Penny Found in Cafeteria Change Is 'the Holy Grail'

Rare 1943 copper penny will sell for at least $120K
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 9, 2019 7:55 AM CST
This Penny Isn't Worth a Penny: It's 'the Holy Grail'
A high school cafeteria gave out this 1943 Lincoln copper penny in 1947.   (Heritage Auctions)

The year on the reddish penny 16-year-old Don Lutes Jr. spotted in the change he got at his high school cafeteria in Pittsfield, Mass., in 1947 stood out—1943. That year, amid the backdrop of World War II, the US Treasury minted zinc-coated steel pennies in an effort to conserve copper, though there were rumors that a handful of pennies had been minted with leftover copper planchets. There were even rumors that Henry Ford would give a free car to anyone who found one of the rarities, reports Atlas Obscura. Despite denials from both the Treasury and Ford Motor Company, what turned out to be "the Holy Grail of mint errors" remained in Lutes' collection for 72 years until his death in September, per Fox News. Now it could be yours. The 1943 copper penny—one of an estimated 20 minted—is up for grabs in an auction ending Thursday, with bidding currently at $120,000.

That's a steal considering another 1943 copper cent sold for $1.7 million in a 2010 sale benefiting charity, reports Geek. Per Atlas Obscura, the $40,000 paid for another 1943 copper penny in 1957 is the equivalent of more than $300,000 today. "This is the most famous error coin in American numismatics and that's what makes this so exciting: No one really knows what it's going to sell for," says a rep for Heritage Auctions, which is hosting the sale. It notes copper planchets (actually bronze) became stuck in the trap doors of tote bins used to feed coins into the mint presses in 1942 and "were fed into the coin press, along with the wartime steel blanks" when they were eventually dislodged. Lute's coin is described as "most appealing" but "lightly abraded," while "a few subtle hints of original mint luster remain intact." (Making pennies is pricey.)

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