R.8 1942 Experimental Alloy 1942 Cent
1942 1C Cent, Judd-2079, Pollock-2076, R.8, PR66 PCGS.
Regular die trial issue but struck in aluminum with a plain edge.
Struck on a planchet that is almost twice as thick as a regular
cent, although this is not evident in the PCGS encasement.
Judd-2079, Struck in Aluminum, PR66
The pattern cents from 1942 are divided into two groups, those of the regular issue design as this piece and those modeled after the Colombian two centavo. The regular design patterns are far rarer as a group but limited to only three compositions: aluminum, zinc-coated steel, and white metal. Those modeled after the two centavo are far more available as a group and seen in a wide variety of compositions, but some are equally as rare as the regular issue die trials.
The Judd book (10th edition) makes an interesting comment about these pieces: "Regular 1942 Lincoln cent dies are said to have been used to strike coins in pure zinc, copper and zinc, zinc-coated steel, aluminum, copperweld, antimony, white metal, and lead, among other materials." If this is accurate, then there are many other experimental alloy cents that remain to be discovered, as only three alloys are known today.
An interesting story is related in Andrew Pollock's pattern reference on page 390: "2076. Aluminum. Plain Edge. Rarity-8. Reportedly, an example was received in change by an ice dealer in the Annapolis, Maryland area, presumably in the 1940s." We cannot say for certain if this is that particular experimental striking, but we doubt it since the surfaces of this piece are so free from problems or contact marks. This is an extraordinary piece. Each side is bright, and there are no signs of oxidation. The fields have a pronounced mirrorlike appearance, and there are light flow lines evident on the reverse. The obverse is slightly convex, and the reverse slightly concave. This is essentially a perfect coin with no observable marks on either side.
A considerable body of information and speculation exists about this piece on a 12-page CU message board from January 2008 at http://forums.collectors.com/messageview.cfm?catid=26&threadid=628993&highlight_key=y&keyword1=aluminum. The coin was placed in our March auction that year, but then pulled in order to be resubmitted. The results from PCGS showed that it was not white metal as originally thought, but aluminum. The weight of the piece is 1.563 gm, about half the normal 3.11 gm. When the coin was resubmitted to PCGS and analyzed, its composition came back: aluminum 98.0%, silicon 0.7%, iron 0.6%, silver 0.5%, magnesium 0.4%. In July of last year Roger Burdette hypothesized:
"The assay: Al 98; Si 0.7; Fe 0.6; Ag 0.5 and Mg 0.4 is very significant. Although most of the piece is aluminum, the other elements are not impurities. Someone was making a deliberate attempt to test a harder, more durable alloy than plain aluminum. Aluminum-silver alloys can be extremely hard [although they are also extremely difficult to produce and usually require an atmosphere free of oxygen] and the quantity of silver necessary is small. The US Mint experimented with them as far back as the early 1860s, and James Ross Snowden conducted other experiments in about 1885. This assay suggests we will eventually identify many other experimental alloys, currently unknown, based on aluminum."
Burdette went on to state that even though the assay totals 100.2%, implying there is a 0.2% rounding error, "the important thing is that silver should not be present [unless the Mint were purposely trying to produce this difficult alloy], even if the cheapest aluminum scrap were used for experiments. (Fe [iron] and Si [silicon] are common impurities.)"
This is one of the most fascinating experimental pieces to enter the market in several years. The pattern coinage of 1942-1943 is definitely an underresearched area of 20th century U.S. numismatics. This problem will be resolved, but not for several years, when Burdette completes his research on a book he is writing on the subject.
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