A curious product offered by the U.S. Mint in 1973 was the “Penny
Bag.” It consisted of a small canvas bag that was a miniature replica
of the large bags used to transport coins from the Mints to the 37
Federal Reserve Banks and Branches. Inside were 15 Uncirculated cents,
five each produced at the Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco facilities.
For a month-long period early in 1973, bags containing 1972 cents
were offered by mail order at prices starting at $2 for five bags, and
priced at just 32 cents per bag when purchased in quantities of 25
bags or more. During the summer of 1973, similar versions of these
bags containing 1973 Lincoln cents went on sale at the same prices.
The cents from 1972 are storied. Nine collectible doubled die
obverse varieties can be found among the 1972 Philadelphia Mint
cents. The most dramatic doubled die variety among the bunch is
considered one of the great doubled dies in the Lincoln cent series. A
minor doubled die from the Denver Mint also commands a premium.
Condition sensitive collectors also pay keen attention to these
dates, normally pursuing certified examples of the 1972, 1972-D,
1972-S, 1973 and 1973-D cents graded Mint State 66 red. These coins
command prices ranging from $20 to $40 when certified by Numismatic
Guaranty Corp. or Professional Coin Grading Service. They are all very
scarce in MS-67 red, and bring prices from a few hundred to several
thousand dollars, depending on the issue.
The 1973-S Lincoln cent is the standout condition rarity because it
was poorly made and exhibits numerous planchet issues. Certified MS-66
red examples can be tricky to locate, and trade for a couple hundred
dollars. It is a major rarity in MS-67 red.
The “Penny Bags” are a good source of nice Uncirculated examples as
well as a fun collectible. The offering clearly met with some success
when originally issued, as examples with coins from both years are
still readily available in the secondary market today. They can be
purchased for about $4 per bag. The 1973 set is easier to locate than
the 1972 set, suggesting that sales were better for the second issue
than the first.
But after only two issues, the Penny Bag was discontinued. The
likely reason is part of the lore of the 1974 Lincoln cent. During the
first three months of 1974, demand for the cent exceeded 2 billion
coins, doubling demand from the prior year. According to a U.S. Mint
press release, “This unprecedented increase in the outflow of pennies
... can only be attributed to speculation that the metal content of
the penny will ultimately exceed its face value.”
Beginning April 15, 1974, new regulations made it illegal to melt
copper cents. And, of course, no 1974 Penny Bag was offered.