by Martha Hutchens

There were other stories connected to currency during WWII, including other special printings such as the North Africa notes printed to pay troops involved in this invasion. Much like the Hawaii notes, they were printed with yellow seals so that they could be devalued if captured. However, frequently soldiers kept them as souvenirs and had their buddies sign them. Some also collected coins from the countries they served in. I know this first hand, because the pictures above are of coins that my husband’s grandfather brought back from Germany and France. He also labeled pebbles from places he stayed.

Martha Hutchens is a transplanted southerner who lives in Los Alamos, NM where she is surrounded by history so unbelievable it can only be true. She won the 2019 Golden Heart for Romance with Religious and Spiritual Elements. A former analytical chemist and retired homeschool mom, Martha is frequently found working on her latest knitting project when she isn’t writing.

Martha’s current novella is set in southeast Missouri during World War II. It is free to her newsletter subscribers. You can subscribe to my newsletter at my website,

After saving for years, Dot Finley's brother finally paid a down payment for his own land—only to be drafted into World War II. Now it is up to her to ensure that he doesn't lose his dream while fighting for everyone else's. No one is likely to help a sharecropper's family.

Nate Armstrong has all the land he can manage, especially if he wants any time to spend with his four-year-old daughter. Still, he can't stand by and watch the Finley family lose their dream. Especially after he learns that the banker's nephew has arranged to have their loan called.

Necessity forces them to work together. Can love grow along with crops?


  1. Thank you for posting today. This was all very interesting. I love those stones your husband's grandfather engraved. Those are priceless!

  2. A very interesting post. When my husband was stationed in Iceland in the 70s he brought home an Icelandic coin. I'm interested in why you chose to set your story in SE Missouri?

    1. I grew up in SE Missouri. My grandfather and father farmed there, and my brother farms there now.

    2. Martha, I wondered because I live in SW Missouri, between Springfield and Joplin. I'm reading your book right now. Thank you for offering it free to subscribers!

    3. You're welcome. I hope you enjoy it.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.