Collector found his 1943 ‘copper cent' in circulation
- Published: Dec 20, 2018, 6 AM
A 1943 Lincoln cent struck on a bronze planchet that has been with a collector since he discovered it in 1947 is one of the many highlights of Heritage’s Jan. 10 Platinum Night auction as part of the Jan. 10 to 14 Florida United Numismatists convention in Orlando.
Don Lutes Jr. was a 16-year-old student at a Pittsfield, Massachusetts, high school when he discovered one of only around 20 examples known of a Philadelphia Mint 1943 Lincoln cent struck on a bronze planchet. All 1943 cents were supposed to be struck on zinc-coated steel planchets to conserve bronze for the war effort, but a few 1943 “copper” cents got out of the Mint. Heritage writes, “the appeal of the 1943 ‘copper’ cent far transcends traditional numismatics, as the issue has captured the imagination of coin collectors, school children, and members of the general public alike.”
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When Lutes found the unusual cent, he set it aside as a curiosity but his interest was raised when he heard a rumor that Henry Ford would offer a new car to anyone who located a 1943 “copper” cent. The young man wrote to Ford Motor Co. and the Treasury Department, who informed him, “In regard to your recent inquiry, please be informed that copper pennies were not struck in 1943. All pennies struck in 1943 were zinc coated steel.” Following that terse response, he kept the unusual find in his collection for more than a decade before showing the coin to Walter Breen who declared it genuine in 1958 at the New England Numismatic Association convention in Worcester, Massachusetts.
Both David Lange’s Complete Guide to Lincoln Cents and the Authoritative Reference on Lincoln Cents, by John Wexler and Kevin Flynn, identify the discovery coin. Accompanying the cent is a small packet of research materials.
Heritage’s cataloger wrote, “The present coin is a lightly circulated olive-brown specimen, with hints of steel and copper-red patina in selected areas,” noting, “The completely original surfaces are lightly abraded, aside from a short horizontal gouge below the 3 and a slanting mark at the top of the 1 in the date. The bust is glossy and a few subtle hints of original mint luster remain intact in selected areas.”
The cent is certified About Uncirculated 53 by Numismatic Guaranty Corp.
Restrike versus original
Heritage continues to offer installments of The Greensboro Collection and the upcoming FUN auctions will present Part VII, which includes a notable group of Proof Capped Bust silver coins from the 1820s. Of interest is a pair of Proof 1827/3 Capped Bust quarter dollars representing both original and restrike types.
All known examples of the original 1827/3 Capped Bust quarter dollars were struck from the same die pair, listed as Browning 1 die pair by Ard W. Browning in the series reference book. The restrikes were struck from a different die pair, with the distinguishing element seen on the reverse. The B-1 reverse die has a Curl Base 2 in the denomination, while the B-2 reverse used on the restrikes, has a Square Base 2. Both varieties share the same obverse die.
The restrike probably owes its existence to early collector demand. The U.S. Mint would occasionally strike rarities on demand for collectors in the mid-19th century to satisfy that demand. Heritage explains, “During the third quarter of the 19th century, when coin collecting first became a popular hobby in this country, the Big Three coins in American numismatics were the 1804 dollar, the 1802 half dime, and the 1827/3 quarter. Collector demand for these dates was overwhelming and, in the case of the dollar and quarter issues, original dies were still on hand at the Mint. Giving in to temptation, Mint officials restruck specimens of these dates for private sale to favored collectors on more than one occasion.”
The collection’s original example is graded Proof 65 by Professional Coin Grading Company and was last offered publicly at a 1989 Superior Galleries auction. The finest certified example, graded PCGS Proof 66+ Cameo, brought $705,000 at Stack’s Bowers and Sotheby’s May 2015 B. Brent Pogue Collection auction.
The collection’s restrike example is graded Proof 66 by PCGS with a green Certified Acceptance Corp. sticker and shows the distinct Square Base 2 in the denomination. Both sides exhibit the effects of extensive die rust, and Heritage suggests that it was struck around 1876 while Henry Linderman was Mint director.
Early catalogers of the Restrikes noted the “roughness in the dies.” Heritage observes, “The usual effects of die rust can be observed on both sides, and heavy die striations can be seen in the pristine fields,” but also recognizes, “The deeply mirrored fields are enhanced by lovely iridescent shades of blue, rose, gold, and gray toning.”
The HBC Collection includes several significant U.S. and pioneer gold coins including an 1879 Coiled Hair $4 Stella pattern, Judd 1635, graded Proof 66 Cameo by NGC, and a 1921 Saint-Gaudens $20 double eagle in NGC MS-61.
Of note is an 1875 Indian Head gold $3 coin graded NGC Proof 65 Cameo, which is a famed Proof-only rarity with just 20 to 25 examples known from a reported mintage of just 20 pieces. Likely a few extra pieces were struck later as delicacies at the Philadelphia Mint, accounting for the extra surviving population today. John Dannreuther’s recent book United States Proof Coins, Volume IV, lists 21 distinct examples and close inspection of multiple examples with shared diagnostics suggests that they were all struck at the same time.
Beyond the unique 1870-S gold $3 piece, the Proof 1875 Indian Head $3 coin is the key to the series. Heritage describes the offered Gem as follows: “The sharply detailed, frosty design elements contrast boldly with the deeply mirrored fields to produce a dramatic cameo effect. The well-preserved lemon-yellow surfaces show a small circular dot of unfinished polish after the 5 in the date that can serve as a pedigree marker.”
It can be traced back to dealer Henry Chapman, who sold it to Albert Fairchild Holden around 1908. The coin went to his daughter, Emery May Holden Norweb, and it spent nearly 80 years in the famed Norweb Collection until it was offered in Part 1 of the 1987 Bowers and Merena auction of that collection. It went through several successive owners before landing with the current consignor where it has resided for nearly 25 years.
Other highlights at Heritage’s FUN Platinum Night sale include one of 10 known 1884 Trade dollars, the finest known 1885 Trade dollar, and Alan Weinberg’s important 1792 pattern coins, early U.S. cents and several Colonial issues.
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