Ctg cases to coins

Hi all. This is slightly off topic, but it’s been on my mind. You’re probably familiar with the zinc-coated steel pennies the government minted in 1943 due to copper shortage, copper being used up by ammunition manufacture. The shortage went away in 1944 and pennies were again minted using copper.
My coin redbook attributes this to “cartridge cases were salvaged for coinage of 1944-1946”. Pennies (except 1943) were made of bronze, ctg. cases were brass. Not being schooled in chemistry, I wonder if anyone knows anything about the recovery/recycling of brass cases, and the conversion to bronze coins. Was it required that military post ranges collect and ship these cases to the mints? Were there contractors who did the metalurgy? Many of us remember “POLICE UP YOUR BRASS!!” but never knew it was recycled during the war. I would have thought it was mostly sent for reloading.
Old minds just can’t let go of stuff like this…thanks for any input! Lee


WW II small caliber cases were mostly corrosive primed and it may not have been cost effective to reload them. Cartridge brass would have required the addition of a small amount of copper to duplicate the alloy used for pennies, an easy job for any metalurgist, even a Government one. So, the “case to pennies” idea seems a logical one to me.

The large caliber cases, on the other hand, were collected and reloaded. When I was in the Navy I had to account for every artillery cases fired. A lot of them “fell overboard” of course. Otherwise there would be no cases in collections today. ;)


This is an interesting question since bronze is an alloy of copper and tin and brass is an alloy of copper and zinc. Apparently zinc has been used in pre-1943 coins along with tin. I know that the 1944 dated one-cent pieces have a different look to them and they have a different patina from other dates.From 1944 through 1946 pennies were made from copper and zinc.
I always thought the coins were made from some of the mountains of fired artillery cases seen in some photos taken at areas where they were being collected for shipping home.

Thanks for your replies.
The Redbook alludes to the difference in alloy color 1944-46: "Although the color was slightly different for uncirculated specimens, the coins proved satisfactory in every respect. The original alloy of 1864-1942 was resumed in 1947. 1944-1946 - composition .950 copper, .050 zinc."
Maybe they had tons of zinc left from the coating of the 1943 pennies and needed to use it up. It doesn’t give the composition for 1864-1942.

One thing’s for sure - a penny was worth a whole lot more then than now, whatever it was made of! Wonder what the cost was for ctg cases? The recycling of the elements must have made sense, given the production capabilities of the time.

Apparently the zinc coated steel cents were very unpopular. When new, they were easily confused with a dime and since they were steel, the magnetic devices in vending machines used to prevent the use of “slugs” also prevented the use of steel cents.

In 1944, cents were again made out of a copper alloy, this time brass, more because of complaints about the steel cents than because of copper shortages, or the lack of. Some cartridge cases were apparently used to make the copper alloy for cents made in 1944-1946, but it was not to as large a degree as it would seem. In 1947, the alloy was changed back to the pre-war “bronze”. The 1946 cent in my collection has a definate yellow or “brassy” color to it.

In 1941 the copper alloy used in cents was “bronze”. It was decided to remove all but a trace of zinc from the alloy, resulting in an alloy that was tecnically “brass”. Enough “bronze” material was left over from 1941 that both alloys were used in 1942.

There is a bewildering array of brasses and bronzes, with each one custom fit to a particular use. I thought I was up on this until I got educated by the local recylcler. I thought I read somewhere that copper water pipe is a bronze alloy and he informed me that it was a brass alloy. Then he showed me some fittings, that looked like yellow brass to me, and pronounced them to be bronze. Now I am confused about any scrap copper alloy except cartridge brass, which is a mix of about 70% copper and about 30% zinc. Exact proportions are often adjusted to suit the application and I feel the trend here is to increase the zinc proportion, as zinc is much cheaper than copper and high copper brasses get less amenable to drawing. When melting down brass cartridge cases it would be no problem to reduce the zinc content down to the 5% cited for this coinage. Brass melts at a temperature above the boiling point of zinc so it is easy to distill off the zinc. In fact if you are melting brass it is more difficult to keep the zinc in the alloy than it is to drive it off.

Fellows, run down to your local Lyberry and find a copy of Machinery’s Handbook. There are so many formulas for brass and bronze your eyeballs will fall out. Brass is copper and Zinc, Bronze is copper and tin. Red Brass sometimes called Bronze by collectors just has just has less Zinc. Do not believe Bronze was ever used in cartridge manufacture except maybe experimentally. My father in law collected zinc pennies we have a 1/2 gallon mayonnaise jar full of them.


Well, again, thank you all for the responses. It sounds like it wouldn’t have been much of a problem for the mints to make pennies from recovered ctg cases.
The alloy used for ctg cases would have been tightly controlled, obviously because of manufacturing stresses as well as withstanding chamber pressures of firing. No such need for the lowly penny. Copper and tin, copper and zinc…either way you need lots of copper, so kudos to the US Mint for being resourceful in a time of shortage.
One last thought -
I won’t think of ‘brass’ in quite the same way ever again!
Lee T.