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Glass cent discovered

The only intact glass experimental cent has been certified by the Professional Coin Grading Service. (Photo courtesy PCGS.)

The only intact glass experimental cent has been certified by the Professional Coin Grading Service. (Photo courtesy PCGS.)

America got steel cents in 1943 instead of glass, but a remnant of the World War II search for a copper substitute remains to tantalize collectors.

Researcher Roger W. Burdette has reported the only intact 1942 glass experimental piece.

Made by the Blue Ridge Glass Company it has been certified by the Professional Coin Grading Service, graded PR-64.

The glass experimental piece is presently held in a private collection, according to Burdette.

As he tells its full story, it is made from tempered, yellow-amber transparent glass. It is identical in die alignment to the only other known example, which is broken in half. This is described and illustrated on Pages 95-96 of the book “Pattern and Experimental Pieces of WW-II” by Burdette.

During 1942 the U.S. Mint was searching for a substitute for copper used in the one-cent coin. Copper was a critical war materiel and the War Production Board refused to allocate enough to the Mint to make cents for the next year.

The Mint Bureau began internal experiments that eventually led to adoption of zinc coated steel for the 1943 coins. But the Mint also invited private companies to test various types of plastic in the event metals were not available.

Several makers of plastic buttons and other small items were loaned a pair of cent-size medal dies prepared by Mint engraver John Sinnock. The obverse included a portrait of Liberty copied from the Columbia two centavos. The reverse design was a simple wreath designed by Anthony Paquet in the mid-19th century with the words “United States Mint” added in the center.

The experiments were publicized in trade magazines and officials at Blue Ridge Glass Company in Kingsport, Tenn., asked to participate. The Mint had a pair of used dies sent from Colt Manufacturing Co., one of the plastics experimenters, and Blue Ridge obtained tempered glass “blanks” (or “preforms”) from Corning Glass Co.

Blue Ridge had considerable difficulty in making glass 1942 sample coins. For impressing a design into glass, both glass and the dies had to be very hot – just below glass melting temperature – then the glass had to cool quickly to preserve design detail. But Blue Ridge was not able to heat the die, and the resulting experimental cents were softly detailed and had many minute surface imperfections. Blue Ridge described their process and results in a six-page report, which has been preserved among U.S. Mint documents in the National Archives.

The newly identified intact piece weighs – 1.52 grams (approximate), has a diameter of 19.85 mm (approximate)and a thickness of 2.36 mm (approximate)
Because of the manufacturing method, weight and dimensions would vary slightly from one specimen to another.

Designs are noticeably softer than on plastic or metal examples. Surfaces have irregular glass flow patterns as well as micro cracks and crazing of the surfaces as described by the Blue Ridge report of Dec. 8, 1942.

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News. >> Subscribe today.

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