1 Cent, United States, 1974

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 VIP's 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.
Object Name
date made
U.S. Mint. Philadelphia
Physical Description
aluminum (overall metal)
0 (overall die axis)
0 (overall die axis measurement)
struck (overall production method)
overall: 1 mm x 19.5 mm; 1/32 in x 25/32 in
place made
United States
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Coins, Currency and Medals
Legendary Coins
See more items in
Armed Forces History: National Numismatic Collection
Legendary Coins
The Value of Money
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Charles B. Holstein
Publication title
Glossary of Coins and Currency Terms
Publication URL
Additional Media

Visitor Comments

11/14/2012 10:21:58 AM
I think this is probably one of the coolest things you have in your museum!
7/16/2013 3:37:32 PM
National Museum of American History
So do I. That's why I threw it in!
7/19/2013 9:54:31 AM
Awesome! I thought this didn't exist. Just waiting to find one in my change. :)
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