Muckraking journalist Jack Anderson, who died in 2005, covered
politics high and low, but the smallest thing he probably ever covered
was the politics of the 1-cent coin.
On Dec. 27, 1958, Anderson, writing in his
Washington Merry-Go-Round syndicated column, reported that the then
pending redesign of the reverse of the Lincoln cent was causing fiscal
problems in Washington.
He wrote, “Secy. of the Treasury [Robert B.]
Anderson is irked at Mint Director Bill Brett for changing the design
of Lincoln pennies. The new one-cent piece will keep the same Lincoln
head but have the Lincoln Memorial on the back. Before Secy. Anderson
could stop him, Brett had ordered the change to commemorate the
Lincoln sesquicentennial next year.
“What annoys Anderson is the cost of switching
penny designs. It will run up the Treasury Dept.’s operating expenses
at a time when he is trying desperately to balance the budget.”
Almost a decade later, on May 19, 1967,
Anderson reported on Mint Director Eva Adam’s testimony before the
House Appropriations Committee. The bronze cent, at the time, cost
about one-third of a cent to make.
Anderson reported Adams told the committee:
“As l understand, a pound of material makes 145 pennies. We make about
a dollar for every pound of material. For every 145 pennies, we get a
Anderson’s biggest cent coup, though, was on
April 21, 1975, when he reported, “It looks suspiciously as if some
distinguished members of Congress may have sticky fingers.
“In late 1973, 16 rare aluminum pennies were
shown around Capitol Hill. Only two of them have been returned. The
rest have mysteriously disappeared.”
In the years after Adams testified, copper
prices had risen to the point that the Mint was considering switching
to aluminum cents.
Anderson speculated that “sticky-fingered
legislators” were aware that the coins were illegal to own but knew
they still had a substantial “under-the-table value …” A subsequent
FBI investigation turned up two more cents.
On Aug. 26, 1978, Anderson revisited the
story, reporting that “four more of the rare coins had been accounted
for, leaving only eight as potential prizes for wealthy collectors.”
Three of those four cents were returned to the
Mint and melted. The fourth was given to the Smithsonian Institution,
where it remains today.
No one will ever know if any of the remaining
missing aluminum pieces were sold on the black market.
If he were still alive, Anderson would still
be on the trail.Gerald Tebben is editor of the Central States
Numismatic Society’s Centinel.