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.
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.
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.