Early US penny sells for $1.38 million

An example of the first official US coin minted by the federal government on its own equipment and premises sold last month for a staggering $1.38 million.

Not bad, considering it represents a markup of nearly 140 million times over it original face value.

Heritage Auctions sold the 1793 Chain cent in January, likely the most money ever paid for a one-cent piece.

The 219-year-old coin is one of a relatively small number of Chain cents that survive, and one of the best examples, being classified in near-mint condition.

Called the Eliasberg specimen, the Chain cent auctioned by Heritage carries a provenance that dates back to 1864.

Heritage described it as having “a bold strike with excellent definition of the motifs, including the fine strands of Liberty’s hair. The rim is bold and the centering is excellent. Every aspect of this superlative Chain cent is remarkable. The rich olive and mahogany-brown surfaces are highly lustrous and virtually flawless.”

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Melt a penny, risk time in the slammer

Recently I stumbled across the news that’s it’s illegal to melt down nickels and pennies. In fact, it’s been a crime for half a decade now.

Had this law been in place back when I spent my summers working at the family steel business, I’d have been counted among the nation’s scofflaws.

More than the occasional lunch break was whiled away taking a cutting torch to various metal objects, including many a penny, watching as the heat turned coins first red, then yellow, then white. 

Soon they would bubble and boil, ball up and, if I did it long enough, disappear completely. All that would be left was usually a smudge of yellow where the penny had been.

However, when the US Mint implemented regulations in December 2006 prohibiting the melting of pennies and nickels, it wasn’t to keep bored youth from cheap entertainment. Instead, it was purportedly to prevent individuals from melting the coins en masse in order to realize their copper value.

In addition, the Mint’s rules also prohibited the unlicensed exportation of the coins, with the exception that travelers can take up to $5 in pennies and nickels out of the country.

To show that the Mint meant business, penalties of up to a fine of $10,000, five years’ imprisonment, or both, were mandated.

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Court considers fate of 1933 $20 gold pieces

In Franklin Roosevelt’s first year as president, the US government minted 445,500 $20 gold coins, known as Saint-Gaudens double eagles. However, because FDR took the country off the gold standard that same year, 1933, no specimens ever officially circulated and nearly all were melted down.

Officially, just two double eagle specimens were preserved for the Smithsonian Institution.

But apparently, unbeknownst to government officials, a small number of additional coins survived, as well.

The daughter and grandsons of Israel Switt, a jeweler and scrap metal dealer on Philadelphia’s Jeweler’s Row, near the Mint where the coins were struck nearly 80 years ago, say they discovered 10 of them in his bank deposit box in 2003.

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