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 one cent to produce Lincoln cents for circulation due to the escalating price of copper. The U.S. Mints 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 with 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 against Brooks to keep the producing the copper cents for circulation.
The following year, Brooks ignored the copper mining corporations and still went ahead and ordered 1974 aluminum trial-strike Lincoln cents to be produced. The coins were initially struck to present to government officials. There are several estimates on how many trial strikes were given to government officials, ranging anywhere from 16 and up to about 40 examples. Going forward the Mint then made the final decision that they would not use the 1975 Aluminum Cents for circulation and ordered employees to have every single example 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 then had to become involved and after some litigation the Mint acknowledged that 14 coins were unaccounted for. To this date, all 14 trial strikes have yet to be recovered, with the exception of the PCGS MS62 example that surfaced in the media 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. 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. According to the story this is how the only example in private hands is believed to exist. Many believe this story is not necessarily true 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 example story is accurate but on a coin of this magnitude it probably doesn't matter anyways. 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 described the 1974 Aluminum Cent the best when she said, "Even the word aluminum gives me a chill." She even went on to say, "The production of the 1974 Aluminum cents as 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 intruguing coins that has ever been struck by the U.S. Mint.