US Coins

Monday Morning Brief for Feb. 17, 2020: Stunning junk box find

This genuine 1776 Continental dollar was found in a dealer’s junk box and purchased for the equivalent of 56 cents. It is easily a six-figure coin.

Original images courtesy of Professional Coin Grading Service.

The news article here about a genuine 1776 Continental dollar purchased for 56 cents from a dealer’s junk box of  coins and other assorted numismatic pieces is proof that great finds await lucky collectors.

Coin World staff members and others in the hobby routinely receive inquiries from individuals who believe that they have found a rare coin. The 1776 Continental dollar is among the most frequently encountered pieces, based on our email inbox. As you might expect, such pieces are replicas of some kind, either crude cast pieces produced before the Hobby Protection Act of 1973 was enacted (that law requires numismatic replicas to bear the word “COPY” on the obverse or reverse) or better quality struck souvenir pieces. However, I do not recall a genuine 1776 Continental dollar ever before surfacing as a junk box find.

Over the years, I have encountered other stories that seem too good to be true but actually turn out to really be true. My favorite is the discovery of a 1974 Lincoln cent experimental piece struck on a bronze-clad steel planchet. 

That piece surfaced after its owner called me in mid-1994 to tell me a story that seemed impossible yet had a strong element of truth. The caller said he had worked at a Pennsylvania steel mill in the mid-1970s when Mint officials, including Mint police officers, arrived with bags of the 1974 bronze-clad steel cents to be destroyed in the mill’s furnaces. During the destruction of the cents, a bag split open and some of the coins had scattered on the mill floor, where they were scooped up by mill employees despite the best efforts of the Mint police to prevent them from doing so. 

From my research, I knew that bronze-clad steel was one of the alternative compositions tested in 1973 and 1974 (aluminum being another) as a replacement for the 95 percent copper alloy used for the cent. However, Treasury records said that the bronze-clad steel composition had been struck only with nonsense dies, not actual cent dies.

The caller sent us one of the cents, and upon my examination, I became convinced that it was genuine. A call to Mint officials eventually led to confirmation that experimental 1974 cents had been struck with regular dies in bronze-clad steel.

Because of this cent discovery and other ones, I try to be open minded about calls from readers reporting similar finds. Their “rare” coin might actually be real.

The bronze-clad steel cent remains hidden from public view because Mint officials consider it illegal for private ownership. That means it is unlikely to ever surface for auction.

The 1776 Continental dollar just discovered, however, is a prime candidate for auction and a likely six-figure price.

All of us enjoy reading stories about treasure finds and junk box purchases that prove to be valuable; they capture our attention. Most of us hope to make a similar discovery ourselves some day, however unlikely that might be.

Although most of us will never find a genuine 1776 Continental dollar in a junk box, other finds await us. Cherrypickers routinely search dealer inventories for unattributed die varieties offered for sale at prices below their market value. The odd circulation find can still occur; not too long ago, a couple of 1969-S Lincoln, Doubled Die Obverse cents were found in circulation by some lucky finders (each is worth tens of thousands of dollars, or more).

May you, too, be one of these lucky finders someday. 

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