An example of an aluminum 1974-D Lincoln
experimental cent — not documented in U.S. Mint records to exist, but
once owned by a former Denver Mint assistant superintendent — has been
authenticated and graded by Professional Coin Grading Service as Mint
PCGS certified the piece in early December.
The experimental piece has been consigned to
Heritage Auctions’ April 23 to 27 sale jointly by the son of the
former Denver Mint executive and the California dealer to whom the son
sold the coin before its true value was determined.
Randy Lawrence is the son of the late Harry
Edmond Lawrence. After some 20 years in the Denver Mint facility,
predominantly in the assistant superintendent’s position, H.E.
Lawrence retired as assistant superintendent in 1980. He died the same year.
Michael McConnell, a coin dealer in La Jolla,
Calif., purchased the 1974-D aluminum cent from Randy Lawrence along
with some other coins his father had owned, in September 2013.
Heritage Auctions officials value the 1974-D
aluminum cent in the neighborhood of $250,000, according to Todd
Imhof, Heritage’s executive vice president.
Imhof said Heritage was provided legal advice
that the aluminum cent is legal to own and as such, can be sold at auction.
The coin was scheduled to be publicly
displayed Jan. 30 to Feb. 1 at the Long Beach Coin, Currency, Stamp
& Sports Collectible Show in Long Beach, Calif.
While a search of U.S. Mint records by Mint
officials provides no documentary evidence that any such experimental
cents in aluminum were struck at the Denver Mint in 1974, Coin World
was able to locate and interview the Denver Mint production employee
who struck the experimental 1974-D Lincoln cents one at a time on
Coin World was already conducting research in
preparation for publishing an article during the 40th anniversary year
of the production of the 1974 aluminum cents when the announcement was
made of the confirmed existence of a 1974-D strike in aluminum.
The U.S. Mint is known to have struck more
than 1.5 million aluminum 1974 Lincoln cents at the Philadelphia Mint
during research and development considering metallic alternatives to
the 3.1-gram cent’s alloy of 95 percent copper and 5 percent zinc.
PCGS’s examination of the 1974-D aluminum cent
during the authentication process determined it weighs 0.93 gram, the
same weight as a 1974 aluminum cent certified by PCGS in 2005, two
months after first being certified by Independent Coin Grading.
U.S. Mint records suggest as few as five to as
many as 13 or 14 of the 1974 aluminum cents struck at the Philadelphia
Mint remain extant.
The Philadelphia Mint aluminum cent initially
graded About Uncirculated 58 in 2005 by ICG, but subsequently graded
MS-62 by PCGS, is known as the Toven specimen.
Albert P. Toven was a U.S. Capitol police
officer who reportedly picked up the 1974 aluminum cent in the
basement of the Rayburn Office Building, after a congressman, rushing
for a legislative vote for which he was late, dropped the coin. Toven
tried to return the piece to the congressman, thinking it was a dime,
but he was told to keep it.
Upon closer examination, Toven realized it was
not a dime, but one of the experimental cents. Toven kept the piece,
frequently retelling the story of how he came to own it and showing at
every opportunity until it became part of the family’s history.
Toven died in 1999.
The Toven 1974 aluminum cent is still
privately owned by the Toven family, who submitted the coin for
certification first to ICG and later to PCGS.
Recent phone calls placed by Coin World to
Toven family representatives were not returned.
While there are a number of legal opinions
within the private sector that the aluminum cents are legal to own
because they were arguably legally released, U.S. Mint officials have
a different slant on the issue.
In a Dec. 26, 2013, email to Coin World, Tom
Jurkowsky, director of the U.S. Mint’s Office of Corporate
Communications, responded, “Personally, I think it would be
inappropriate to offer our opinion on the legality of possessing a
1974-D aluminum cent, since we have officially informed you that they
were not minted in Denver.
“However, as a more general matter, I want to
remind you that any item owned by the United States Government that
was not properly disposed of in accordance with express lawful
authority (which, for the United States Mint, would include any item
or “piece” that was not lawfully issued as a coin or numismatic item)
continues to be the property of the United States Government.”
Armen R. Vartian, a Manhattan Beach, Calif.,
attorney who writes the monthly Coin World column “Collectibles and
Law” and is legal counsel for the Professional Numismatists Guild, was
consulted by McConnell for advice on disposition of the 1974-D
aluminum cent. Vartian said he recommended the piece first be
submitted to PCGS for authentication, which submission Vartian said he arranged.
Vartian said his opinion on the legal status
of the Toven 1974 aluminum cent that surfaced in 2005 has not changed,
and that opinion applies to the legality of the private ownership of
the recently surfaced 1974-D aluminum cent.
“There has never been the slightest suggestion
that any 1974 aluminum cents were stolen from the Mint,” Vartian told
Coin World. “These pieces may not have been issued as money, but that
ground for declaring coins illegal to own was rejected in the Langbord
case [involving the ownership of 10 1933 Saint-Gaudens gold $20 double
eagles that publicly surfaced in 2004, and which were determined to be
stolen government property in a 2011 federal court trial in Philadelphia].
“So we’re left with experimental strikes
similar to the patterns which have sold in the marketplace without
government interference for over a century, and which the Government
in the case of the Toven specimen has not complained of despite ample
publicity regarding its existence.”
In 2009, three years before the Langbord case
involving ownership of the 10 1933 double eagles went to trial, the
presiding judge rejected the government’s motion for summary judgment,
“which had been predicated in part on the theory that no private
person can legally own a 1933 $20 double eagle regardless of how he or
she obtained it, because the coins were never issued as legal tender,”
Vartian said if the presiding judge “had
accepted that non-issued coins were illegal to own,” he would not have
ruled against the government on the motion for summary judgement.
“The government eventually stopped making that
argument, and settled instead on trying to prove that the Langbord
specimens didn’t leave the Mint legally,” Vartian said.
Connecticut attorney David M. Krassner
believes it will likely take an act of Congress to define what is
meant by “legally released” or “legally issued.”
Krassner’s Freedom of Information Act requests
during the 1990s case involving the King Farouk I 1933 double eagle
yielded documentation that 66 aluminum cents dated 1975 were also
struck at the Philadelphia Mint.
The Mint has also confirmed that 1975 Lincoln
bronze-clad steel cents were struck at the Philadelphia Mint during
same 1970s round of testing. A small number of those survive in
private hands as well.
“Four decades have passed since the minting
and the indisputable ‘legal’ release of some of the experimental 1974
aluminum cents into the hands of certain public officials,” Krassner
said. “Some of these legally struck aluminum cents were retrieved by
the U.S. Mint, the U.S. Treasury Department and the U.S. Secret
Service. Some are still unaccounted for.
“What makes the 1933 $20 and the 1974 aluminum
cent situations extremely disconcerting, from both a legal or
collector/investor perspective, is that the U.S. Mint was, and still
is unable to define what ‘legally released’ means.
“Even after the passage of time and numerous
court cases, the precise definition of ‘legally released’ has never
been defined, drafted or even officially proposed. No list of
prohibited or illegal coins exists.”
The U.S. Mint possesses no law enforcement
powers and must defer to the Department of Justice, and U.S. Secret
Service, should Mint officials consider the aluminum cents illegal to own.
Coin World contacted the U.S. Secret Service’s
Office of Public Affairs several times seeking opinion on the legality
of ownership of the aluminum cents and whether the Secret Service
might seize the experimental pieces.
On Jan. 27, Special Agent George Ogilvie in
Washington, D.C., headquarters declined comment on behalf of the bureau.
Coin World also contacted the Department of
Justice headquarters in Washington, D.C., Jan. 27 seeking comment
after announcement of the 1974-D aluminum cent was made.
DOJ spokesman Peter Carr declined comment the
same day, referring Coin World back to the U.S. Mint and the Treasury
Department’s Office of Inspector General.
As of Jan. 29, Coin World was still awaiting
further legal opinion from the U.S. Mint’s chief counsel, Daniel P.
Shaver, and Richard Delmar, the Treasury OIG’s chief counsel.
Imhof said Heritage officials consulted with
Vartian and considered his opinion that the 1974-D aluminum cent is
legal to own before proceeding with the announcement that the 1974-D
aluminum cent will be offered at auction.
Imhof said Heritage officials are prepared to
take whatever steps necessary should the government intervene in the
sale of the 1974-D aluminum cent.
“If that were to happen, we would withdraw the
coin from the auction and work with all parties to reach an amicable
resolution,” Imhof said Jan. 27.
Denver Mint production
Coin World requested on Dec. 5, 2013, through
Tom Jurkowsky, director of the U.S. Mint’s Office of Corporate
Communications, a search of Mint archival records and heritage assets
of documented Mint property to confirm the production of 1974-D
aluminum cents and any extant pieces.
In a Dec. 26 email, Jurkowsky responded: “We
have made an exhaustive search into your question about the 1974
Aluminum cent. This has included searches by our curator, historian,
executive secretary and chief counsel. While we are aware that the
United States Mint at Philadelphia struck production-volume quantities
of aluminum one-cent pieces, we are not aware of, nor have any
information on, the striking of such pieces at the United States Mint
Die setter’s recollections
Benito Martinez was a die setter in 1974 when
the 1974-D aluminum cents were struck. Martinez retired from the
Denver Mint in 1997.
Martinez said during his Jan. 20, 2014,
telephone interview with Coin World that he recalls striking fewer
than a dozen of the experimental 1974-D Lincoln cents on aluminum
blanks that had been supplied from the Philadelphia Mint.
Martinez says he doesn’t recall the total
number of aluminum planchets supplied to the Denver Mint from the
Philadelphia facility nor whether all of the aluminum planchets
supplied were struck using 1974-D Lincoln cent dies. Martinez says he
doesn’t recollect if any unstruck aluminum planchets were left over.
Martinez said he oriented a single pair of
1974-D Lincoln cent dies, aligned to strike vertically, on a standard
coinage press capable of being outfitted with two pairs of dies.
Harry Bobay, a Denver Mint production foreman
who died in 1988, supplied the aluminum planchets to him one at a
time, Martinez said, and Martinez individually hand fed the planchets
between the coinage dies before engaging the striking cycle.
Martinez said that after each 1974-D
experimental aluminum cent was struck, the struck piece was given to
Bobay, who then provided another single unstruck planchet for Martinez
to feed into the coinage press until they finished.
During normal operations, the press operated
at a speed of 135 strokes per minute per pair of dies.
The blanks were upset before striking, meaning
the planchets were run through an upset mill that formed a raised rim
on the coin to contain metal flowing during striking.
The primary problem encountered with the
aluminum cent strikes, Martinez said, was what is known as “finning.”
“Finning” results in high rims, from metal
flowing into the minute gap between the outer edge of the coinage dies
and the restraining edge collar.
Martinez said he doesn’t recall the specific
striking tonnage used, but that it was the same as was used for
striking circulation issue 1974-D copper cents.
After the 1974-D experimental aluminum cents
were produced at the Denver Mint, all of the strikes were
hand-delivered by Bobay to the Coining Division Office of the Denver
Mint and forwarded to U.S. Mint headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Martinez said he does not know what happened
to the aluminum 1974-D Lincoln cent experimental strikes after they
were sent to Washington.
1974-D aluminum 1¢ surfaces
Randy Lawrence told Coin World Jan. 27 that,
following his father’s death on June 26, 1980, coins his father had
accumulated over the years at the Denver Mint, including error coins,
passed to him. Harry Lawrence had stored the coins in a plastic
sandwich bag, according to his son.
Randy Lawrence said he kept that coin-filled
sandwich bag in a desk drawer for 33 years.
When Lawrence moved with his two children and
elderly mother from Denver to Southern California last August for a
job opportunity in real estate, that plastic sandwich bag went into
the trunk of his car and remained there for a month.
By happenstance, while introducing himself to
local businesses as a new addition to Berkshire Hathaway Home Services
in La Jolla, Randy Lawrence said he was introduced to one of
McConnell’s associates at the La Jolla Coin Shop, which McConnell
owns. McConnell also owns and operates San Diego Coin and Bullion.
On a subsequent visit to the La Jolla Coin
Shop, Lawrence met McConnell. Lawrence said he later made the decision
to sell the coins his father left him to McConnell.
Initially, McConnell believed the 1974-D
aluminum cent to be possibly a Lincoln cent struck on a foreign
planchet, but he also considered the possibility it could be something else.
McConnell said he contacted Vartian, who
suggested submitting the 1974-D cent to PCGS for authentication.
During the authentication process, PCGS
consulted error coin specialist Fred Weinberg in Encino, Calif., for
extensive details on the production of the 1974 aluminum cents,
including their specifications.
The 1974-D aluminum cent McConnell submitted
to PCGS weighed the same 0.93 gram as the Toven specimen submitted to
ICG and PCGS in 2005.
David Hall, president of PCGS’s parent firm,
Collectors Universe, said that when the grading service was notified
of the possibility of a genuine 1974-D aluminum cent, it was an
exciting thought to ponder.
“Of course, when we were initially told about
it then the next thought was: does it really exist?” Hall said. “We
always have to figure out if the item involved is real. I knew this
was an incredible story, and hoped with all my heart that the coin
would really exist and that it would be genuine,” Hall said.
“When I later saw the coin in person I had a
gut feeling it was, indeed, real. Our experts checked out the coin,
and we were unanimous that it is absolutely genuine.”
McConnell said when the piece was returned to
him by PCGS, authenticated and graded as the first genuine 1974-D
aluminum cent, he immediately telephoned Lawrence to tell him about it.
“I wouldn’t be able to sleep without notifying
him,” McConnell said.
In more than 30 years as a professional
dealer, “this is the single most significant coin I’ve handled,”
Lawrence said he admires McConnell for being
an honest coin dealer and informing him of the coin’s identification
and potential value.
McConnell and Lawrence agreed to an
undisclosed split of the net proceeds from the scheduled April auction
of the coin.
From the proceeds a “six-figure” donation will
be made to aid the homeless in the San Diego area, according to
McConnell and Lawrence.
Aluminum cent production
According to U.S. Mint records, in two
production runs the Philadelphia Mint struck 1,571,167 aluminum cents,
combined, dated 1974.
Between Oct. 17, 1973, and March 29, 1974, the
mintage of aluminum cents totaled 1,441,039.
The facility struck the second run, another
130,128 of the experimental aluminum cents, between April 12, 1974,
and May 30, 1974.
Audit records signed by William Humbert, who
headed the U.S. Mint’s internal audit staff, note that all but 59
pieces from the first production run and all but 67 from the second
An undisclosed number of the pieces not
destroyed were distributed to members of Congress and staff members,
as well as other government officials as part of the Mint’s
legislative efforts on Capitol Hill to gain passage of legal authority
to strike the cents for circulation.
When U.S. Mint Director Mary Brooks requested
the return of those distributed aluminum cents, not all were returned.
Over an 18-month period Humbert issued memos
about the production and destruction records for the 1974 aluminum
cents, and the number of extant pieces, according to Weinberg,
fluctuated between five and 14.
The United States government closed its probe
of any missing 1974 aluminum cents by February 1976, determining that
there was “no evidence of criminal intent” by those in possession of
any of the experimental pieces.