I read the Coin World story about the 1974 and 1975
Lincoln cents struck in experimental materials like aluminum and
bronze-clad steel. I got curious as I have a 1975 Lincoln cent that
may be aluminum. I checked the coin with a magnet and it is
nonmagnetic, like an aluminum cent would be. This is one I got from a
coin dealer’s junk box many years ago.
Mr. Espey refers to a Feb. 21, 2011, Coin World article
by Paul Gilkes regarding a Treasury Department investigation on the
whereabouts of prototype aluminum Lincoln cents struck by the U.S.
Mint in the mid-1970s.
Almost all of the pieces were melted after Congress decided
against a change in the cent’s composition, but some of the prototype
examples nonetheless escaped into private hands.
The Mint considers possession of the coins by private individuals
illegal and subject to seizure. A letter written by the Mint’s chief
counsel, Daniel P. Shaver, is quoted in the article: “It is the United
States Mint’s position that it produced aluminum one-cent pieces,
bearing the inscription ‘1974,’ solely as experimental prototypes.
“The United States Mint never issued these pieces, nor did it have
lawful authority to issue them. Therefore, the United States Mint
regards all of these pieces as the property belonging to the United
States Government, and no one may lawfully circulate, sell, buy or
hold them,” Shaver said.
“Because no individual may acquire valid title to these pieces, it
is the United States Mint’s position that they are subject to recovery
by the USSS [U.S. Secret Service].”
As so few of these prototype pieces survived, is highly probable
that Mr. Espey’s coin owes it aluminum-like appearance to being
painted or plated by someone after it left the Mint.
A cent composed of aluminum would not be magnetic, but neither
would a normal 1975 Lincoln cent, which is composed of 95 percent
copper and 5 percent zinc. To know for sure, the coin would need to be
examined by an expert who could authenticate the coin either as one of
the Mint’s prototype pieces or an altered coin. This, of course, would
require some expense on the reader’s part.
Is it worth the cost and effort to have the cent examined if it
turns out to be merely painted or plated? Too, if the coin does turn
out to be one of the Mint’s aluminum prototype coins, is it worth the
prospect of having it seized by the Secret Service? These are
questions only the reader can decide.
Coin World’s Readers Ask department does not accept coins
or other items for examination without prior permission from staff
member Erik Martin. Readers Ask also does not examine error or variety
coins. Materials sent to Readers Ask without prior permission will be
returned unexamined. Please address all Readers Ask inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org or
call (800) 673-8311, Ext. 274.