We don’t usually think about R&D done by the U.S. mint, but there have been many experiments.

A rare experimental glass penny made during World War II has netted a pretty penny at auction – selling for $70,500.

Heritage Auctions announced Friday that the penny was sold during Thursday’s auction based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to an American buyer who wishes to remain anonymous. During the war, copper was needed for ammunition. The U.S. Mint authorized tests that included making uncirculated pennies from other metals, plastic and rubber. The Blue Ridge Glass Co. in Tennessee made experimental pennies using tempered glass. The penny’s former owner, Roger Burdette, says the coins’ impressions weren’t precise, their weight and size weren’t uniform and they developed sharp edges. He says they were likely destroyed. 

The penny is likely unique since Burdette says only one other glass penny exists and it is broken. The Mint made 1943 pennies from low-grade steel covered in zinc.

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The other is expected to sell for $30,000 or more at a public auction in Ft. Lauderdale, hosted by Heritage Auctions, on Thursday, January 5th.

“The present 1942 glass experimental piece is the only intact example discovered in nearly 75 years since the experiments,” said Mark Borckardt, Senior Numismatist and Cataloger at Heritage Auctions. “Although glass was never used for emergency U.S. coinage, this piece represents a unique artifact of the ingenuity and determination of Mint officials and private industry.”
The rare coin is made of tempered, yellow-amber transparent glass. It was re-discovered in 2016 by Roger W. Burdette, author of the book United States Pattern and Experimental Pieces of World War II, but its history remains a mystery.

“We know that before doing any of the work, Blue Ridge Glass had some of the employees carry some of the blanks in their pockets for a few days as a test, but the blanks chipped and created sharp edges,” Burdette said. “I think it would have been tough for the public to accept them as money.”

By the time the glass coins were ready for distribution in December 1942, it was already too late for the U.S. Mint to consider them as a viable replacement for the penny.

Today, pennies are made of zinc and copper-plated, giving them the familiar look Americans are used to.

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