In 1947, then 16-year-old Don Lute Jr. of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, found a rare copper penny in change he got from his high school cafeteria — but tucked the coin away after federal officials said it had no special value.
Now, the penny could sell for over $1 million. Lutes passed away in September, and the penny is now set to be auctioned off by Heritage Auctions, with the current bid at $130,000. But that amount will likely climb. In 2010, a 1943 penny created with a bronze planchet sold for a record $1.7 million.
“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.
During World War II, cooper was needed for wartime necessities like bullets and wire. So, in 1943, Lincoln pennies were made of zinc-coated steel to preserve copper. However, an accident at the U.S. Mint led to the creation of just a handful of copper pennies, which mixed in with the flood of zinc-coated steel coins being sent out.
Lutes came across the coin at a time when people across the country were eager to get their hands on one of the rare copper pennies. At the time, it was even falsely reported that Henry Ford would give a new car to anyone who could provide him with one of the rare cents.
“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 the auction house’s website.
“Despite the mounting number of reported finds, the Mint steadfastly denied any copper specimens had been struck in 1943.”
With that, Lutes was sorely disappointed when he contacted the U.S. Treasury Department about the coin only to receive their standard reply: “In regard to your recent inquiry, please be informed that copper pennies were not struck in 1943. All pennies struck in 1943 were zinc coated steel.”
So, Lutes stopped marketing the coin, and added it to his personal collection where it has remained until now.
Heritage Auctions will offer the coin from Jan. 10-13 during its Florida United Numismatists Show in Orlando.
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