One Aluminum Penny Can Be Worth a Fortune

By Peter Rexford

September 25, 2014 5 min read

I have no clue what grade school kids talk about at recess today. I remember our topics often revolved around what coins we had. Not those in our pockets but ones in our collection. At one time, most every kid had some kind of coin collection. Most collections weren't big, but we all had stashed away some old pennies or nickels.

In my fourth grade class, we all talked about the rare 1909-S VDB Lincoln cent. It was the elusive one regularly advertised in comic books with a value of $200 or more. Today it's in the thousands. Remarkably, every boy in my class owned one. I had three in my collection. Of course, we were all liars. None of us really owned one but we oh so wanted our peers to think we did.

A more recent penny is now getting the attention of both collectors and the U.S. government. It's a lowly 1974 cent, minted in Denver. Reach into your pocket and you may well find one. It would be made of copper. Seeing as how over 4.2 billion of the pennies were struck yours wouldn't be rare. The difference is that the one getting all the attention now is made of aluminum.

Because of the rising cost of copper there has long been talk of an aluminum penny. The Mint has made some samples in the past. In 1974, over a million were struck in Philadelphia. Most were destroyed after being examined, with a few missing and one ending up in the Smithsonian. Only a dozen were struck in Denver as test coins and sent on to Washington, D.C. They, too, were said to be destroyed.

One report notes that an assistant superintendent at the Denver Mint retired in 1980 and, among other things, was allowed to keep some error coins and one of the 1974-D aluminum cents. Years later, his heirs acquired the coins and spoke to numismatic dealers about them.

Now, the government may have had second thoughts. They are suing to get the aluminum cent back. The market value of the lone penny could easily be tens of thousands of dollars or far more. But, it calls into question a much bigger issue.

For years, the government has struck test coins call "patterns." Legions of those patterns have left the Mint — often distributed to Congressmen and Senators for approval — and have ended up in the hands of collectors. In fact, an entire collecting category surrounds patterns.

So, the question is, why is this coin the exception? And, will the same be true of any of the Philadelphia examples of the 1974 aluminum cent distributed to Congressmen when they turn up?

Not surprisingly, the family that owns the coin is legally defending their ownership. Equally expected is the government's zeal to get it back. It's a saga worth watching. I'll keep you posted!

While the family with the aluminum cent is eager to showcase their coin and claim official ownership, someone holding another extreme rarity worth upwards of one million dollars can't do the same. In 1955, a block of four of the famous 24-cent inverted Jenny airmail stamps were stolen when on display. Years later, the left two stamps from the block were recovered. But, the two stamps from the right side remain missing.

These are part of the Holy Grail of collecting and some of the most sought after philatelic items in the world. Of course, they are also some of the most identifiable. Even broken apart from the block they are easily spotted as positions 66 and 76 from the sheet. It's sort of like owning a stolen Mona Lisa but not being able to tell or show anyone — ever.

After 60 years, the Sundman family of Mystic Stamp Company would like the stamps back in the market and hobby. They have announced a reward of $50,000 for one or $100,000 for both stamps. The American Philatelic Research Library is kicking in another $10,000.

The reward is something of a "Get Out Of Jail Free" card for whoever has the stamps. They can't be sold and, if they tried, ownership would automatically revert to the APRL that is technically the owner. So, for anyone who knows anything about it, this is a chance to walk away with some cash.

To find out more about Peter Rexford and features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at

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