Two of the rarest and most famous US coins have been brought together under a single owner, The Don Lutes Jr. 1943 Philadelphia Bronze Lincoln cent and the Kenneth S. Wing Jr. 1943 San Francisco Bronze Lincoln cent.
They are named after the teenaged boys who found them in the 1940s, one on the West Coast, one on the East. They struggled to have them declared genuine and kept them their whole lives. The coins were sold after their deaths for more than $200,000 — each.
The 76-year-old coins look like regular Lincoln Cents from the era — bronze with the 16th president on one side, wheat ears on the other. Yet they were not supposed to exist. For years, US Mint officials claimed that they didn’t, which makes them rare.
Some 1.1 billion Lincoln Cents were minted in 1943. But all of them were supposed to be struck in steel because the copper that normally made up 95% of the one-cent coins was needed to make ammunition during World War II.
Yet rumors quickly began circulating that a very few 1943 Lincoln Cents had been made of bronze blanks left over from the previous year and that they were very valuable if you could find one. One rumor said Ford Motor Co. had offered a new car for one. That rumor proved to be untrue, though it was so widely spread that Ford and the US Mint were hard-put to answer the flood of mailed-in inquiries about it.
Ads ran in comic books and magazines as late as the 1950s offering $10,000 for one of the coins.
Both coins were both certified as authentic by Numismatic Guaranty Corporation® (NGC®), a leading third-party authentication and grading service for collectible coins. NGC graded them both AU 53 separately. Now the two coins are displayed together in a single tamper-evident NGC holder.
To the man who brought them together, Concord, Mass., coin dealer Tom Caldwell, the coins’ rarity, well-known stories, and common-man appeal are what make them so attractive.
“These are coins that your neighbor knows about, not just hard-core collectors,” said the owner of Northeast Numismatics for 40 years.
“People love provenance, and the stories of these two coins are so well-known.”
A 1943 Bronze Cent was first offered for sale in 1958, realizing more than $40,000, according to the US Mint. In 1996, a 1943 Bronze Cent was bought for $82,500. In 2010, a 1943-D Bronze Cent was sold for $1.7 million. That coin was especially rare — it is the only one known that was struck at the Denver Mint.
Only around 40 1943 copper–alloy cents are known to exist.