The 1942 Glass Cent that sold at the Heritage auction on January 2017, is said to have surfaced from a private collection. There is one other 1942 Glass Cent known; however, that example is broken in half, making the current example a treasure when it comes to U.S. coinage. And the price realized might someday end up being a real bargain, as not too many collectors can ever say they own an authentic glass coin.
The coins were struck in a pivotal time in American history – World War II was taking place – and producing coins was more than likely not on the top of the Government’s list of priorities. Despite the ongoing war, the Mint still decided to experiment with other metals to replace the mostly copper 1-cent coin, as it was in dire need of copper for ammunition for the ongoing war. As a result, the Mint struck several coins in 1942 that were composed of different alloys.
The Mint also invited different entities to experiment with other metals to try and find an alternative metal to replace the mostly copper cents. One of the companies that accepted the invitation was none other than the Blue Ridge Glass Company from Kingsport, Tennessee. The company produced at least two examples of the Experimental 1942 Glass Cent. There is no reliable data indicating how many examples were actually produced, and for now, the coins are currently considered exceedingly rare. The only intact 1942 Experimental Glass Cent is accentuated by a yellow amber appearance and remnants of the reverse design can be seen through the obverse, and vise versa, since it is made of glass. The coin also has irregular glass flow patterns, including some microscopic-looking cracks, also a result of its glass construction. The edge of the coins was manually smoothed; therefore, these coins can have different weights. The coins were believed to be struck with coin dies at room temperature, while the glass planchets were heated, creating a fairly weak detailed design compared to other metal coins struck by the U.S. Mint. Weakness is especially seen on the letter "E" of Liberty and the "J" in Justice. The obverse of the 1942 Experimental Glass Cent has a similar bust obverse to that of the Columbian 2 Centavos. On the other hand, the reverse has a wreath and the words "United States Mint" towards the center of the design, and it is very similar to the Washington Medalet (Baker 1955) coin design.
Other experimental alloys exist for 1942 Cents, including plastic, rubber, aluminum, brass, zinc, Bakelite and other compositions. In the end, the U.S. Mint decided to use zinc-coated steel cents for the 1943 Lincoln Cents. Between the three mints, Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco, over 1 billion examples were struck. This makes the coins very common, unless they are varieties, errors or are in very high grades of MS68 or higher. Otherwise, almost anyone can afford a 1943 steel cent.
It’s always fascinating when a very special coin takes you back in time and reminds you of some of the most significant moments in history. And the Experimental Glass 1942 Cent is definitely one of these coins. Below are images of some of the different metal alloys that the Mint used in 1942 while experimenting with different coin compositions.