The auction house says Don Lutes, of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, found the penny in his pocket as a teenager in 1947 after getting some change at his high school cafeteria, and held onto it ever since.
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In 1942, pennies were supposed to be struck from steel, in order to conserve copper for shell casings, telephone wire, and other "wartime necessities".
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. The young coin collector made a decision to keep the cent in his collection for more than 70 years, until he died in September. His penny is now being auctioned by Heritage Auctions in Orlando, Florida.
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Dallas-based Heritage Auctions, which will auction off the coin on Thursday, said that "during the war copper was considered strategic".
The U.S. Mint denied that any copper pennies were pressed, but reports began to circulate that the error coins were being found by the public.
Rumor had it that Henry Ford had offered to give a auto in exchange for a single bronze penny.
When he inquired with the US Treasury about the coin's value, he was told that it was "fraudulent" and all pennies issued in 1943 were made from zinc-coated steel.
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Lutes wanted the proceeds from the sale of his prized penny to go to the library, Miller said.
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.
Lutes died in September. "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", according to Heritage Auctions. According to the Heritage Auctions website, Lutes received the following response: "In regard to your recent inquiry, please be informed that copper pennies were not struck in 1943". They quietly slipped into circulation, to amaze collectors and confound Mint officials for years to come.
He then got in touch with the Treasury Department, who told him the coins did not exist. Zinc-coated steel plates were "considerably harder" than those used in earlier designs, so penny pressers had to strike the blank steel coin much harder.
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