A rare penny found in a school cafeteria in the 40s found to be worth $1.7 million

A rare penny found in a school cafeteria in the 40s found to be worth $1.7 million

When you look at your feet and find a penny on the ground, the wise thing to do is pick it up.

Now usually, a penny isn't worth much anymore, but keep it in your pocket and you never know - you might have yourself a lucky day. But let's just say that there are some pennies which are luckier than others, and a particular piece of US currency from the aftermath of the Second World War was luckier than most, and today, it's been found to be worth millions.

Rare 1943 coin Credit: Heritage Auctions

Back in 1947, a teenager by the name of Don Lutes Jr found a penny on the floor of his school cafeteria and pocketed it, presumably for good luck. But this was no ordinary coin; it was from the year 1943, where a minting error made the penny one of only 20 of its kind released.

In 1943, the United States was battling in WWII, and while pennies are usually pressed in copper, during wartime copper was used primarily for war efforts. So, most pennies that year were pressed in zinc instead, but Lutes found one of the few that was accidentally printed in copper that year.

Rare 1943 coin Credit: Heritage Auctions

The copper made the coins extremely valuable, but the US Treasury repeatedly denied their existence, and when Lutes brought his penny to them to have it appraised, they told him that it was "fake", said Heritage Auctions, who now have Lutes' coin in their possession,and are expected to auction it off for around $1.7 million.

"Stories appeared in newspapers, comic books, and magazines and a number of fake copper-plated steel cents were passed off as fabulous rarities to unsuspecting purchasers. Despite the mounting number of reported finds, the Mint steadfastly denied any copper specimens had been struck in 1943."

Rare 1943 coin Credit: Heritage Auctions

Meanwhile, word got around that Henry Ford said he'd give a new car to anyone who had one of the rare 1943 coins, but Lutes struck out there as the rumours turned out to be just that - rumours. "Despite relentless searching by eager collectors over a period of more than 70 years, only a handful of legitimate specimens have ever been discovered," explains Heritage.

"PCGS CoinFacts estimates the surviving population at no more than 10-15 examples in all grades. We have compiled a roster of all specimens certified by the two leading grading services below, including an unknown number of resubmissions and crossovers."

Rare 1943 coin Credit: Getty

Even though he didn't think it wasn't worth anything, Lutes held onto the coin for the rest of his days, until he passed away in September of last year. Sarah Miller of Heritage says that while the coin is worth $1.7 million, there's no telling how much it'll sell for at auction - back in 1997, Steve Benson sold his coin for $50,000, but Lutes' own currency is expected

"This is the most famous error coin in American numismatics, and that’s what makes this so exciting," she said ahead of the auction, which is taking place this week. While Lutes will never get to see how much money his lucky penny was worth, he can rest easy knowing he had a piece of American history right there in his pocket.