US Coins

Mint takes possession of aluminum 1974-D Lincoln cent

The following press release was issued by the U.S. Attorney's Office in San Diego, Calif., concerning the return to the U.S. Mint of the only known example of the aluminum 1974-D Lincoln cent, once owned by Deputy Denver Mint Supt. Harry Lawrence, and settlement of a federal lawsuit concerning its ownership. The U.S. Mint issued a separate news release.

Editor's note: 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 at 5 p.m. Eastern Time March 17 in San Diego. Jurkowsky said Treasury and U.S. Mint officials will confer on plans to publicly display the piece. Jurkowsky did not disclose where the 1974-D aluminum cent will be stored in the meantime. It is housed in a Professional Coin Grading Service holder where it is graded Mint State 63.

"Regarding where it is going, we are first going to authenticate the piece," Jurkowsky told Coin World. "For security reasons, we would prefer not to say where that will take place. We will then decide where the piece will reside."

Authentication will require removal from its PCGS encapsulation.

For earlier Coin World coverage on the case, follow the links below:

SAN DIEGO — The son of a late United States Mint official has returned a rare and valuable 1974-D aluminum one-cent piece to the United States Mint, bringing an end to a lawsuit over the ownership of the piece.

Randall Lawrence, the son of the late Mint official Harry Lawrence, and Michael McConnell, the owner of the La Jolla Coin Shop, had brought a lawsuit against the United States to establish ownership rights of the penny.

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Harry Lawrence had been a Deputy Director of the United States Mint at Denver until his retirement in 1980.  He died later that year. In 2014, Harry Lawrence’s son, Randall Lawrence, gave multiple news interviews during which he claimed that among the property he inherited from his father was what appeared to be a 1974 aluminum penny bearing a “D” (for Denver) mintmark. Mr. Lawrence, who had recently moved from Colorado to San Diego, had met with Michael McConnell, the owner of the La Jolla Coin Shop, and they reached an agreement to exhibit the piece at coin shows and to offer it for public sale through a well-known auction house.  Mr. Lawrence and Mr. McConnell claimed that there were estimates that the piece might fetch upwards of $2 million at auction.   

Upon learning that the piece existed and that Mr. Lawrence and Mr. McConnell planned to sell it, the United States Mint contacted Mr. Lawrence and Mr. McConnell to demand its return. Mr. Lawrence and Mr. McConnell responded to the United States’ demand that the piece be returned by filing a lawsuit against the United States in United States District Court for the Southern District of California seeking a judicial declaration that they were the owners of the piece. The United States contended in litigation that it be declared the rightful owner of the piece because there was never any authorization for an aluminum one-cent piece to be struck at the Denver Mint, that the piece was clandestinely struck and unlawfully removed from the Denver Mint, that federal employees are not permitted to remove federal property without proper authorization, and that the piece always has been and remained federal property. 

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Mr. Lawrence and Mr. McConnell have now returned the 1974-D aluminum one-cent piece to the United States. By the terms of an agreement to end the litigation that they brought against the United States, Mr. Lawrence and Mr. McConnell have voluntarily relinquished all claims of ownership, legal title, or dominion over the 1974-D aluminum one-cent piece to the United States. The piece was transferred to the custody and control of the United States Mint for its use and display as it may determine.

“This result ends the litigation successfully and returns the subject piece to its rightful owner, the United States Mint. It also vindicates the Government’s position that items made at United States Mint facilities but not lawfully issued, or otherwise lawfully disposed of, remain Government property and are not souvenirs that government employees can merely remove and pass down to their heirs,” said U.S. Attorney Duffy. 

“The Mint is very pleased with the agreement, and we are very grateful to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Diego for its work and efforts in reaching this resolution. We look forward to displaying the coin appropriately as an important Mint heritage asset,” said Rhett Jeppson, United States Mint Principal Deputy Director. “This agreement is not only good for the integrity of the coin collecting hobby but for the integrity of the government property and rule of law.”

The case was handled by Assistant United States Attorneys Joseph P. Price, Jr. and Joseph J. Purcell. Randall Lawrence and Michael McConnell v. United States Department of the Treasury; United States Bureau of the Mint; and the United States of America, District Court Case No. 14-cv-00594-WQH (MDD).  

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