As I have illustrated in other articles (“The Elimination of the Cent”, April 16th, 2016) the cent denomination is costlier to make than its face value of one cent. This means that the government loses money for each cent made. The United States Mint has experimented with other materials to make the cent out of to save money. The 1974 Aluminum Cent is one of these such pattern pieces. This cent has since been the subject of a controversial case and many discussions about the legality of certain coins, such as the 1933 Saint-Gaudens double eagle and 1913 Liberty Head Nickel.
In 1793, when the mint began experimenting with other materials for coinage of the cent, aluminum was one of these metals. The reason for this potential change was that the seigniorage of the cent was beginning to decline, meaning less profit for the government. Over a million of this were struck at the Philadelphia mint to test the effects of this metal on the dies, and all but a few were melted. A few dozen were distributed to government officials as samples, but were requested to be returned. However, a few never made it back into the hands of the mint. One was placed on display in the Smithsonian museum. Another example of this coin was dropped by a Congressman, and when attempted to be returned by US Capitol Police officer Albert Toven, who thought it was a dime, was told to keep it. This specific coin has never been attemted to be confiscated by the government, for unknown reasons. It has also never showed up on the marketplace, so its value is unknown.
One supposedly unique specimen from the Denver Mint was discovered in 2013 and was about to be sold at a Heritage auction but was removed due to the United States government stating that the coin belonged to them, despite that they have no records of its mintage. The coin was returned to the United States Mint. This coin’s value is unknown, due to the fact that it has never been sold in auction settings. This was estimated to sell for an amount between $250,000 and two million dollars before confiscation by the United States Mint.
The 1794 Denver and Philadelphia cents are riddled in controversy and doubt. These coins hold a story of confiscation and an attempted, but utterly failed, regain of seigniorage by the government. These coins, which can only ever be seen at the Smithsonian, hold a tale unrivaled by many other modern coinage issues of any country.