Skip to main content
Go to accessibility notice

Search Press Release Archive

Press Release - January 8, 2019

Single Lincoln Cent May Sell for $170,000 or More in Orlando Auction

World famous WWII coin curiosity offered during the Florida United Numismatists Show on Jan. 10

1943 Holy Grail Lincoln Penny found in teen’s pocket change
DALLAS, Texas (January 8, 2019) — When copper was needed for bullets and wire to win World War II, a 1943 accident at the U.S. Mint created one of the most valuable coins in American history. That's the year all U.S. cents were supposed to be made of zinc-coated steel to keep the war machine moving.

Before the switch took place, a handful of cents were mistakenly minted in copper, making a 1943 Bronze Lincoln cent coin one of the most famous coins in U.S. history: 76 years later, the very first of these error coins ever discovered will make history when Heritage Auctions offers the rarity Jan. 10 in Orlando, Florida. The sale marks the first time the coin will be offered for sale since a teenager found the piece in his pocket change in his high school cafeteria.

"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," said Sarah Miller, a Director of Numismatics at Heritage Auctions.

The story behind the 1943 bronze cent transcends the coin-collecting hobby. Although the U.S. Mint steadfastly denied any copper specimens had been struck in 1943, a small number of bronze blanks, or planchets, were caught in the trap doors of the mobile tote bins used to feed the Mint's coin presses at the end of 1942.

These few planchets went unnoticed and were fed into the coin press along with the steel wartime blanks (popularly referred to as "steelies"). The few resulting "copper" cents were lost in the flood of millions of "steel" cents and escaped detection by the Mint. They quietly slipped into circulation, to amaze collectors and confound Mint officials for years to come.

Shortly after the white-colored zinc-coated steel cents were put in circulation, rumors of the extremely rare 1943 "copper pennies" began to circulate. The coin became so famous that it was once falsely reported that Henry Ford would give a new car to anyone who could provide him with a 1943 "copper" cent.

The hunt was on.

Stories appearing in newspapers, comic books, and magazines sparked a nationwide search for these reported rarities by schoolchildren, bank tellers, and citizens from all walks of life. A number of fake copper-plated steel cents were passed off to unsuspecting purchasers.

The truth came out when 16-year-old high school student Don Lutes, Jr., of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, discovered this coin in change he received from his school cafeteria in March 1947. Lutes was old enough to remember the "steel" cents struck in 1943, which were still commonly seen in circulation at the time, so this copper-colored example aroused his curiosity. As a coin collector, he set the coin aside for future study, but did not publicize his find until years later.

Hearing of the Henry Ford new car rumor, he checked with the Ford Motor Company, but was told the rumor was false. He also placed an inquiry with the Treasury Department and received the standard 26-word reply the Mint sent to all collectors requesting information on the 1943 bronze cents:

  • "In regard to your recent inquiry, please be informed that copper pennies were not struck in 1943. All pennies struck in 1943 were zinc coated steel."

  • "At one time Lutes' discovery coin was reportedly offered for sale for $10,000," Miller said, "but by that point, Lutes gave up on marketing his coin and decided to just keep it for his collection. Sadly, Lutes passed away in September."

    Heritage Auctions will offer the iconic cent during the Jan. 10-13 Florida United Numismatists Show in Orlando. The coin highlights Heritage's Platinum Night auction Thursday evening, Jan. 10 at the Orange County Convention Center.

    Heritage Auctions is the largest fine art and collectibles auction house founded in the United States, and the world's largest collectibles auctioneer. Heritage maintains offices in New York, Dallas, Beverly Hills, San Francisco, Chicago, Palm Beach, London, Paris, Geneva, Amsterdam and Hong Kong.

    The Internet's most popular auction-house website,, has over one million registered bidder-members and searchable free archives of four million past auction records with prices realized, descriptions and enlargeable photos. Reproduction rights routinely granted to media for photo credit.

    Eric Bradley, Director, Public Relations
    O: 214-409-1871; C: 469-271-2849

    Heritage membership

    Join Now - It's Free

    1. Past Auction Values (prices, photos, full descriptions, etc.)
    2. Bid online
    3. Free Collector newsletter
    4. Want List with instant e-mail notifications
    5. Reduced auction commissions when you resell your
    Consign now
    • Cash Advances
    • More Bidders
    • Trusted Experts
    • Over 200,000 Satisfied Consignors Since 1976

    Learn about consigning with us

    I gotta compliment you guys on how you conducted the sale. First off it was conducted very professional and the cataloging was fantastic.
    Barry S.,
    View More Testimonials receives more traffic than any other auction house website. (Source: