Rare penny found in cafeteria change could sell for over $1 million

Marco Green
January 10, 2019

One penny, in particular, is now dubbed the "most famous error coin" by Heritage Auctions, who is auctioning the penny.

In 1943, during World War II, pennies were minted out of steel because copper was reserved for other uses, such as shell casings and telephone wires.

Don Lutes Jr. was 16 when he discovered the rare coin at school in March 1947.

Heritage Auctions, the house responsible for auctioning the rare penny, said on its website that only a "handful of legitimate specimens" have ever been found.

Bids for the coin is now at $100,000 but another 1943 copper cent was sold by a New Jersey dealer to an anonymous buyer for $1.7 million in 2010.

In 2010, a New Jersey dealer sold a similar 1943 copper penny for $1.7million.

Back in 1947, a 16-year-old MA teenager, Don Lutes Jr, held out his hand at the school cafeteria for change after paying for his meal. "Stories appearing in newspapers, comic books, and magazines sparked a nationwide search for these reported rarities by schoolchildren, bank tellers, and citizens from all walks of life".

The cent is one of the most famous error coins in US history, pressed on copper and not zinc-plated steel.

He contacted Ford, who told him that they weren't giving out cars in exchange for the coins after all.

"Despite the mounting number of reported finds, the Mint steadfastly denied any copper specimens had been struck in 1943".

When he inquired with the US Treasury about the coin's value, he was told that it was "fraudulent" and all pennies issued in 1943 were made from zinc-coated steel.

Those planchets went unnoticed when the bins were refilled with zinc-coated steel planchets in 1943, Heritage Auctions said. Zinc-coated steel plates were "considerably harder" than those used in earlier designs, so penny pressers had to strike the blank steel coin much harder.

Eventually, Lutes gave up trying to cash in on his coin and it stayed in his collection until his death in September.

Those bronze planchets then fed into the coin press, leading to the creation of several coins that were "lost in the flood of millions of "steel" cents struck in 1943". They quietly slipped into circulation, to amaze collectors and confound Mint officials for years to come. "PCGS CoinFacts estimates the surviving population at no more than 10-15 examples in all grades".

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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