Trials & Litigation

Is the US entitled to return of rare penny? Lawsuit opposes Treasury claim

A California man who discovered the penny he inherited from his father is worth as much as $250,000 has filed a lawsuit seeking a declaration that the U.S. government is not the rightful owner.

Randy Lawrence discovered the value of the 1974-D aluminum penny when he sold it to a coin shop owner, Michael McConnell, who agreed to pay half the fair market value. When McConnell realized the rare find, he and Lawrence agreed to auction the penny, split the proceeds and donate as much as $100,000 to homeless programs, U-T San Diego reported in January.

Those plans were put on hold when a lawyer for the U.S. Mint advised the men that the penny was never issued as legal tender, so it remains the property of the U.S. government, U-T San Diego reports in a story noted by the Washington Post’s Morning Mix.

The U.S. government made hundreds of aluminum coins in 1974 after the price of copper rose and it cost more than one cent to make a penny. Most were minted in Philadelphia, but a dozen or so were rumored to have been made at the Denver mint where Lawrence’s father worked. Congress abandoned the idea, and most of the pennies were destroyed. Lawrence’s penny is the only known surviving Denver aluminum penny, the suit says.

The lawyer who filed the suit, Armen Vartian, said the federal government once sought to recover $20 gold pieces made in 1933. The family who claimed ownership lost the case when a judge ruled the coins had previously been stolen from the U.S. Mint, according to coverage in 2012 by ABC News. The family vowed to appeal.

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