1974-D Aluminum Lincoln Cent Returned to US Mint

by Darrin Lee Unser on March 21, 2016 · 15 comments

1974 aluminum Lincoln cent struck at the Denver Mint

1974-D aluminum Lincoln cent struck (PCGS photo)

The only known 1974-D aluminum Lincoln cent has been returned to the United States Mint after decades in private possession and a short legal battle.

Randall Lawrence and Michael McConnell relinquished all claims of ownership, legal title, or dominion over the coin following an agreement to resolve a lawsuit over who owns it. U.S. Mint officials are now in the process of authenticating it.

"The Mint is very pleased with the agreement, and we are very grateful to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Diego for its work and efforts in reaching this resolution. We look forward to displaying the coin appropriately as an important Mint heritage asset," said Rhett Jeppson, United States Mint Principal Deputy Director. "This agreement is not only good for the integrity of the coin collecting hobby but for the integrity of the government property and rule of law."

The 1974-D aluminum Lincoln Cent was originally in the possession of Harry Lawrence who served as Deputy Director of the Denver Mint until his retirement in 1980. His son, Randall, assumed custody of the coin as part of his father’s estate.

"When he died in 1980, that coin and others he received over the years were in a plastic sandwich bag," Randy Lawrence described back in January 2014. "I kept them in that bag in my desk for 33 years… I had no idea what that penny was worth."

In 1974, over 1.4 million of the experimental pieces were struck at the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia as part of a test program to possibly replace copper cents. However, Congress never enacted legislation authorizing the Mint to issue aluminum cents, and the test pieces were to all be melted. The specimen coin in question bears a "D" mark, signifying production in Denver, along with the date "1974," and appears to have been struck with a die intended for the Mint’s Denver facility. However, authority was never granted for production of the experimental test pieces at Denver.

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 this specimen, is unknown.

1974-D aluminum Lincoln cent, graded PCGS MS63

Aluminum Lincoln cent in PCGS holder with grade of MS63 (PCGS photo)

Still having no idea about its rarity, Randall Lawrence sold the cent along with others from his father’s collection to La Jolla Coin Shop, which is owned by Michael McConnell. Not certain of the story behind the piece, McConnell sent it to PCGS who authenticated and certified it as a Denver-struck 1974 aluminum cent in grade MS63.

Upon hearing of the coin’s rarity, McConnell contacted Lawrence with the two opting to work out a deal to sell the coin at auction with a large portion of the proceeds to be given to charity.

When learning of the sale, officials at the U.S. Mint contacted Lawrence and McConnell to seek the coin’s return, indicating it was unlawfully removed from the Denver Mint. Lawrence and McConnell responded by filing suit in United States District Court for the Southern District of California seeking a judicial declaration that they were the lawful owners of the piece.

The U.S. Mint filed a response asking that the court dismiss the complaint, which was granted with a ruling that Lawrence and McConnell failed to prove the coin was legally owned. A judge allowed them to file an amended complaint. They did, with part of the amended filing offering some background as to how Lawrence received the coin, stating:

"The Denver Mint commemorated Harry Lawrence’s impending retirement in 1979 by (a) giving him a clock engraved with his name and dates of service and with the "hours" represented by specimens of each of the last 90%-silver coins minted in Denver in 1964, and (b) allowing him to keep certain error coins struck in Denver which he had accumulated, and one specimen of the 1974-D aluminum cent. Harry Lawrence died in 1980, and Plaintiff LAWRENCE obtained the clock, the error coins, and the 1974-D aluminum cent that is the subject of this action along with his father’s other personal property."

With the settlement in place, U.S. Mint Police secured the cent on Friday, March 17. The Mint intends to publicly display the coin so that it can be "showcased and enjoyed by numismatists, coin collectors and the general public."

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Seth Riesling March 21, 2016 at 4:26 pm

I have followed this messy legal action of the only publicly known 1974-D aluminum Lincoln cent since 2014 & it is interesting to note that even the U.S. Mint didn’t know of its existence! There are a few others struck at the Denver Mint in private collections along with many of the Philadelphia Mint pieces that were given to members of Congress & their staff members in 1974. The only reason this one was “captured” is because the two greedy men involved had this specimen authenticated by PCGS. How stupid!

-NumisDudeTX

Jp March 21, 2016 at 8:14 pm

What I don’t understand, (and I do not know any of the details of this story) is that if this was given to this guy upon retirement, then in my opinion it should be HIS and or his heirs. The Mint should not have any right to this coin.
But I’m sure there is LOTS of missing information here.

Seth Riesling March 21, 2016 at 9:42 pm

Jp –

You are partially right in your assumption. This specimen is NOT a coin. The U.S. Mint has no record of it being made or dies sent to Denver from Philadelphia to strike it & have no record of its existence! The Mint found out because these idiots tried to consign it to an auction after sending it to PCGS! The Mint is flexing its muscles on this one to look tough, but they have never dared to try to confiscate the 3 Liberty Head Nickels (NOT coins either & still illegal to own by Federal law ) currently in private hands trading at the $millions level. Go figure!

-NumisDudeTX

mystery March 23, 2016 at 11:59 am

Who would think a penny would cause all this fuss.

Jp March 23, 2016 at 12:28 pm

Seth,
You say this is NOT a coin, and I assume the Mint claims it is a coin.
THAT in itself is another matter to resolve. If it is NOT a coin therefore there is no real monetary value(.01) and the Mint claims it does not or has not existed. Therefore it is merely a piece of metal stamped in the likeness of a US penny. There are plenty of bullion dealers that sell copper, bronze,silver and gold (coins) with likeness’ of US coins.
To me the family and dealer got ripped off. Still, if the story is true that this man was given this(coin/non coin) as part of his retirement, it is his and the Mint should have no right to it. Regardless if it considered to be a coin or not.
If the Mint claims that this (coin) does not exist(or have any record of that) then once again this merely becomes a piece of metal. No US monetary value(.01) although maybe someone in the public eye may feel this thing is worth a fortune. One mans junk is another mans treasure.
That’s my thought of the day. Or as my kids would say…”Dad your preaching again!” Ain’t it da trueth!!
Hey mystery…a penny for your thoughts? ha ha ha

Seth Riesling March 23, 2016 at 1:00 pm

Jp –

Right on! Are you a lawyer!? I left out the date of the other “coin” I referred to – the 1913 Liberty Head Nickels (3 in private collections & 2 in museum collections.) They are NOT coins either & the Mint didn’t know about them for many years either. They sell in the millions of dollars each every time they are auctioned & the Mint has never tried to seize them. They were all 5 displayed at the 2003 ANA convention & I was there to see them & the Mint did nothing! Crazy situations for sure.

-NumisDudeTX

Vachon March 23, 2016 at 1:18 pm

I don’t get why there isn’t a statute of limitations on these thefts, unintentional or otherwise. This happened over 40 years ago…

Seth Riesling March 23, 2016 at 4:50 pm

Vachon –

Like with murder, there is no statute of limitations on stolen U.S. government property. Legal title never passes from one person (or company) to another & the last one caught with the item is the one who has to hand it over when asked without payment to its rightful owner – the U.S. Mint in this case. The U.S. Mint police & the U.S. Secret Service both have jurisdiction in such matters.

-NumisDudeTX

Jp March 24, 2016 at 3:22 pm

Seth,
Oh Nooooo, I’m no attorney. Just a “deep thinker”. You know like “Deep thoughts”, with Jack Handy. Handy? I think it was Jack Handy… I know you get this.
This whole penny and nickel thing has me intrigued. I might actually waste some time of my life looking up the specifics of this,… or not?

Seth Riesling March 24, 2016 at 7:48 pm

Jp –

I remember that SNL writers “deep thoughts.” I have one that may surprise you. In 1942 the Mint was looking for alternatives to metal for the Lincoln cent & actually had a plastic company contractor produce experimental test “coins” in a variety of colors of plastic from U.S. Mint dies! One is shown in the “Red Book” under “Significant U.S. Patterns” & sell for an average of $3000. Plastic! Lol

-NumisDudeTX

Jp March 24, 2016 at 8:47 pm

There you go! See, Aluminum, Rhodium, plastic. Whatever! If the people want to buy it, they’re going to put their money down.
Plastic? Really? Unbelievable! Maybe not so after all. I hope you didn’t jump on the bit coin train.

Seth Riesling March 24, 2016 at 10:57 pm

Jp –

Bitcoin = ripoff in my dictionary. I used to “collect” plastic credit cards after college till I maxed out 24 different ones! I payed them off & haven’t used one in many years! Thanks for letting me confess that in this forum Jp.

-NumisDudeTX

Jp March 25, 2016 at 7:45 am

Well they say confession is good for the soul. But I’m not a priest either! LOL

Seth Riesling March 25, 2016 at 5:19 pm

Jp –

LOL. Thanks! On one of my 3 visits to view the Smithsonian Institution’s National Numismatic Collection in Washington D.C., I noticed they have added credit cards to their numismatic collection (an original paper AMEX card is worth about $1000 since not many survived!) I told the curator they should put a warning on their description card saying “beware of this particularly toxic type of plastic!”

-NumisDudeTX

tjcar April 2, 2016 at 5:30 pm

the whole story on the 1974 Lincoln has not been told. according to the mint press release dated 12 07 1973 there was testing on 7 different alloys!!! how many different planchetts were made up? what happened to them? how many got into circulation? is philly an unclean minting shop or is there a coverup of the west point facility? don’t forget san fran they have an aluminum cent in a mint set on display. coins that end up in circulation are issued for the purpose as currency of the realm and for intended purposes are issued at face value, the mint has no rights or titles to coins in circulation. metal detectors don’t lie they don’t tell the whole truth. anybody got a mass spectrometer I have 2 that have to be tested,

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