Rare coin given to schoolboy as change now worth $2.3m

Roman Schwartz
January 12, 2019

Sixteen-year-old Don Lutes Jr. found the lucky penny in his school cafeteria in March 1947, and held on to it for more than seven decades before dying in September without confirmation of its actual value.

A popular rumor among collectors at the time claimed Henry Ford was offering to trade a new auto for one of the rare "copper" pennies struck in 1943, but Lutes chose to just keep the coin after contacting the Ford Motor Company and discovering the offer was nothing but an urban legend.

The penny is considered to have been made in error because in the 1940s, copper was meant to be reserved for wartime necessities such as shell casings and telephone wires.

But a handful of the coins were mistakenly pressed with copper, and Don Lutes Jr. discovered one of them in his change from his MA high school lunch bag in 1947. One penny, in particular, is now dubbed the "most famous error coin" by Heritage Auctions, who is auctioning the penny.

A similar coin auctioned in 2010 sold for $1.7 million.

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In 1947, Lutes reached out to the U.S. Treasury to inquire about the curious coin but was told it had not made any copper pennies in 1943.

Lutes' prized possession could fetch a pretty penny.

Lutes's coin, now verified, will remain on auction until January 10, according to Fox News. He directed all proceeds from the sale to be donated to the Berkshire Athenaeum at the public library in Pittsfield.

But after his health started to decline in 2018, Lutes, 87, made a decision to part ways with it to ensure it went "to a good home", according to his friend, Peter Karpenski.

However, it was later revealed some bronze planchets were mistakenly left in machinery before the so-called "steelies" were pressed. The few resulting "copper" cents were lost in the flood of millions of "steel" cents struck in 1943 and escaped detection by the Mint's quality control measures. He also contacted the Treasury Department about his find but the Mint steadfastly denied any copper specimens had been struck in 1943. They quietly slipped into circulation, to amaze collectors and confound Mint officials for years to come.

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