A rare 1943 copper Lincoln cent — found by a Massachusetts teenager in his change after he paid for lunch at a school cafeteria — is expected to fetch up to $1.7 million when it is auctioned off.
The coin, produced accidentally by the U.S. Mint, has been described as the “most famous” coin made in error, according to Heritage Auctions.
In 1942, pennies were supposed to be struck from steel, in order to conserve copper for shell casings, telephone wire, and other “wartime necessities.” However, a small number of bronze blanks were caught in the Mint’s presses and were struck into pennies in the new year. The resulting “copper” cents were lost in the flood of millions of “steel” cents, escaped detection by the Mint’s quality control measures, and quietly slipped into circulation.
It is believed only 20 of the rare coins were made. One teen, 16-year-old coin collector Don Lutes Jr. of Pittsfield, Mass., found one in the change he got after buying lunch at a school cafeteria in March 1947.
At the time, it was falsely reported that car magnate Henry Ford would give a new car to anyone who could give him one of these 1943 “copper” pennies. Lutes contacted the Ford Motor Company but was told the rumor was false. He also contacted the Treasury Department about his find but the Mint steadfastly denied any copper specimens had been struck in 1943.
Lutes died in September last year, and the coin is now up for auction.
Bids for the coin is currently 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. The proceeds of that sale went to charity.
“While a number of other examples have surfaced over the years, no other specimen has been celebrated and written about as much as this remarkable coin,” said Heritage Auctions. “This piece inspires a special pride of ownership not equaled by any other example. This lot represents a true ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity.”