• seperator

February 20, 2001


Nearly thirty years after their mysterious disappearance, one of the elusive 1974 aluminum cents surfaced in 2001. Numismatic News’ Alan Herbert had the story.

Look quick: aluminum

By Alan Herbert

Call it a dream coin, the stuff of urban legends, or one of the Holy Grails of the hobby. Whatever the title, one of the most mysterious coins – one of the 1974 aluminum cents disappeared in the halls of congress in 1973 – has finally surfaced.

The tale of its provenance is a fitting one – as bizarre as anyone could imagine – for a coin that almost everyone in the bobby knew about, but few had seen. The only previously know example is part of the gigantic Smithsonian collection.

It seems that a Capitol policeman, on duty in the basement of the House Office Building in late 1973, saw a coin that he thought was a dime lying on the pavement. He picked it up and offered it to the congressman who apparently had dropped it. “Ah, you keep it.” With those simple words a chain of events began which resulted ultimately in the pattern coin coming to light in this edition of Numismatic News nearly 28 years later.

Quiet frankly, I felt a sense of awe when I was given the opportunity to write the story that every numismatic journalist has wanted to publish ever since Jack Anderson broke the news in his syndicated newspaper column. He wrote back then of the disappearance of a handful of the coins that had been passed out to congressmen in the Mint’s bid to replace the copper-alloy cent with a less expensive substitute. The price of copper once again was close to equaling the intrinsic value of the cent and an aluminum cent would be a cheaper replacement.

Just exactly how many of the approximately 1.5 million aluminum cents that were struck had not been recovered is a figure that came in many versions, depending on the source. Rather obviously, the Mint wasn’t itself sure of any specific number. Even more obvious was the fact that the Mint did not want to anger its bosses, by accusing them of the theft of the “souvenirs.” What gradually evolved over the years was the fact that about a dozen of the 1974 aluminum cents were never recovered. For the hobby, here is one of those exciting, tantalizing pieces of history.

Whether this aluminum cent will remain in the hobby or suffer the fate of other pieces confiscated by the government remains to be seen. The owner, who doesn’t wish to be named in this story, recognizes the risk, but after holding the coin for two decades has decided that the story of its discovery needed to be heard.

Despite the fact that one of the grading services has examined the coin and a coin dealer had the piece on consignment for a few days, nothing about the cent has been saide publicly. There was no hint to the numismatic press that one of them was about to surface. The grading service refused to grade the coin after stalling for several weeks and the coin’s owner decided that he didn’t want to sell it after all, at that time.

The policeman who spotted the coin is now dead and the coin is in the hands of a relative, who himself worked on Capitol Hill. That’s not to say that the coin has been hiding in some vault ever since. As a matter of fact the coin has been to Europe and back while awaiting its day in the sun. In the tradition of the McDermott 1913 “V” nickel, the piece went traveling as a pocket piece for a time, encased in a hard plastic holder.

The coin experts on the Krause Publications staff have had a chance to examine, photograph and test the piece. The weight – 0.93 gram – and the diameter – 18.95mm – were duly recorded. The coin grades a high AU according to our unofficial standards.