It Was Fate
This teenager looked at the coin that he was holding in his hand. Somehow, he could not help but think that there was more to this than meets the eye. He would be a fool if this was not true. In the end, he found out that this object was more valuable than he ever thought possible! Back then, Don Lutes Jr. had no clue that it was going to take seven decades before people saw what he did.
Don Lutes Jr. was a 16-year-old student at Pittsfield High School. He had been in line at the cafeteria when he noticed something about the pennies that made up his lunch money. There was a strange-looking coin in there! He trusted his gut and held onto it. Excited, he even showed it to his classmates, teachers, and parents. Sadly, they did not seem to care much about it. He eventually got used to the feeling of dismissal.
He Felt Determined
Don Lutes Jr. was born on March 1, 1931. He was the sort of person who could achieve whatever he wanted if he simply worked hard. In 1948, he graduated from Pittsfield High School with flying colors. After this, he earned his business administration degree from Babson College. Despite this, he did not once forget about his true passion.
A Coin Collector
Ever since he was young, it was his hobby to collect unusual and rare coins. As a matter of fact, he had an obsession with them! He was amazed by both American and foreign coins. He was so passionate about them that he joined the Berkshire Coin Club and has been a prominent member for six decades now. In the past, he had served as its historian, treasurer, and president. It is not a stretch to say that he is one of the reasons the club is still going strong to this day. His best find was apparently his very first one…
He Was Waiting In Line
He did not for a second doubt that the mysterious coin he discovered in 1947 would be the most iconic one. Back then, he was just 16 years old. He had been queuing up at the school cafeteria in high school when he first noticed it. He took out his lunch money in preparation to pay for his food and saw the penny. However, what exactly was it about this coin that caught his eye?
Ordinary To The Inexperienced Eye
If you looked at the coin, you might think that it was no different from the other coins in circulation back then. Abraham Lincoln was on one side, while the other one had these words etched into the surface: “One Cent, United States Of America.” It looked rather ordinary, so why was he so excited about it?
Serving The Country
Even though Don could tell that it was a special coin, he did not have a lot of time to be excited about it. He nearly forgot about it when he joined the United States Army. Like his peers at the time, he had no choice but to leave his family and friends behind to serve in the military during the Korean War. Years later, it was possible to find out more about this strange coin. What kind of secrets did they unravel?
The Second World War
Militaries had been using copper in a strategic manner during the Second World War. The material was used for shell casings, telephone wires, and other objects essential to the war effort. This was the reason that they coated the Lincoln steel pennies in zinc back in 1943. However, they still had to use some copper for certain coins back then. Let us see what sort of rumors had been flying around back then.
Errors During Minting
If you are a collector, you will know that the most valuable pieces would be rare coins in perfect condition and those with errors. Thanks to the flaws and anomalies on the “error” coins, they are considered rare commodities. These coins might have errors, but they usually make their way into the circulation. If an error coin stays in circulation for an extended period of time, its value goes up!
These Iconic Coins
There are legends about mythical copper pennies that entered the circulation thanks to an error. Heritage Auctions said, “Stories appeared in newspapers, comic books, and magazines, and a number of fake copper-plated steel cents were passed off as fabulous rarities to unsuspecting purchasers.“ It went on to say, “Despite the mounting number of reported finds, the Mint steadfastly denied any copper specimens had been struck in 1943.” These rumors eventually reached the ears of Don Lutes Jr.
Decades after he first stumbled into the coin, Don still had it. While there were plenty of opportunities for him to let go of it, he stayed steadfast in his belief. A lot of coin collectors even offered to buy the coin, but he always turned them down. There was a time when he called the U.S. Treasury for an evaluation of the Lincoln penny. Sadly, they only had bad news for him.
The U.S. Treasury did not believe that he had a rare copper penny. In fact, they dismissed his claim as fraud! They only stuck to this refrain: “All pennies struck in 1943 were zinc-coated steel.” This was the reason Don kept the penny in his collection. One day, he got the vindication that he so deserved.
Even though the U.S. Treasury declared his coin as a fraud, the agency eventually took back its word. It confirmed that the Lincoln penny was a true “Holy Grail of mint errors.” The breakthrough was made by researchers upon the realization that copper planchets were stuck in the doors of the tote bin. They used the tote bins for coins that failed to make the final press into the machine.
They Slipped Through
During the early 1940s, some coins slipped through the net. Heritage Auctions said that they “became dislodged and were fed into the coin press, along with the wartime steel blanks.” The collectors have since dedicated their lives to this mission. They try to find the highly elusive “error coins.”
Looking For Them
“Despite relentless searching by eager collectors over a period of more than 70 years, only a handful of legitimate specimens have ever been discovered,” said Heritage Auctions. “PCGS CoinFacts estimates the surviving population at no more than 10-15 examples in all grades. We have compiled a roster of all specimens certified by the two leading grading services below, including an unknown number of resubmissions and crossovers.” Let us find out how much the coin Don found was worth!
His Unfinished Business
Don Lutes Jr. only decided to let go of the valuable coin when he was brought to the Fairview Rehabilitation in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. His wife had died a long time ago, and his health had been declining. There were no relatives to inherit the beloved coins that he collected over the years. Even so, there was still unfinished business for him. What was he going to do with the rare Lincoln coin?
He Was A Legend
Unfortunately, Don Lutes Jr. died on September 3, 2018. However, he received news about the rare penny before this. The 1943 Lincoln coin was evaluated by a major grading company that verified that it was a true “error coin.” He was given official documentation! The penny was even listed down as the “Don Lutes Discovery Coin.” On top of that, his name has since become a legend in the world of coin collecting as well.
The Copper Coins
Over the years, plenty of these copper coins have surfaced across the country. Ten to fifteen of the error coins were discovered in a Philadelphia mint. Six more were discovered in a San Francisco mint, while they found one more in a mint located in Denver. How exactly did Don come into possession of one of these rare coins anyway?
His Dear Friend
One of his good friends made the trip from Massachusetts to the Fairview Rehabilitation Center to visit him. However, Peter Karpenski was most definitely not expecting to turn into the consignor of this 1943 Lincoln penny! He explained, “When he was in the nursing home, I asked him… would you like some notoriety?’ And he said, ‘Sure.’ And so here we are.”
Henry Ford Rumor
In his lifetime, there have been plenty of rumors that caught his attention. There was a rumor that made him hang onto this penny, the very coin that he found so many years ago. A lot of coin collectors said that Henry Ford promised that he would give a brand-new car to anyone who gets their hands on one of these legendary copper pennies. Back then, Don was desperate for a Ford car! The rumor eventually got debunked, but he did not give up his coin. Seventy years after he first found it, it was on auction at last.
Up For Auction
The auction for the rare copper penny happened at the Florida United Numismatics Convention in Orland on January 10, 2019. Heritage Auctions’ Bob Merrill was the one to open the bidding floor. Here was what Sarah Miller, another Heritage Auctions worker, said: “This is the most famous error coin in American numismatics and that’s what makes this so exciting.” Let us see how the bidding war went!
A Bidding War
Peter Karpenski held his breath as the opening bid started. All of a sudden, the bid went up to $130,000! A battle ensued in no time. Two well-known coin collectors began to fight over the coin and refused to back down. The price kept going up! All of a sudden, a man stepped up to the plate and raised the bid. He was Tom Caldwell, and he was someone who got into the hobby of coin collecting a long time ago.
The Final Price
Tom Caldwell is the founder of Northeast Numismatics. He launched it more than five decades ago. There was no way that he was going to give up on this coin! Bob Merrill declared him as the winner, and the room erupted in applause. The winning bid had been an incredible $170,000. Tom Caldwell needed to add a buyer’s premium of 20 percent. In the end, the 1943 Lincoln Penny was sold for $204,000.
“I’m glad to bring it back to Massachusetts,” Tom Caldwell explained. “We’ll keep it for a while. We’ll eventually sell it.” Peter Karpenski, the friend of Don, was thrilled for a different reason. “The proceeds are going to a local library in Pittsfield, Massachusetts,” he shared happily. “That was Don’s wish.”