Legal case continues for aluminum 1974-D Lincoln concerning ownership rights

Cent is subject of ongoing litigation
By , Coin World
Published : 09/05/14
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Two California men continue their fight to prove that a 1974-D Lincoln aluminum cent in their possession is legal to own. The cent was set to highlight Heritage Auctions’ April 2014 Central States Numismatic Society auction but was withdrawn at the request of the U.S. Mint.

Randall Lawrence and Michael McConnell initially filed a lawsuit in a San Diego federal court on March 14 asking the court to affirm that an example of the experimental cent that the two men owned is not government property and can be legally owned. 

The Mint filed a response on June 3 seeking that the court dismiss the complaint, which was granted on July 23 when a judge ruled that the two men failed to prove that they legally owned the cent. The court allowed Lawrence and McConnell to file a motion for leave to amend the complaint, which they filed on Aug. 21 with a proposed amended complaint attached. 

The Mint’s position has been consistent: because Congress never issued an aluminum cent as legal tender, any example remains property of the federal government regardless of how long it has been in private hands. 

The court initially granted the Mint’s motion to dismiss, specifically noting that the initial filings did not allege “facts surrounding the circumstances under which Plaintiff Lawrence’s father obtained the Aluminum Cent.” 

The proposed amended complaint goes into further detail as to how the men came into possession of the cent, and how Lawrence’s father, Harry Edmond Lawrence, acquired the coin through his service as a Mint employee for approximately 20 years. 

The filing states that before Harry Lawrence’s retirement as assistant superintendent at the Denver Mint in 1980, the Denver Mint commemorated his service in 1979 by “(a) giving him a clock engraved with his name and dates of service and with the ‘hours’ represented by specimens of each of the last 90%-silver coins minted in Denver in 1964, and (b) allowing him to keep certain error coins struck in Denver which he had accumulated, and one specimen of the 1974-D aluminum cent.” The amended complaint further adds that upon Harry Lawrence’s death he gave his son the clock, the error coins and the 1974-D aluminum cent, along with his other personal property. 

In 2013 Randall Lawrence conveyed an interest in the cent to McConnell, a coin dealer. 

Denver aluminum cents? 

More than 1 million 1974 aluminum cents were struck at the Philadelphia Mint, although nearly all were destroyed. In response to the Mint’s position that the Denver Mint aluminum cents were unauthorized, the two men contend, “Regardless of the Mint’s lack of records, the Denver Mint could not have made aluminum cents without a specific order to do so, evidenced by the special delivery of aluminum planchets from Philadelphia.” 

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