I read the May 23, 2011, “Readers Ask” column regarding 1974 and
1975 aluminum cents and how they are still illegal. If memory serves,
the same situation happened with another cent coin. Is there a way to
have the Mint change its position on the experimental cents?
The “other cent” Mr. Hyde refers to may be the 1974-dated
bronze-clad steel cent struck at roughly the same time as the aluminum
cents. It was unknown to hobbyists until a collector contacted
Coin World and sent one for examination in 1994.
The possessor of the coin had been an employee at a Pennsylvania
steel mill in 1974 when U.S. Mint officials brought bags of the
bronze-clad steel cents to be destroyed in the mill’s furnaces.
According to the employee’s account, a bag broke open and Mint
officials failed to recover all of the pieces. The employee reported
that five to eight cents were kept by workers.
The piece was examined by the Coin World staff and
appeared genuine. The composition of the piece — two outer layers of a
bronze-colored metal bonded to a gray-colored core that was attracted
to a magnet — matched the description of one of the experimental
compositions in the official Treasury report on the cent experimentation.
After being contacted by Coin World in 1994, U.S. Mint
officials acknowledged that the bronze-clad steel cents had been
struck. Before that admission, the Treasury Department’s official
report on the testing performed in 1973 and 1974 had denied that the
Mint used Lincoln cent dies to strike anything other than aluminum.
The report claimed that nonsense dies (dies that employ coin-like
designs and legends without duplicating existing coins) were used to
strike the nonaluminum compositions.
The entire report can be viewed online at http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Alternative_Materials_for_One_Cent_Coinage.
Mint officials also confirmed that two bronze-clad steel cents
were kept in the Mint’s specimen files.
As with the aluminum test strikes, the Mint contends the
bronze-clad steel cents are illegal for a private individual to own.
Coin World withheld the identity of the bronze-clad steel
cent’s possessor to protect that person’s anonymity.
Unless the Mint does an about-face on its own, Congress would need
to pass specific legislation authorizing private ownership of these
experimental pieces. Hobbyists who wish to see the status of the test
strikes changed may wish to contact their congressional representatives.
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.