The 1974 Aluminum cent is considered to be one of the crown jewels in the Lincoln cent series, and maybe even in numismatics. There is only one confirmed 1974 Aluminum cent held in public hands. The coin is graded PCGS MS62.
1973 was a very turbulent year for the U.S. Mint. One cent coins were in huge demand in our monetary system. To make matters worse, the U.S. Mint was spending more than one cent to produce Lincoln cents for circulation, mainly due to the escalating price of copper. The U.S. Mint responded by giving the one cent coin a complete transformation.
At the time, Mary Brooks, Director of the U.S. Mint, was assigned with the daunting task of orchestrating the production of over 1.5 million aluminum cents. At the same time, the vending machine corporations and copper mining companies were lobbying against the change in the metal composition of the one cent coins.
The following year, Brooks still went ahead and ordered 1974 aluminum trial-strike Lincoln cents to be produced, so the coins could be presented to government officials. There are several estimates on how many trial strikes were given to government officials, with estimates ranging anywhere from 16 and up to about 40 examples.
Several years later, Brooks confirmed that most of the trial strikes were destroyed by the Mint. What she didn't admit is that a few were never returned to the Mint. The FBI then became involved and the Mint acknowledged that 14 coins were still missing. To this date, all 14 trial strikes have yet to be recovered, with the exception of one example that surfaced in the media in 2001. On July 2005, this same example was confirmed to exist and encapsulated by a third-party grading company. This same example is now graded PCGS MS62, and is believed to be the Toven Specimen.
Albert Toven was an officer at the U.S. Capitol. Officer Toven found the coin right after it was dropped by a government official who attended the hearing on the production of 1974 Aluminum cents. Officer Toven then approached the government official and offered him what Toven believed to be a dime, which the official had just dropped. However, the government official told Toven to keep the coin. When Toven got home he noticed the coin was a cent and not a dime. This is how the only example in private hands is believed to exist. The second example is held in the Smithsonian Institution. The Smithsonian example was donated by a government official who also received one of the trial strike examples from Brooks.
Perhaps Mary Brooks former Director of the U.S. Mint describes it best, "Even the word aluminum gives me a chill." Brooks described the production of the 1974 Aluminum cents as a nightmare, since the news of 1974 Aluminum cents made public headlines and brought a lot of negative attention to the U.S. Mint.
Today, the 1974 Aluminum cent is unquestionably one of the most controversial coins ever been struck by the U.S. Mint!