US Coins

Unusual 1942 pattern 'cents'

The market has exploded in recent years for 1942 brown plastic tokens made by Tennessee Eastman Co. as part of tests for the Mint. They’re popularly collected as pattern coins and this example sold for $4,715 in a 2010 auction.

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In the last several years, collectors have had to pay increasingly stronger prices at auction for experimental 1942 pattern “cents” made of plastic, glass and other unusual compositions. A large part of this increased demand likely stems from the pieces reaching a larger audience via inclusion in reference books.

The history of these interesting pieces was described by researcher Roger W. Burdette in the Nov. 26 issue of Coin World. The 1942 pieces were tests of experimental compositions and were privately produced at the request of the United States Mint.

For a long time, these trial pieces were relatively affordable. A decade ago, examples could be found at the $400 to $600 level.

Today, few examples are seen below $2,000. While a brown plastic example graded Mint State 62 realized $1,840 in a Jan. 8, 2010, Heritage auction, a sale more relevant to the current market is a brown plastic example graded Uncirculated Details, Reverse Graffiti by Numismatic Guaranty Corp. that sold for $3,450 in a March 9 Heritage auction.

At the market’s top, an example struck in brown plastic graded Mint State 64 by NGC realized $16,450 at an Oct. 12 Heritage auction. For comparison, in a Jan. 8, 2010, Heritage auction, a brown plastic example graded Proof 65 by Professional Coin Grading Service realized $4,715.

These 1942 pattern cents weren’t always such hot commodities.

Originally the key text in the U.S. pattern coin series, J. Hewitt Judd’s book United States Pattern Coins, noted the existence of but did not fully describe or number the issues.

They were included and numbered in Andrew W. Pollock III’s 1994 book United States Patterns and Related Issues, but the market really took off after the 2003 revision of Judd’s pattern book by Whitman Publishing, where the 1942 patterns were assigned the numbers Judd 2051 to Judd 2069.

Burdette points out that the same Judd number has been applied to pieces that differ from one another, complicating matters further.

Perhaps Burdette’s forthcoming reference book on the patterns and experimental pieces of World War II will continue the legitimation of these patterns and further enhance the market for them by exposing them to a wider audience. ¦

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