US Coins

Top 10 of 2016: 1974-D aluminum cent returned to Mint

The 1974-D aluminum cent was returned to U.S. Mint custody in 2016, and later went on display at the American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money.

Coin images courtesy of Professional Coin Grading Service; Coin World photo by Jeff Starck.

A modern U.S. Mint rarity re­turned to federal custody and was put on public view during 2016. 

The only known example of the 1974-D Lincoln aluminum cent was returned to the U.S. Mint, settling a dispute between two men and the Mint. The U.S. Mint then placed the coin on display during the American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money in Anaheim, Calif., in August. 

Tom Jurkowsky, the U.S. Mint’s director of corporate communications, told Coin World March 18 that Bill Bailey, assistant chief of police of the U.S. Mint, and U.S. Mint Chief Counsel Jean Gentry, took possession of the 1974-D aluminum cent on March 17 in San Diego. 

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Before being taken into custody by U.S. Mint officials, the 1974-D aluminum cent was cracked out of its Professional Coin Grading Service Secure holder, where it bore a grade of Mint State 63. 

Michael McConnell, owner of La Jolla Coin Shop in La Jolla, Calif., one of the two private claimants to the coin, carefully removed the coin from its grading service holder and placed the coin into another plastic capsule in preparation for the coin’s surrender to authorities at a federal building in San Diego.

PCGS certified the piece in early December 2013 and noted that its weight, 0.93 gram, matched the Albert P. Toven example of the 1974 Lincoln aluminum cent, which surfaced in 2005. That cent remains in private hands. 

The 1974-D aluminum cent came to public view after Randall Lawrence sold to McConnell, for $300, a small bag of coins that his father had owned that included the aluminum cent. Once McConnell determined the validity of the aluminum strike, he and Randall Lawrence became partners in the coin’s disposition. 

It was set to be a highlight of the Heritage April 24, 2014, Central States Numismatic Society Platinum Night auction and estimated to sell in the neighborhood of $250,000.

In a March 17 press release, the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Southern District of California in San Diego wrote, “Mr. Lawrence and Mr. McConnell claimed that there were estimates that the piece might fetch upwards of $2 million at auction.” 

During Heritage’s sale planning, Heritage’s executive vice president Todd Imhof said that Heritage was provided legal advice that the 1974-D aluminum cent was legal to own and, as such, could be sold at auction. 

However, the Mint sent separate letters to Lawrence and McConnell on Feb. 26, 2014, demanding return of the piece, and the Mint sent a letter to Heritage requesting removal of the piece from auction. 

Lawrence and McConnell responded on March 17, 2014, by filing a federal lawsuit, asking the court to declare them the rightful owners of the piece. The U.S. Mint argued that it was the owner because there was no authorization for striking 1974-D aluminum cents at the Denver Mint and since federal employees are not permitted to remove federal property without proper authorization, the piece always has been and remains federal property. 

Heritage officials withdrew the 1974-D aluminum cent from the auction and held it until the case was settled.

The 1974-D cent was a center­piece of the U.S. Mint’s exhibit dur­ing the ANA World’s Fair of Money, drawing hundreds of onlookers daily to view the rarity. 

Read all of our Coin World Top 10 of 2016 series:

U.S. Mint issues gold Centennial coins
Pogue IV auction tops $16 million
Rare English gold coin found in toy box
Boutique bullion trend catches on worldwide
Langbord 1933 double eagle case rolls on
1974-D aluminum cent returned to U.S. Mint
Treasury announces new Federal Reserve note designs
1964 Morgan dollar tooling uncovered
American Liberty silver medal released
U.S. Mint plans yearlong 225th anniversary party

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