The first confirmed example of an experimental 1974 aluminum Lincoln cent struck at the Denver Mint has been authenticated, graded and certified by Professional Coin Grading Service (http://www.PCGS.com) as PCGS MS63.
This amazing discovery coin will be exhibited for the first time anywhere in public by Heritage Auctions at the upcoming Long Beach Coin, Currency, Stamp & Sports Collectible Expo (http://www.LongBeachExpo.com), January 30 - February 1, 2014.
"My reaction when I first saw the coin in person was, 'How cool is this!,'" said Don Willis, PCGS President.
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"It never ceases to amaze me when an ultra rarity or, in this case, a new discovery coin, comes into our offices. It was exciting to meet with the owner and have him unveil this surprise to us. After we examined it internally and consulted with world renown error coin specialist and PCGS consultant Fred Weinberg we were convinced this was the real deal."
PCGS Co-Founder, David Hall, President of Collectors Universe, Inc. (NASDAQ: CLCT), commented: "When we were first notified that the coin was going to be submitted, it was definitely an exciting thought: a 1974-D aluminum cent!"
"Of course, when we were initially told about it then the next thought was: does it really exist? We always have to figure out if the item involved is real. I knew this was an incredible story, and hoped with all my heart that the coin would really exist and that it would be genuine," said Hall.
"When I later saw the coin in person I had a gut feeling it was, indeed, real. Our experts checked out the coin, and we were unanimous that it is absolutely genuine."
In 2005, PCGS authenticated a 1974 aluminum cent struck at the Philadelphia Mint. It is certified PCGS MS62.
At the suggestion of attorney and Professional Numismatists Guild Legal Counsel Armen Vartian of Manhattan Beach, California, the 1974-D aluminum cent was submitted on behalf of California rare coin dealer Michael McConnell, owner of the La Jolla Coin Shop.
McConnell purchased it in September 2013 from realtor Randy Lawrence who had recently moved from Denver to Southern California. Lawrence, who inherited the coin decades ago from his late father, met McConnell last August while introducing himself to local businesses as a new addition to Berkshire Hathaway Home Services in La Jolla.
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At first, McConnell thought it was a Lincoln cent struck on foreign planchet, but later wondered if it might be something else, so he contacted attorney Vartian. When the coin came back from PCGS certified as a genuine 1974-D aluminum cent he immediately called Lawrence to tell him about it.
"I wouldn't be able to sleep without notifying him," McConnell explained.
McConnell and Lawrence now will share proceeds from a planned auction of the coin by Heritage at the Central States Numismatic Society convention in April, and will be making what they describe as a "six figure" donation from the proceeds to help the homeless in the San Diego area.
"My father, Harry Edmond Lawrence, was Deputy Superintendent of the Denver Mint when the aluminum cent was struck. When he died in 1980, that coin and others he received over the years were in a plastic sandwich bag. I kept them in that bag in my desk for 33 years, and then they were in the trunk of my car for a month when I moved with my two children and my elderly Mother from Denver to Southern California last August," Randy Lawrence explained.
"I had no idea what that penny was worth," he said with a laugh.
Weinberg, who was among those involved in the research and authentication process for the 1974-D aluminum cent, said there's considerable information about 1974 Philadelphia Mint aluminum cents, but only one printed reference he can find about any produced at the Denver Mint.
"Between October 17, 1973 and March 29, 1974, there were 1,441,039 aluminum cents dated 1974 struck at the Philadelphia Mint. Another 130,128 pieces were struck between April 12 and May 30, 1974. All but 59 of the first batch and all but 67 of the second batch were destroyed, according to
William Humbert, Chief of the Mint's Internal Audit Staff," explained Weinberg.
A few of the coins were given to members of Congress and other government officials, but then Mint Director Mary Brooks requested they be returned.
"Over the next year and a half, Humbert wrote various memos based on the Striking And Destruction Records of the aluminum cents. The number of coins reported as either unaccounted for, or known to be officially in the hands of the proper parties changed during this period. As of today, the numbers range from 5 to as many as 14 1974-P aluminum cents that are not accounted for," said Weinberg.
The missing aluminum cents gained national attention on April 21, 1975 when syndicated "Washington Merry-Go-Round" newspaper columnist Jack Anderson reported that "some distinguished members of Congress may have sticky fingers." He wrote that 14 of the 1974-P aluminum cents were missing from Congressional committee members who received them in March 1974 but did not return them to the Treasury Department.
The Los Angeles Times and other newspapers later reported that 13 coins were missing and that only four of the coins had been returned by Congressmen and other government officials who had received them. Weinberg says the estimate today on the number of missing coins ranges from five to 13.
The United States government closed its investigation of any missing 1974 aluminum cents by February 1976 having found, in the government's own words "no evidence of criminal intent" by anyone possessing any of the coins, according to a February 21, 1976 story in Numismatic News.
Weinberg points out that his extensive file on 1974 aluminum cents contains only one reference to aluminum cents being struck at the Denver Mint. It's a letter to the editor in the March 20, 2001 edition of Numismatic News submitted by Michael P. Lantz of Lakewood, Colorado who wrote that he worked "the graveyard shift when they were stamped (minted)," and that a friend his, die settler and later General Foreman of the Mint Ernie Martinez, "stamped the aluminum cents on one of the Denver Mint's standard presses."
Lantz stated he was told about ten of the coins were produced by Martinez. "After stamping the blanks, he returned the finished aluminum cents to Harry Bobay, General Foreman, who took them to the Coining Division office where they were shipped back to Mint headquarters in Washington D.C. From there, who knows what happened to them."
Weinberg says he has no reason to doubt Lantz's letter.
"He named names, and admitted he didn't strike them himself, so there appears to be no ulterior motive to his letter. What's interesting is that there was no further articles or follow-up to this published account, and apparently no one in the numismatic community made note of it."
The numismatic community now can publicly note there is a confirmed 1974-D aluminum cent certified by PCGS, and the public can see it at the upcoming Long Beach Expo.
"We are very happy for the owner and very appreciative that PCGS was his first choice for authenticating this great rarity," said Willis.
To get free passes to see the coin on display at the Long Beach Expo, visit www.LongBeachExpo.com, then click "Get Passes" and enter the code, PR214.
For additional information about aluminum cents, visit www.PCGSCoinFacts.com, an extensive online resource about United States coins including historical information, hundreds of images and pricing information.
Since its founding in 1986, PCGS experts have authenticated and graded over 27 million coins with an estimated market value of $27 billion. In recent years PCGS has expanded into Europe and Asia, opening offices and coin submission centers in Paris, Hong Kong and Shanghai as well as developing strategic partnerships with other companies in Beijing and Guangzhou, China.