In 1942, pennies were to be struck from steel instead of copper to save the latter for shell casings, phone wire and other “wartime” accessories. However, when the Mint was stamping out the coins, few bronze blanks were left in the press and resulted in very rare “copper” pennies. It was believed that only 20 of these pennies were made, which were easily overlooked during the quality check of the millions of pennies going through the mint. This also made them very rare.
In 1947, 16-year-old Don Lutes Jr. paid for his lunch in Pittsfield, MA and received one of the 20 “copper” pennies with his change. At the time, it was rumored that Henry Ford of Ford Motor Company would give someone a brand new car if they presented him with one of the coins. This proved to be false, so Lutes contacted the U.S. Treasury. The Treasury assured Lutes that no such pennies had ever been struck.
Fast forward to 2019 and Lutes unfortunately passed away (Sept 2018), but his penny stands to make some coin at auction. Pun intended.
Current bids for his penny are around $120,000 but another penny from the same stamping caught a whopping $1.7 million in 2010.
Here’s hoping that Lutes family and heirs get the highest dollar amount available and they each get themselves a new car that Don was denied 70+ years ago.