1974 Aluminum Lincoln Cent from Denver Mint Authenticated, at Long Beach

by Darrin Lee Unser on January 31, 2014 · 19 comments

Until recently, the existence of a 1974 aluminum Lincoln cent struck at the Denver Mint was the stuff of legend. That has changed with a single example authenticated, graded and certified by Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS). The first confirmed 1974-D aluminum Lincoln cent will soon make its way to auction with an expected selling price of a quarter of a million dollars or more.

1974 aluminum Lincoln cent struck at the Denver Mint

1974 aluminum Lincoln cent struck at the Denver Mint

Before then, Heritage Auctions is displaying the coin for the first time at the Long Beach Coin, Currency, Stamp & Sports Collectible Expo. The Long Beach Expo is scheduled to run from January 30th through February 1, 2014.

The 1974-D aluminum Lincoln cent was previously owned by Harry Edmond Lawrence. Mr. Lawrence was the Deputy Superintendent of the Denver Mint in 1974 when the cent was struck. With his passing in 1980, his son Randy took possession not knowing the significance of the piece.

"When he died in 1980, that coin and others he received over the years were in a plastic sandwich bag," describes Randy Lawrence. "I kept them in that bag in my desk for 33 years… I had no idea what that penny was worth."

Last year, Randy sold the small coin collection to La Jolla Coin Shop owned by California rare coin dealer Michael McConnell. Not certain of the story behind the cent, McConnell sent it to PCGS for authentication and grading. There it was authenticated and certified, receiving a grade of MS63.

1974-D aluminum Lincoln cent, graded PCGS MS63

1974-D aluminum Lincoln cent in PCGS holder with grade of MS63

Philadelphia Mint 1974 Aluminum Lincoln Cents

The existence of the coin from Denver had not been verified previous to this example. There were over a million trial 1974 Lincoln cents struck at the Philadelphia Mint, however, with most destroyed in short order. A few of them were distributed to members of Congress and other government officials as samples. U.S. Mint Director Mary Brooks later requested their return. Based on various reports over the years, between 5 and 14 of the Philadelphia Mint-struck aluminum cents were not returned.

An investigation into the missing 1974 aluminum cents was closed by February 1976 when the government found "no evidence of criminal intent."

One 1974-P aluminum Lincoln cent is a part of the Smithsonian’s National Numismatic Collection with another surfacing in 2005 when it was graded by PCGS. The latter example is believed to have been owned by Albert Toven, a security guard at the U.S. Capitol in 1974 who said he received it as a gift from a government official.

Denver Mint 1974 Aluminum Lincoln Cents

The story of the Philadelphia-struck Lincoln cents being sufficiently explained and documented leaves no mention of similar coins being produced at the Denver Mint. Just a letter to the editor in the March 20, 2001 edition of Numismatic News sent by Michael P. Lantz suggested their existence.

The letter stated that Lantz worked the graveyard shift at the Denver Mint and witnessed the test striking of aluminum cents. The handful, about ten, was taken by the foreman to the Coining Division office to be shipped back to Mint headquarters in Washington, D.C. Their fate, with the exception of the newly graded example, is unknown.

Upon hearing of the rarity of the 1974-D aluminum Lincoln cent, coin dealer McConnell contacted Randy Lawrence, the previous owner and explained their find.

"I wouldn’t be able to sleep without notifying him," McConnell said.

The two will share in the sale and will donate a "significant portion of the proceeds" to a San Diego charity that helps the homeless, according to McConnell.

"This is an amazing discovery, and we estimate the 1974-D aluminum cent will bring a quarter-million dollars or more," said Todd Imhof, Executive Vice President of Heritage Auctions.

The Denver Mint 1974 aluminum Lincoln cent will be sold at auction at the Central States Numismatic Society convention by Heritage Auctions near Chicago. The convention runs April 23 – 27, 2014.

In 1974, Lincoln cents struck for circulation were composed of 95% copper and 5% zinc. Since 1982, they have been composed of 97.5% zinc and 2.5% copper.

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Aardvark January 31, 2014 at 12:54 pm

I thought these pennies were as illegal to possess as 1933 St. Gaudens double eagles. As they were never officially released, would they not still be property of the mint?

Bob February 1, 2014 at 12:11 pm

Well if you were a government employee then the rules change.

kim February 4, 2014 at 4:45 pm

I have a 1974 aluminum cent, & have been afraid to try & sell it. Because as Aardvark points out they are illegal to own ??????????????? can I sell it ?

RonnieBGood February 4, 2014 at 4:47 pm

It has been proven in the past that Mint employees have intentionally created error coins.

kim February 4, 2014 at 4:52 pm

I have a 1974 aluminum cent, & have been afraid to try & sell it. Because as Aardvark points out they are illegal to own ?????????????? can I sell it ?

hal February 5, 2014 at 12:34 am

How can you tell if its Aluminum

Bill February 7, 2014 at 1:37 pm

I have seen a 1974 Aluminum penny without a mint mark. Is there value in this type penny also?

Marilyn Winter February 12, 2014 at 9:36 pm

How do I have a 1974 D Penny tested for being Aluminum? Thankyou

Bill February 13, 2014 at 7:00 am

Is there value in a 1974 aluminum penny without a mint mark?

Albert February 14, 2014 at 3:37 pm

I have seen a 1973 D aluminum penny and a 1967 aluminum penny. Are you sure these pennies were not experiment with before 1974 D?

leonard scott March 4, 2014 at 12:36 am

Hey Bill, I would love to know the answer to your question.
Thanks,
Leonard.

Timothy Armistead June 15, 2014 at 3:30 pm

I have a 1976 D aluminum looking penny I have been told it may be a science project yet I cannot find any possibility to it being covered or layed with another type layer on the original penny can anyone help me I was told to send it in but?

brian November 28, 2014 at 4:38 pm

Have there been others that have claimed to have a 1974 D penny ?
What happens if you should have one in your possesion ?

Kieran Maloy July 31, 2015 at 1:34 am

The easiest way to tell if your cent is Aluminum is to weigh it. A “copper” cent weighs about 3.1 grams. An aluminum cent is 900 milligrams (0.9 g). It’s the only non-destructive, definitive test I know of.

scetchy mcg August 5, 2015 at 10:45 pm

I know that my grandmother has had one with congressional paper glued tho the back.

Lana January 17, 2016 at 1:35 pm

How can I tell if it was made by mint or if it’s made of aluminum?

Ronald February 6, 2016 at 10:17 pm

In 1976 I was a boy who spent his weekly allowance buying rolls of pennies looking for “Wheaties”. I began finding a lot of red pennies, all dated 1976-D. I hoarded them until I heard a news report that it was just a local guy (near Sacramento CA) “painting” pennies red for 1976. I had about a roll of them and I soon got rid of most of them. But one more strange thing is that they seemed noticeably lighter in weight. In 1982 when the zinc pennies hit, I again noticed the weight difference, I cut one in half with a hacksaw. Then I went and got one of those 1976 red pennies and same thing, it looked aluminum inside. Now if I could hoard 50 of them in a year back in 1976, searching maybe only two rolls a week, why have I never heard of these pennies? Was it a secret test? Did they lie in the press release that said it was just a local celebrator? What happened to those aluminum or zinc pennies from 1976???? I still have never heard anyone officially acknowledge that they exist, but I had about 50 myself. In the mid 1980’s my entire childhood coin collection was stolen and spent for face value at a local bar, I never recovered any of it. Would still like to be verified on this because it feels like I am the only human on earth who knows of these.

Ronald February 6, 2016 at 10:24 pm

Correction, this would have been in Provo Utah, not when I lived near Sacramento…..

Vickie July 30, 2016 at 2:54 pm

I have ‘3’ 1974 D penny’s.one without the “d” mint mark and 2 with the ‘D’ mint mark ..Is there someone who has more information about these coins…

Leave a Comment