Every veteran of circulation finds dreamed of finding rarities in change. Some succeeded.
Among the coins dreamed about was the bronze 1943 cent error.
That was the year cents were made of zinc-coated steel to save copper for the war effort during World War II.
Numismatic Gauranty Corporation has slabbed the wrong-metal coin that got this particular dream started. Heritage will auction it later this year.
NGC put the name Don Lutes, Jr. on the label of the AU53 example that started it all.
This coin was the first discovery of a 1943 bronze cent from Philadelphia.
NGC dubs it the “King of Mint Errors” and relates its story below.
Not long after the 1943 cents were struck, rumors circulated that Ford Motor Company would offer a new car in exchange for a copper penny dated 1943.
This bit of whimsy had an unanticipated effect: in 1947, a newspaper reported that someone had indeed found a 1943 cent coined in bronze: 16-year-old Donald Lutes Jr. of Pittsfield, Mass. Lutes, a coin collector himself, had found his example in change from the school cafeteria.
While the numismatic community debated the merits of the Lutes report, the placement of another 1943 bronze cent at the 1958 American Numismatic Association convention auction (this one discovered by Marvin Beyer sometime after the Lutes discovery) received nationwide attention. The interest only increased after Beyer pulled his coin from the sale at the last minute, which resulted in a lawsuit.
This media attention prompted Lutes to seek confirmation of his coin’s genuineness. He loaned it to prominent numismatic researcher and authenticator Walter Breen in 1959, and Breen declared unhesitatingly that the cent was real.
Over the years since 1947, the legend of Lutes’ 1943 bronze cent has only grown. It was never offered for sale, and the numismatic community was not able to see this amazing specimen until recently.
Now elderly and living in a nursing home, Lutes has finally decided to pass on his prized discovery coin to a new owner.
A lustrous and glossy brown, the Lutes Discovery Specimen is just faintly worn and is among the more attractive of the 17 Philadelphia 1943 bronze cents that have since been confirmed. The NGC certification label features the pedigree “Don Lutes, Jr. Discovery Specimen,” preserving this coin’s important place in numismatic history.
“Like so many other young coin collectors growing up in the 1970s, there was always the dream of finding a 1943 copper cent,” said David J. Camire, NGC Grading Finalizer and a mint error expert. “This coin, for me, is certainly the ‘Holy Grail’ of mint errors. Rarely today does a discovery piece come to market, after all these years, still in the possession of the original owner. A ‘dream coin’ to many, soon someone will become only the second owner of this legendary rarity.”
Heritage Auctions President Greg Rohan added, “NGC’s expertise in error coins is well known in the numismatic community. After conferring with the consignor, the decision was clear to submit the coin to NGC.”
The Lutes Discovery Specimen was on display at the NGC booth at the ANA World’s Fair of Money in August.
Heritage has not yet announced a sale date.
This article was originally printed in Numismatic News. >> Subscribe today.
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