In mid-December, Coin World senior staff writer Paul Gilkes — a man with his ear to the ground for great news if there ever was one — heard a rumor. He learned that a 1974-D Lincoln cent in aluminum was found and possibly certified.
It took more than a month for this to be confirmed and for Coin World to be able to share this with our readers, with a long waiting period as Heritage and Professional Coin Grading Service got the details of their press releases confirmed and finally, on Jan. 24, distributed.
Heritage plans to offer the cent in its April 23 to 27 Central States Numismatic Society auction where it may sell for as much as $250,000. Both PCGS and Heritage seem confident that the aluminum cent is legal to sell and own.
As Paul was preparing background for this story at the end of 2013, he worked with the U.S. Mint to get their opinion on the (at the time theoretical) legality of a 1974-D aluminum cent.
The U.S. Mint’s position as stated to Paul: “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.” The remainder of the answer strongly suggests that the “cent” — since it was not issued as a coin — continues to be the property of the U.S. government. Whether the government will seek physical ownership of the 1974-D aluminum cent is a different question.
Perhaps the situation is clearer on the 1974 aluminum cents that were struck at the Philadelphia Mint. There’s a record of aluminum cents being produced in production-volume qualities at the Philadelphia facility and an example has been known and privately owned since 2005. But, a search of U.S. Mint records — at Coin World’s request — revealed no documentation on the striking of aluminum cents at the Denver Mint, although a Denver Mint worker recalls striking them.
Some coins that left the Mint under mysterious circumstances like 1913 Liberty Head 5-cent pieces are well-established U.S. rarities that trade freely in the marketplace. Others, like 1933 $20 double eagles, which likely left the Mint under suspect conditions, are considered government property and generally not available for private ownership.
Time will tell where the 1974-D aluminum cent will fall on the “legal to own” spectrum. Coin World will be there to share the story with you.