Jaime Hernandez: The 1974 Aluminum cent is considered to be one of the most intriguing coins 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 as the Lincoln cents were in huge demand for our monetary system. To make matters worse, the U.S. Mint was spending more than a cent to produce the coins for circulation due to the escalating price of copper. The U.S. Mint's response was to give the one cent coin a complete transformation.
At the time, Mary Brooks was the Director of the U.S. Mint. Therefore, she was assigned the daunting task of producing over 1.5 million aluminum cents. However, the vending machine corporations and copper mining companies were not about to give up, since eliminating the copper cent from circulation would have a huge negative impact on their business. So they lobbied Brooks to continue producing the copper cents for circulation.
The following year, Brooks ignored the copper mining corporations and ordered the production of prototype 1974 aluminum cents. The coins were initially struck to present to government officials. There are several estimates of how many trial strikes were given to government officials, ranging anywhere from 16 and to approximately 40 examples.
Going forward, the Mint then made the final decision that they would not produce 1974 aluminum cents for circulation and ordered employees to have every single example recovered and melted.
Several years later, Brooks confirmed that most of the trial strikes were destroyed by the Mint. What she didn't mention is that a few examples were never melted and never returned to the Mint. The FBI became involved and after some investigation, the Mint acknowledged that 14 coins were unaccounted for. To this date, none of those 14 trial strikes have been recovered or seen, with the exception of the PCGS MS62 example that surfaced in 2001. This same example is believed to be the Toven Specimen.
Rumor has it that Albert Toven was an officer at the U.S. Capitol. Allegedly, 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 approached the government official and offered him the coin. However, the government official told Toven to keep the coin, apparently unaware that it was a prototype 1974 Cent. When Toven arrived at home, he noticed the coin was a cent and not a dime.
Many experts question this story, as the coin was made from aluminum and after being dropped it should have received major scratches and damage due to its weight and fragile alloy. So we may never know if the Toven story is accurate or not, but for a coin of this magnitude it probably doesn't matter anyway. A second example is held in the Smithsonian Institution. The Smithsonian example was donated by a government official who also received one of the trial strikes from Brooks.
Former Director Brooks recounted the 1974 aluminum cent, "Even the word aluminum gives me a chill." She even went on to say, "The production of the 1974 aluminum cents was a nightmare since the news of 1974 aluminum cents made 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 and intriguing coins that has ever been struck by the U.S. Mint.