The 1943 penny was one of 20 accidentally pressed in copper that year - when the coins were made of zinc-coated steel because copper was needed for WWII shell casings - making it massively valuable, according to Heritage Auctions, which sold the cent. That's the year all US cents were supposed to be made of zinc-coated steel to keep the war machine moving.
Don Lutes Jr. found this rare penny in 1947. But as his health declined previous year, Lutes made a decision to sell the coin, said Peter Karpenski, a friend and fellow coin collector. But talk of the existence of rare copper pennies made that year soon emerged, and rumors swirled that auto giant Henry Ford would give a vehicle to anyone who could present him with one of the specimens.
At the time, it was falsely reported that vehicle magnate Henry Ford would give a new auto to anyone who could give him one of these 1943 "copper" pennies. "In other words, this was the first one that was ever found", said Sarah Miller, Director of Numismatics for Heritage Auctions' New York office.
Lutes knew his coin was rare and held on to it. Examples of 1943 bronze cents are known from all three active U.S. Mints today, with 10-15 examples known from the Philadelphia Mint, a half dozen specimens confirmed from the San Francisco facility, and a single coin from the Denver Mint.
All proceeds of the sale will go toward the Pittsfield Public Library, where auction officials say Lutes often visited before his death in September. After Lutes's health started to decline, he moved to a nursing home.
"In regard to recent inquiry, please be informed that copper pennies were not struck in 1943", the Treasury's response to Lutes said. The resulting "copper" cents were lost in the flood of millions of "steel" cents, escaped detection by the Mint's quality control measures, and quietly slipped into circulation. He also contacted the Treasury Department about his find but the Mint steadfastly denied any copper specimens had been struck in 1943.
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