Times are pretty bad now, but for a few years in the 1940's, they were much worse. So bad the pennies turned white. You don't find too many of them anymore, but I used to, and like the gentleman above, when I did, I kept them. Copper is a precious metal of sorts, but not precious enough to be worth much, so it became the penny. Penny is a misnomer, the official word for Honest Abe on a coin is "cent" not penny. If you want to be proper, this is a time to save your cents.
During WWII, copper was at a premium. It was used for wire to make radios. Electrical connections to start a truck. And if you have ever heard the expression "copper-jacket" you know what else it was needed for. So Uncle Sam turned the penny white, creating them out of steel instead of copper for one year, 1943. Actually, a few steel cents were made in 1942 and even less in 1944, but the only date you'll find on a white penny is 1943. If you find one. After the war, the white penny was history. It was the only US coin ever produced which was magnetic, but that refers to a property, not a personality, so they were unofficially withdrawn. Some were even pulled from circulation, shipped to the San Francisco mint and dumped in the Pacific Ocean. Unlike copper, they rusted, so the ones you do see now are in pretty bad shape. And unlike the proverbial "bad penny" they do NOT keep returning. Kids still hoard them like the fellow above, but now they go into a little spot in their coin collection.
Is the white penny worth more than a penny today? Barely. In 1943 more than one billion were minted, so even today coin collectors won't pay you more than a cent for one. However, in a curious twist, it was later discovered a few 1943 cents were made out of copper by mistake. In fact, 40 of them. Experts believe just enough copper remained in the hopper at the time of conversion that a few precious copper ones squeezed out. In 1958, the first one was sold for $40,000. Several years later, one sold for over $80,000. Don't get your hopes up. Some rusty old 1943 steel pennies have been coated with copper by unscrupulous folks hoping to "discover number 41" and reap profits. However, they forgot about the magnet. Even a copper coated white penny will stick to a magnet. Today the penny is zinc.
Photo: William Waylet, a bakery salesman, looks with satisfaction on the five-gallon jars of white pennies he has taken out of circulation. Original Press Photo, 1951. Collection Jim Linderman