Ultra-Rare Penny Falls Far Short of Auction Estimate

School lunch change from 1947 fetches about a 10th of estimated value.

12 Jan, 2019FORTUNE.COM

BEAM - Ultra-Rare Penny Falls Far Short of Auction Estimate | BEAM

What’s a penny worth?

In this case, a rare penny, expected to fetch up to $2 million at auction this week, instead brought in a little over $200,000.

The 1943 copper penny is one of an estimated 10-15 in existence. They’re rare because they weren’t made of zinc-coated steel, as were others at the time.

Another of the World War II-vintage copper pennies sold in 2010 for $1.7 million, raising hopes that the latest penny auction might set a new record.

Tom Caldwell, of Concord, Mass. was the top bidder and says he plans to display the coin at various coin shows around the country. The money raised from the sale will go to the Pittsfield Public Library. Don Lutes, Jr., the original owner of the coin, was a patron there until his death last September.

High expectations for Lutes’ coin were further bolstered last August by a century-old nickel selling for $4.5 million. And three years ago, a dime sold for $2 million.

Lutes got the penny in 1947 as change for his school lunch. Intrigued, he asked the U.S. Treasury if it had made any copper pennies in 1943 and was told no. He kept the penny nonetheless.

In the following years, he learned there were, in fact, copper pennies mistakenly made that year when the U.S. Mint was supposed to be saving copper for the war effort. By 1958, a similar penny sold for $40,000, the equivalent of more than $350,000 today.


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