Heritage Auctions says Don Lutes Jr., of Pittsfield, was 16 when he found the coin in change he received at his school cafeteria in 1947.
Less than 20 of the rare 1943 Lincoln pennies were made, due to an error. During World War II, pennies were supposed to be made with steel because copper was needed for other uses.
Lutes's friend, Pittsfield resident Peter Karpenski, 71, said Lutes was an avid coin collector, and the 1943 penny was his favorite. His penny is now being auctioned by Heritage Auctions in Orlando, Florida. It's likely to go much higher, however: a 2010 auction on a similar coin raised $1.7 million, of which only 10-15 are estimated to exist. At the time, it was even falsely reported that Henry Ford would give a new vehicle to anyone who could provide him with one of the rare cents.
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Lutes' prized possession could fetch a pretty penny.
According to Heritage Auctions, the "bronze Lincoln cent is the most famous error coin in American numismatics". Heritage Auctions, which is overseeing the sale, estimates the coin is worth at least $170,000. "All pennies struck in 1943 were zinc-coated steel".
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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But after his health started to decline in 2018, Lutes, 87, chose to part ways with it to ensure it went "to a good home", according to his friend, Peter Karpenski.
A few bronze blanks were caught in the trap doors of the mobile tote bins that were used to feed the coin presses, and they were fed into the coin press along with the steel wartime blanks, auction officials said.
Lutes also reached out the the Treasury Department about his find, but he was met with a stale and standard response that all collectors were given. The resulting "copper" cents were lost in the flood of millions of "steel" cents, escaped detection by the Mint's quality control measures, and quietly slipped into circulation. Lutes died in September 2018 at the age of 87, according to Miller.
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