La Jolla Coin Shop discovers high value of client’s rare currency

By Pat Sherman

With help from experts at the Coin Shop on Girard Avenue, Randy Lawrence discovered that a bag of coins left to him by his father — once deputy superintendent of the Denver Mint — was indeed no chump change.

Lawrence, a Realtor with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices in San Diego, moved to La Jolla with his family last summer. His father’s bag of coins remained in the trunk of his car during several exploratory trips to the area.

Lawrence finally decided to have the coins appraised at the Coin Shop, where owner Michael McConnell told him an aluminum penny in the batch, minted in 1974, was worth about $300 — an offer Lawrence happily accepted.

However, after further consultation with a rare coin grading and authentication service, McConnell phoned Lawrence back to tell him that his coin was worth far more — with some estimates placing its value at as much as $2 million.

Due to the increasing cost of copper used in pennies during the early 1970s, the U.S. mint began testing alternative metals such as aluminum. More than $1.5 million aluminum pennies were produced and ready for release before being rejected and melted down (it was believed aluminum pennies would cause problems in vending machines and be difficult to detect by X-ray imaging).

Only 10 aluminum pennies were produced at the mint in Denver; the rest were stamped in Philadelphia. Of the Philadelphia batch, one is on display at the Smithsonian and another is in a private collection. Until Lawrence visited the Coin Shop, it was believed that the Denver pennies had all been destroyed.

“His is the very first to come into the marketplace,” Coin Shop manager Jeff Martin said. “It was a pretty substantial find, obviously.”

The coin is currently being shown around the country by Heritage Auctions. It will go up for bid on April 23 at the Central States Numismatic Society convention in Schaumburg, Illinois.

Though Lawrence’s father amassed coins from his travels around the world, Lawrence himself never took an interest in coin collecting. When asked what his father did for a living, he said he would merely tell other children, “My dad makes money.”

McConnell and Lawrence will split proceeds from the coin with at least $100,000 being donated toward finding solutions for homelessness — an issue McConnell has been involved in for years at the local, state and federal level, Martin said.