Dr. Sol Taylor

Coins the Mint Called Back

1933 $20
No 1933 double eagle ($20 gold piece) is supposed to exist outside of the Smithsonian — but some do. (Photo: U.S. Mint)

By Dr. Sol Taylor
"Making Cents"
The Signal
Saturday, October 14, 2006

n the long history of the United States Mint, there were a few coins issued that at the last minute were recalled for one reason or another. In each case, the stories of "escapees" has made for interesting copy and speculation.
    Each case has its own history. One of the most recent "escapees" to surface is the 1974 aluminum cent. In 1974, the Philadelphia Mint struck several million aluminum cents to offset the increase in copper prices which made the one-cent coin more costly to make than one cent.
    Shortly after the coins were minted — but never distributed to the Federal Reserve banks — the Mint recalled and destroyed all the coins — almost. One was sent to the Smithsonian for its numismatic collection; however, some 15 others that were sent to various members of Congress — no more than two per congressperson — never were returned despite Mint Director Mary Brooks' repeated requests.
    Some 30 years later one showed up for certification at one of the grading services. It had been given to a congressional employee who found it on the floor and offered to return it to the congressman who dropped it. He was told to keep it (in 1974). Around 2004, the coin surfaced and was certified as genuine. Its status is still uncertain, as the Treasury can confiscate the coin based on a ruling made back in 1974.
    Another "escapee" that has yet to be verified is the 1964 Peace dollar. Early in the Lyndon Johnson administration, the Mint authorized the coining of the Peace dollar after nearly a 30-year hiatus. Several million were struck but were never distributed. The Mint eventually melted them down. Stories have always circulated that a few made it out of the Mint and still exist. The 1964 silver dollar is a mystery still to be solved. If the Treasury declares the 1964 Peace dollar to be legal to own, I believe one or more will resurface.
    The most valuable "escapee" so far is the 1933 double eagle. This coin was minted early in 1933 and just as the issue was being readied for distribution, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Gold Act, forbidding the private ownership of gold. Interestingly, hundreds of thousands of 1933 $10 gold pieces were manufactured at almost the same time, and many are believed to have been sold to customers of the Mint. For many years, it was believed that only a single specimen held legal status since it was pre-ordered by King Farouk of Egypt and shipped to him early in 1933.
    This one piece was sold for $7.59 million in 2002. Then, by some very strange twist, an attorney representing a collector came up with 10 more pieces believed to have been obtained from the Mint in 1933. The coins were turned them in to the Mint for "authentication" and the Mint confiscated them. The potential financial loss is staggering. If the attorney and the Mint don't reach an agreement by mid-November, they will probably go to trial.
    In 1974 the Mint experimented with a copper-coated steel cent. After minting several million, it was concluded they would not work in penny vending machines and the entire mintage was sold for scrap to a New Jersey scrap-metal firm to be melted. A few years ago, a former worker at the plant showed a partially melted clump of these coins to the weekly newspaper Coin World, which verified them as genuine U.S. Mint coins. A follow-up story explained why they were made and how they were supposed to be destroyed. Not a single specimen has shown up on the market to date.
    These stories are not the same as the unusual coins made by the Mint, or error coins — production errors — which when found are usually destroyed. These are the few cases where an entire production was recalled and destroyed.
    If anyone discovers one of the "escapees," he must exercise extreme caution, since some or all of them may be subject to confiscation.

    Dr. Sol Taylor of Sherman Oaks is president of the Society of Lincoln Cent Collectors and author of The Standard Guide to the Lincoln Cent. Click here for ordering information.