legendary Coins and Currency
Exhibition Collection Search Timeline Game Visit
Legendary FirstsLegendary BeautiesUnexpected LegendsGolden LegendsLegends of the Human Spirit
Enter the Online Exhibition (Flash Required)
 
 
Image of United States, 1 Cent, 1974 (Aluminum)
 
View details Switch between front and back
Zoom using Flash

Purchase this image

Materials: Aluminum
Measurement: Dia. 19 mm, Wt. .937 g
Source: Charles B. Holstein
Note: Judd 2151 (8th Edition)
 


United States, 1 Cent, 1974 (Aluminum)

This one-cent piece from 1974 is perfectly normal — except for one thing. It was struck in aluminum rather than bronze. Lincoln’s bust graces the obverse, just as it has done for over ninety-five years. And the Lincoln Memorial appears on the reverse, just as it has since the closing years of the Eisenhower Administration. The choice of aluminum over bronze is what makes this coin legendary. How did it happen, and why?

The cause was a rise in the price of copper. By the early 1970s, it cost nearly as much to mint a cent as the coin was worth. While mints are not, ostensibly, set up as profit-making enterprises, the people who run them would rather not lose money. The United States Mint is no exception.

The U. S. Mint began testing other, cheaper metals for the cent, just in case the price of copper kept rising. Aluminum was an obvious candidate. It's easy on coin dies and takes a lovely, silvery impression. It's also a handsome metal, and virtually tarnish-free.

So the Mint struck a batch of aluminum cent patterns, the Mint Director gave many to VIPs as samples of the proposed new cent - and then failed to get many of them back! That being said, this piece is the only one that hobbyists are ever likely to see. Ironically, the Mint finally did switch to a cheaper metal for cents in the early 1980s, but it chose copper-plated zinc, not aluminum.
 
Related Events
1962: The U.S. Cent is composed of 95% copper and 5% zinc.
1972: Richard Nixon is re-elected as U.S. President.
1973: The Paris Peace accords formally end the Vietnam War.
1974: Copper prices peak after a decade of steady rise. Rapid price declines follow.
1976: Jimmy Carter elected U.S. President.
1979: Nuclear accident at Three Mile Island.
 
Unexpected Legends The following objects are in this section.
United States, 20 Dollars, 1927United States, 1 Dollar, 1804 (Class Three)
United States, 1 Cent, 1974 (Aluminum)United States, 5 Cents, 1913
United States, 1 Dollar, 1804 (Class One) 
United States, 1 Dollar, 1804 (Class Two) 
 
Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Behring Center Learning Resources Tell a Friend Flash Exhibition
Copyright© Privacy Policy Press Credits