1974 aluminum cent
|Mass||0.937 g (0.030 troy oz)|
|Diameter||19.05 mm (0.750 in)|
|Thickness||1.55 mm (0.061 in)|
|Composition||96% Aluminum with trace metals mixed in.|
|Years of minting||1974–1975|
|Catalog number||Judd J2151/Pollock P2084 (1974 Aluminum)
Judd J2152 (1974 Bronze-Plated Steel)
Judd J2155 (1975 Aluminum)
|Designer||Victor D. Brenner|
The 1974 aluminum cent was a one-cent coin proposed by the United States Mint in 1973. It was composed of an alloy of aluminum and trace metals, and intended to replace the predominantly copper–zinc cent due to the rising costs of coin production in the traditional bronze alloy. 1,571,167 were struck in anticipation of release, but none were released into circulation. Examples were passed out to US Congressmen in a bid to win favor in switching to the new alloy. When the proposed aluminum cent was rejected, the Mint recalled and destroyed the examples. A few aluminum cents not returned to the Mint are believed to remain in existence. One example was donated to the Smithsonian Institution, while another was alleged to have been found by a US Capitol Police Officer. A 1974-D specimen was found in January 2014. Since the United States Secret Service is tasked with the seizure of any specimens, the legality of the coins is in doubt.
In late 1973, the price of copper on world markets rose to a point where the metallic value of the cent was almost equal to its face value. The U.S. Mint, which produces billions of cents annually, was faced with a potentially catastrophic operating deficit, due to issues of seigniorage. As a result, the Mint tested alternate metals, including aluminum and bronze-clad steel. A composition of 96% aluminum (with trace elements for stability) was chosen. The composition was chosen due to its longevity on coin die use, and aluminum's high resistance to tarnishing. 1,571,167 examples of the new cents were struck. Although they were produced in 1973, they were struck using 1974 dated dies in anticipation of release into circulation in that year.
In an effort to gain acceptance for the new composition, the Mint distributed approximately three dozen examples to various members of the House Banking and Currency Committee and the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee. Nine congressmen and four senators received examples, along with some Treasury officials. Additional specimens were given out by then Mint Director Mary Brooks. Ultimately, the proposal was rejected in Congress, due mainly to the efforts of the copper-mining and vending machine industries, which felt the coins would cause mechanical problems. Opposition also came from pediatricians and pediatric radiologists who pointed out the radiodensity of the metal inside the respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts was close to that of soft tissue, and therefore would be difficult to detect in X-ray imaging. In addition, the price of copper declined enough that making copper cents would again be economically viable, and conversely made hoarding pointless. The idea of changing the composition of the cent would not be explored again until the 1980s. In 1982, the composition of the coin was changed to the current 99.2% zinc and 0.8% copper core alloy with a plating of pure copper, resulting in a 20% weight reduction.
After the setback, the US Mint recalled the coins, but about 12 to 14 aluminum cents were never returned to the mint. No oversight, record keeping, or statement that the coins had to be returned was made by the US Mint as examples were handed out. When Federal Bureau of Investigation and other government law enforcement agencies were called in to investigate, however, some congressmen either feigned ignorance or completely denied getting examples. The coins, which are considered government property, have been subject to seizure by the Secret Service, although the legality of the cent is questioned by numismatists. One aluminum cent was donated to the Smithsonian Institution for the National Numismatic Collection. Since no examples have been put up for public or known private sale, it has been difficult to estimate their value.
In the February 20, 2001, edition of Numismatic News, Alan Herbert reported the existence of an aluminum cent. It was attributed to US Capitol Police Officer Albert Toven, who had found the coin dropped by an unnamed US Congressman on the floor of the Rayburn Office Building. When the officer attempted to return the coin to the congressman, thinking it was a dime, the congressman told him to keep it. This example was graded and certified by the Independent Coin Grading Company as “About Uncirculated-58” in 2005, but later certified as Mint State 62 two months later by the Professional Coin Grading Service.
In January 2014, San Diego resident Randy Lawrence discovered the only specimen of the 1974-D aluminum cent currently known to exist. The coin had been in the possession of his father, a former deputy superintendent of the Denver Mint, who kept it in a sandwich bag along with other coins. Lawrence brought the coin to La Jolla coin dealer Michael McConnell, who estimated its value at a minimum of US$250,000, up to $2 million or possibly more. Lawrence and McConnell planned to auction the coin in April 2014 after it toured the United States and split the proceeds; Lawrence planned to donate as much as $100,000 of his share to homeless programs. However, the coin had to be withdrawn from the auction pending the outcome of a request by the United States Mint to return the coin. 
Several other related examples are alleged to have existed at some point or another, including
- 10 examples of a 1974-D aluminum cent, produced at the Denver Mint.
- Examples produced in bronze-clad steel.
- 66 Aluminum cents made in 1975 as trial strikings.
- Nonsense description trial strikings of various compositions.
Notes and references
- Bowers pg 246.
- Judd pg 319.
- DeLorey, Tom (November 2005). "Certified: '74 Aluminum Cent". COINage. p. 34.
- uspatterns.com. "J2151/P2084". uspatterns.com. Archived from the original on 13 December 2006. Retrieved 2007-01-24.
- Judd pg 285.
- "NMAH Legendary Coins & Currency: United States, 1 Cent, 1974 (Aluminum)". Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Archived from the original on 2005-12-11. Retrieved 2007-01-24.
- DeLorey, Tom (November 2005). "Certified: '74 Aluminum Cent". COINage. p. 35.
- John P. Dorst MD, Thomas E. Reichelderfer MD, and Roger C. Sanders MA, BM, BCh, MRCP, FRCRP. Radiodensity of the Proposed New Penny, PEDIATRICS Vol. 69 No. February 2, 1982, pp. 224–225. Retrieved 2008-04-17.
- Yeoman, Pg 119
- "1974 One Cent". Archived from the original on 3 February 2007. Retrieved 2006-12-23.
- Exhibits of Coin World Articles, Testimony of Beth Deisher, Editor, Coin World, to U.S. Congressional Subcommittee. URL accessed 2007-01-01. (Google cache) Archived December 28, 2006 at the Wayback Machine
- Gibbs, William T. (March 20, 2006). "Cents copper no more". Coin World. Archived from the original on September 28, 2007. Retrieved 2007-04-13.
- coincollector.org (July 20, 2005). "1974 Aluminum Cent Discovered". coincollector.org. Archived from the original on 12 January 2007. Retrieved January 24, 2007.
- Her bert, Alan (July 12, 2005). "Aluminum cent slabbed". collect.com. Archived from the original on October 24, 2006. Retrieved February 17, 2007.
- Price, Steve (January 30, 2014). "Rare coin fetches local man a pretty penny". KFMB-TV. Archived from the original on February 6, 2014. Retrieved February 6, 2014.
- Dana Littlefield, "Government wants its rare penny back", San Diego Union-Tribune, April 8, 2014
- "1974-d one cent". coinfacts.com. Archived from the original on 3 February 2007. Retrieved January 24, 2007.
- uspatterns.com. "J2155". uspatterns.com. Archived from the original on 13 December 2006. Retrieved January 24, 2007.
- Judd pg 286
- Bowers, Q. David Official Red Book A Guide Book of Lincoln Cents Whitman Publishing (2008). ISBN 978-0-7948-2264-4
- Judd M.D., J. Hewitt, Bowers, Q. David (editor), & Teichman, Saul (research associate). Official Red Book United States Pattern Coins: Complete Source for History, Rarity, and Values. Whitman Publishing; 9th edition (October 31, 2005). ISBN 978-0-7948-1823-4
- Pollock III, Andrew. United States Patterns and Related Issues. Bowers and Merena Galleries, Inc (1994). ISBN 978-0-943161-58-7
- Yeoman, R.S. Official Red Book A Guide of United States Coins Whitman Publishing: 60th edition (2007) ISBN 978-0-7948-2039-8