US Coins

Perfection can be overrated on coins and tokens

1974-D Lincoln aluminum cent is now at the center of a conflict between the U.S. Mint and the two owners of the coin.

Images courtesy of PCGS.

Q. David Bowers writes this month in his “Joys of Collecting” column that with modern coins, perfection is the norm. 

But to many collectors, perfection is overrated. 

A coin with some wear is a coin with a great story. Of course, a pristine 18th century early U.S. coin with full luster that looks like it just left the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia tells a story too. 

Bowers looks at a rustic token, which was described by an expert in the Hard Times token series as having “possibly the crudest workmanship of any contained in the series.” Bowers takes that to be a numismatic compliment, as Hard Times tokens are collected, and in many ways coveted, for their imperfect nature. 

One place where perfection is the norm is the U.S. Mint, and this month, senior staff writer Paul Gilkes takes a look behind the heavy security at the Philadelphia Mint and shares the enhanced technology that makes coins like the 2014 National Baseball Hall of Fame commemorative coins possible. 

These coins go on sale March 27 and with their common curved designs, they represent a first for the U.S. Mint. By combining both technical innovation with a popular theme, these coins are getting people excited, and for good reason. 

For those of us who love a great story tinged with a bit of mystery, the ongoing saga of the aluminum 1974-D Lincoln cent fits the bill. The sole example of this coin was recently graded Mint State 63 by Professional Coin Grading Service and consigned to Heritage’s Central States Numismatic Society auction where the firm expected it to potentially sell for $250,000. 

In a Dec. 26, 2013, email to Coin World, the U.S. Mint declined to offer an opinion on the legality of possessing a 1974-D aluminum cent. 

However, on Feb. 26, the U.S. Mint’s chief counsel sent the two men who consigned the cent to the auction a letter demanding the return of their aluminum cent, taking the position that because the government never issued an aluminum cent as legal tender, any aluminum cent remains the property of the federal government. 

In response to that letter, on March 14 the two men filed a request for declaratory judgment in a California federal court, asking the court to declare that the U.S. Mint’s legal claim to the cent is invalid. 

To support this, their attorney, Coin World columnist Armen Vartian, contended that the piece was like many pattern coins that are widely collected, or might be considered in the same category as nonissued rarities like 1913 Liberty Head 5-cent pieces and 1804 Draped Bust silver dollars. 

It’s the imperfections and mysteries of coins that make our hobby such an interesting one!

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