United States World War II Collection

Date: 1942 - 1945
United States

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Item Description:

This collection includes all major changes to U.S. coinage that were instituted to save metal during World War II: the steel penny and the wartime silver nickel. It also includes a red and a blue ration token.

Ration Tokens (blue and red):

These vulcanized fiber tokens were issued by the Office of Price Administration (OPA), a United States government agency created during World War II in order to oversee the rationing of scarce goods and keep prices stable to curb inflation.

Ration tokens (and their companions, ration stamps) had no cash value, but were required to purchase certain goods. For everyday items like sugar or beef, a customer would need the right amount of ration stamps in addition to cash in order to make their purchase—the same was true for non-food goods like tires or gasoline. Each household was issued their own book of ration stamps to use, and these tokens were handed out as "small change" to split the value of a single stamp.

While all these tokens shared a similar design, they were issued two colors: red and blue. The different colors were valid for different products, but their functions were essentially the same.

Steel Penny:

The "steel war penny" was the only one cent coin ever mass produced by the U.S. Mint that was made almost entirely from steel, save for a thin layer of zinc. Congress only authorized their production for one year, but over one billion steel cents were produced. It is estimated that the copper saved was enough to meet the needs of two cruisers, two destroyers, 1,243 Flying Fortresses, 120 field guns, and 120 howitzers.

Silver Wartime Nickel:

As the United States entered into World War II, nickel became a critical resource. In March of 1942, Congress authorized the content of the nickel be shifted to 50% silver and 50% copper, but also granted the Mint authority to alter the proportions as necessary. All “wartime nickels” were struck with a large mintmark above the Monticello, in an attempt to make them easier to sort out after the war. Some scholars suggest that the altered composition did not contribute significantly to the war effort, but did however symbolize the need for sacrifices on behalf of citizens for victory. The original design and composition of the Jefferson Nickel resumed in 1946.

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