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SERIES: Lincoln Cents 1959 to Date
LEVEL: Year, MintMark, & Major Variety

1974-D 1C Aluminum (Regular Strike)

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19.00 millimeters
Victor David Brenner/Frank Gasparro
.93 grams
Metal Content:

Ron Guth: The 1974-D Aluminum Cent is a unique item that came to the attention of the numismatic world in 2013 when it walked into a San Diego coin shop.  The coin was promptly certified as an MS63 by PCGS and negotiations were made with Heritage to sell the coin at auction in conjunction with the April 2014 Central States Numismatic Society's annual convention.  However, once the Secret Service got wind of the coin, they sought its immediate recall and the coin was withdrawn from the Heritage sale.  As of this writing (May 2014), ownership of the coin is being litigated.

The coin was believed to have been struck in 1974 as an experiment to replace the copper Cents then being produced.  The cost of copper had risen so high in 1974 that the cost of producing a Cent was often equal to or greater than its face value.  While most of these experiments took place at the main mint in Philadelphia, apparently some Denver employees were perfoming a few experiments of their own.  Experts believe that this is the only example to have survived of the Denver experiments.

After the coin was struck in 1974, it ended up in the hands of the Assistant Superintendent of the Denver Mint, a Mr. Harry Edmond Lawrence.  Mr. Lawrence held it until his death in 1990, after which the coin passed to his son, Randy Lawrence, who eventually brought it into the San Diego coin shop.

According to the experts who examined the coin, it is a genuine piece of the same weight and fabric as the 1974 Aluminum Cents.  There is no doubt that this is a real coin -- our only hope is that it will be allowed to enter the numismatic market rather than being destroyed by the government or being relegated to a hiding place where it can no longer be viewed and enjoyed.

On March 17, 2106, the U.S. Mint issued the following press release:
United States Mint Obtains Possession of Aluminum Coin 
Washington, DC - The United States Mint announced today that it has recovered a 1974-D aluminum experimental one-cent specimen that was neither authorized to be struck nor authorized to leave the Mint. The Mint's recovery follows an agreement to resolve a lawsuit over the ownership of the piece.
The lawsuit in question involved an aluminum one-cent specimen that had once been in the apparent possession of a former assistant superintendent at the United States Mint in Denver, Colo. The two plaintiffs, an heir of the former assistant superintendent and a California coin dealer, filed suit in federal District Court in San Diego, California, seeking a declaratory judgment that the piece was legal to own.
Over 1.4 million of the experimental pieces were struck at the Mint in Philadelphia in 1974 as part of a test program to possibly replace copper one-cent coins. However, Congress never enacted legislation authorizing the Mint to issue one-cent coins composed of aluminum, and the test pieces were to all be melted. The specimen piece in question bears a "D" mark, signifying production in Denver, along with the date "1974," and appears to have been struck with a die intended for the Mint's Denver facility. However, authority was never granted for production of the experimental test pieces at Denver.
An heir of the now-deceased former assistant superintendent contended that his father was given the aluminum one-cent specimen as a gift upon his retirement. The heir provided the piece to an auction firm and hoped to sell it. In February 2014, the United States Mint became aware of plans to offer this particular piece for auction, and immediately reached out to the plaintiffs, notifying both that the United States Mint never issued, nor otherwise transferred title to any aluminum one-cent piece, and that indeed, lawful authority to issue them was never granted. Congress never divested the Government's interest in the subject aluminum one-cent piece, and accordingly, it remained the rightful property of the Federal government.
The Mint, upon authorization of the Secretary of the Treasury and as delegated by Congress, has the exclusive authority to mint and issue U.S. coins and other numismatic items. Items made at United States Mint facilities but not lawfully issued--or otherwise lawfully disposed of--remain government property and are not souvenirs that Mint officials can remove and pass down to their heirs.
The agreement directs that title to the piece rests with the United States Mint and that it be transferred to its custody and control. Mint Police have secured the piece. The Mint considers the specimen to be a valuable historic heritage asset. Accordingly, it intends to display the specimen publicly so that this heritage asset can be properly showcased and enjoyed by numismatists, coin collectors and the general public. The display forum has not yet been decided, but the Mint will make an announcement when a decision has been made.
"The Mint is very pleased with the agreement, and we are very grateful to the U.S. Attorney's Office in San Diego for its work and efforts in reaching this resolution. We look forward to displaying the coin appropriately as an important Mint heritage asset," said Rhett Jeppson, United States Mint Principal Deputy Director. "This agreement is not only good for the integrity of the coin collecting hobby but for the integrity of the government property and rule of law."
On March 18, Reuters released this story by Marty Graham in San Diego
SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - A San Diego man who inherited from his father a 1974 aluminum penny valued at $2 million has surrendered it to the U.S. Mint to settle a lawsuit over ownership of the rare coin, a federal prosecutor said on Thursday.
Randall Lawrence, the son of a former Mint official, and Michael McConnell, the owner of a San Diego-area coin shop, sued the federal government in 2014 after it demanded the return of the penny.
Lawrence and McConnell had planned to display the coin at shows across the country and then sell it through an auction house, which estimated it would bring up to $2 million.
The pair turned it over to the Mint and relinquished all claims to ownership as part of a settlement, Laura Duffy, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of California, said in a statement.
The settlement "vindicates the government's position that items made at U.S. Mint facilities but not lawfully issued ... remain government property and are not souvenirs that government employees can merely remove and pass down to their heirs," Duffy said. She did not disclose further terms of the settlement.
The aluminum cent was proposed to the U.S. Congress in 1973, at a time when copper prices had increased dramatically, according to the Smithsonian Institution.
The Mint made about 1.6 million of the aluminum coins and distributed them to Congress in anticipation of approval. When lawmakers rejected it, the Mint reclaimed the aluminum cents and destroyed almost all of them, leaving one to the Smithsonian in Washington, where it remains.
Lawrence inherited one of the coins and a third aluminum penny turned up in the possession of a U.S. Capitol police officer, who said it was given to him by a member of Congress, according to the Professional Coin Grading Service website.
(Reporting by Marty Graham in San Diego; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Peter Cooney)