In the early-mid 1970’s my grandfather ran a small pawn shop in Mississippi. I was just a pre-teenager then but I sometimes worked summer days there assisting around the shop. My grandfather’s shop mostly dealt in guns, tools, and coins. He got me interested in collecting coins. The building that housed the shop is no longer there, it was bulldozed to make way for renovations in the early 1990’s.
I remember my grandfather speaking one day of a “crazy” man who had just passed through his shop claiming that the US Mint was going to switch to aluminum cents. The man actually had several rolls of them for sale. The impression I got was that the man was homeless or transient, thought he had a hot commodity, and was selling them to pay for his day-to-day living/traveling expenses. My grandfather obtained one of the rolls as a souvenir. I don’t think he paid much for the roll. We all got a big laugh about the very notion that the mint would switch to aluminum coinage. He gave each of us grandkids one as a valueless trinket.
Note: Since we live so close to New Orleans where large aluminum doubloons are thrown as trinkets from Mardi Gras floats, we children knew that any coin made of aluminum was worthless. Thus we treated our aluminum cents as any child would a worthless trinket. Mine sat on a shelf at my mother’s home for 15 or 20 years gathering dust along with other bric-a-brac until it was eventually disposed of during a spring cleaning after I moved away in the 1980’s not too long after my grandfather’s death.
Since then I had heard that the aluminum cents were a rarity and I have searched my mother’s home for the coins to no avail. Recently the entire house has been gutted and remodeled and the coins have not been seen.
My younger brothers and sisters have vague recollections of having an “aluminum penny” but that was a childhood trinket and they have no idea where they are now.
Lord only knows what my granddad did with the remaining cents in the roll. Knowing him he probably handed them out to friends as gag gifts.
I have chatted with several people “in the know” over the years who told me I was imagining things. That my granddad could not have possibly had an entire roll of them because only pattern pieces were struck and all but 3 of them have been accounted for.
However on the uspatterns.com webpage: J2151/P2084 I saw a photo of my old aluminum cent. This page also states that “1.5 million of these were struck.” That explains it. Someone must have gotten their hands on a few rolls...one of which wound up in my grandfather’s pawn shop in south Mississippi.
I knew I wasn’t going crazy. I will now begin asking his old friends that are still alive if they knew what ever happened to the rest of the roll of aluminum cents.
I am also curious if you have heard of any similar stories of a transient traveling the south in the 1970’s selling rolls of aluminum cents. I also wonder if you have heard of any official records of theft of any of the circulation pieces struck. It seems that I have found a truly interesting puzzle to work on. Please direct any questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor’s Note: This article was reprinted with permission from uspatterns.com.