Published: Thu, January 10, 2019
Economy | By

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

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

But a small number of copper pennies were created by mistake. It was found in MA in 1947.

"This is the most famous error coin in American numismatics and that's what makes this so exciting: No one really knows what it's going to sell for", Sarah Miller of Heritage Auctions said in a statement.

In 1943, during World War II, pennies were supposed to be made of steel, because copper was needed for other uses, but a handful of the coins were mistakenly pressed with copper, and Don Lutes Jr. discovered one of them in his change from his MA high school lunch in 1947.

The top bid for the coin as of Wednesday morning was $120,000.

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.

At the time, it was falsely reported that vehicle magnate Henry Ford would give a new auto to anyone who could give him one of these 1943 "copper" pennies.


Copper was named a strategic material in the lead up and during World War II. As a result, the coins were made using zinc-coated steel, but a handful of them, including the one uncovered by Lutes, were mistakenly pressed with copper.

In 1942, pennies were supposed to be struck from steel, in order to conserve copper for shell casings, telephone wire, and other "wartime necessities".

"Stories appeared in newspapers, comic books and magazines, and a number of fake copper-plated steel cents were passed off as fabulous rarities to unsuspecting purchasers", according to Heritage Auctions. Lutes heard this rumor and inquired with Ford Motor Company, but they set the record straight, denying that Ford had many any such promise.

So Lutes concluded his coin was probably valueless, and stored it as a curiosity in his coin collection for the next seven decades. Their standard reply simply read: "In regard to your recent inquiry, please be informed that copper pennies were not struck in 1943". The Treasury switched to minting pennies out of steel.

Those planchets went unnoticed when the bins were refilled with zinc-coated steel planchets in 1943, Heritage Auctions said.

Around 10 years after Lutes had given up on trying to monetize his find, a 14-year-old from California had his coin authenticated and placed in the 1958 ANA Convention Auction.

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