US Coins

Experimental 1974-D Lincoln cent to see public display

Experimental 1974-D Lincoln cent struck in aluminum at the Denver Mint is the only example known from 12 or fewer recounted as produced, unrecorded, and alleged by the Mint to be unauthorized.

Images courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

Nearly five years ago, the only known 1974-D Lincoln experimental cent struck in aluminum at the Denver Mint was returned to the U.S. Mint.

Since its return in 2016, the experimental cent has been stored in a Mint vault.

U.S. Mint spokeswoman Carolyn Fields told Coin World Jan. 4 that the bureau plans to feature the experimental piece in the public galleries at the Denver Mint once the area is remodeled.

The public tour area of the Denver Mint is currently closed and has been since March 16, 2020, because of COVID-19 safety precautions.

There is no announced timetable as to when the public tours at both the Denver and Philadelphia Mints will resume.

Fields said the bureau has no plans to transfer the experimental cent for inclusion in the National Numismatic Collection in the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institution.

The U.S. Mint’s archival records do not include any documentation noting the production of experimental Lincoln cents in aluminum at the Denver Mint.

Cent surfaces

The experimental cent surfaced circa 2012 in the hands of Randall Lawrence, the son of former Denver Mint assistant superintendent Harry Edmond Lawrence.

The experimental piece was presented to the elder Lawrence in 1980 during his retirement dinner. The elder Lawrence passed away several months later and his assets, which included the experimental piece, were transferred to his son.

Randall Lawrence discovered the coin after he moved to the San Diego, California, area from Colorado. Randall Lawrence took the experimental cent and other coins his  father had accumulated over the years, to numismatist Michael McConnell at LaJolla Coin Shop.

McConnell purchased the coins, including the experimental piece from Lawrence. After McConnell’s research determined the rarity of the aluminum cent, the decision was made to consign the experimental piece to public auction, with Lawrence and McConnell to divide the net proceeds.

The experimental piece was scheduled for public sale by Heritage Auctions in its April 2014 Signature sale, in conjunction with the Central States Numismatic Society’s spring convention. The cent had been authenticated, graded and encapsulated as Mint State 63 by Professional Coin Grading Service.

From the time the experimental aluminum cent’s existence was publicly disclosed in 2013, U.S. Mint officials set the wheels in motion to legally seek the coin’s return.

The U.S. Mint filed a civil forfeiture complaint in March 2014 in federal court seeking the cent’s return as government property. Heritage Auctions pulled the cent from its April 2014 sale while negotiations were entertained to put the cent back in the hands of government authorities.

An agreement was subsequently reached for McConnell and Randall Lawrence to return the aluminum cent to U.S. Mint officials to avoid the piece possibly being seized.

As part of the agreement settling ownership claims, McConnell was able to retain the PCGS grading insert for the piece before a contingent of U.S. Mint officials, including Mint police, took possession of the 1974-D aluminum cent.

U.S. Mint officials reported to Coin World in December 2013 that bureau records provided no documentation that experimental cents in aluminum were authorized for production at the Denver Mint.

Coin World interviewed Denver Mint employee Benito Martinez who was involved in the aluminum cent production at Denver.

During the course of litigation leading up to the return of the experimental piece to the Mint, a December 2015 deposition from Dr. Alan Goldman — the U.S. Mint official who had been placed in charge of compositional alternatives to the copper alloy for the cent — indicated that the Denver Mint experimental cent production was not authorized, but also acknowledged that Harry Lawrence was not part of or privy to the evident output, which the Mint worker had recounted as a dozen or fewer pieces.

The Philadelphia Mint produced a number of 1974 Lincoln cents on aluminum planchets manufactured at the Denver Mint from aluminum strip shipped from the Philadelphia Mint.

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