San Diego man returns rare aluminum penny worth up to $2M to U.S. Mint

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SAN DIEGO — The son of a late United States Mint official has returned a rare and valuable 1974-D aluminum one-cent piece to the Mint, bringing an end to a lawsuit over the ownership of the penny, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced Thursday.

Penny + M. McConnell + R. Lawrence Edited_High Res

La Jolla Coin Shop Owner Michael McConnell and real estate agent Randy Lawrence of Berkshire Hathaway with the 1974-D aluminum penny.

Randall Lawrence, the son of the late Mint official Harry Lawrence, and Michael McConnell, the owner of the La Jolla Coin Shop, brought the lawsuit against the United States to establish ownership rights of the penny.

Harry Lawrence had been a deputy director at the United States Mint at Denver until his retirement in 1980. He died later that year.

In 2014, Harry Lawrence’s son, Randall Lawrence, gave multiple news interviews in which he claimed that among the property he inherited from his father was what appeared to be a 1974 aluminum penny bearing a “D” (for Denver) mintmark.

A close up of the penny.

A close up of the penny.

Randall Lawrence, who had moved from Colorado to San Diego, had met with McConnell, and they reached an agreement to exhibit the piece at coin shows and to offer it for public sale through a well-known auction house.

Lawrence and McConnell claimed there were estimates that the penny might fetch upwards of $2 million at auction.

Upon learning that the penny existed and that Randall Lawrence and McConnell planned to sell it, the United States Mint contacted Lawrence and McConnell to demand its return.

Lawrence and McConnell responded by filing a lawsuit against the United States, seeking a judicial declaration that they were the owners of the piece. The United States contended in litigation that it be declared the rightful owner because there was never any authorization for the aluminum one-cent piece to be struck at the Denver Mint, that the piece was clandestinely struck and unlawfully removed from the Denver Mint, that federal employees are not permitted to remove federal property without proper authorization, and that the piece always has been and remained federal property.

The 1974-D aluminum penny with artifacts and pictures featuring Harry Lawrence, Randy Lawrence’s father.

The 1974-D aluminum penny with artifacts and pictures featuring Harry Lawrence, Randy’s father.

By the terms of the agreement to end the litigation, Lawrence and McConnell have voluntarily relinquished all claims of ownership, legal title or dominion over the 1974-D aluminum one-cent piece to the United States, prosecutors said.

The piece was transferred to the custody and control of the United States Mint for its use and display.