US Coins

2014 Top 10 Stories: 1974-D aluminum cent case continues

An aluminum 1974-D Lincoln experimental cent is at the center of a legal battle between two men and the government. Images courtesy of PCGS.

Images courtesy of PCGS.

Editor's note: The Top 10 Stories of 2014 have been judged by Coin World staff to be the most impactful and memorable numismatic stories of the past year. They are not ranked in any particular order.

See all of the Top 10 Stories of 2014

The discovery of an aluminum 1974-D Lincoln experimental cent, its withdrawal from a major auction and a subsequent lawsuit placed plenty of attention on this mysterious coin. 

The piece, authenticated and graded by Professional Coin Grading Service as Mint State 63, was set to be a highlight of Heritage Auctions’ April 2014 Central States Numismatic Society auction but was withdrawn at the request of the U.S. Mint

The piece had been consigned by two people: Randy Lawrence, who inherited the piece in 1979 from his father, a former Denver Mint employee, and Michael McConnell, a California coin dealer who purchased the coin from Lawrence in September 2013. 

The government wanted the piece back. The U.S. Mint’s chief legal counsel, Daniel P. Shaver, sent separate letters dated Feb. 26, 2014, to Lawrence and McConnell demanding the return of the 1974-D aluminum cent. 

Lawrence and McConnell responded to the Mint’s demand by filing a lawsuit in federal court on March 14, 2014, seeking declaratory judgment that would allow them to retain title to the coin. 

The piece is the only example known to survive from a reported production of no more than a dozen pieces. Until 2013, it was believed that all of the mid-1970s experimental aluminum cents were struck at the Philadelphia Mint, and the Mint contends that there is no documentary evidence showing that 1974-D aluminum cents were struck at the Denver Mint.

A Feb. 17, 2014, Coin World story by Paul Gilkes cited an interview with Benito Martinez, a die setter at the Denver Mint in 1974, who recalls striking fewer than a dozen of the experimental 1974-D Lincoln cents on aluminum blanks that had been supplied from the Philadelphia Mint. More than 1.5 million 1974 Lincoln aluminum cents were struck at the Philadelphia Mint, although nearly all were destroyed but for one known in private hands and another at the Smithsonian Institution.

The Mint responded on June 3, 2014, asking that the court dismiss the men’s request for declaratory judgment. The Mint’s response stated that the men had not shown “any scenario under which they could plausibly be in lawful possession of the piece, that the piece was lawfully issued as legal tender, lawfully issued or offered for sale to the public as a numismatic item, or otherwise lawfully removed from the Government.”

On Dec. 12, 2014, the two men filed an amended complaint demanding a jury trial. The filing warned that if the government was successful in claiming the piece, the precedent would “place a cloud over all non-legal tender coins,” adding that the government has no compelling need to seize coins of unique and special value to collectors.”

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