1970 Counterfeit Penny Made of Gold

By

A Lynn Rogan A “penny” made by a Seattle artist out of 18-karat gold was put into circulation in Los Angeles in 2007 and found by a graphic designer in Brooklyn two years later.
 
 

One afternoon in March 2007, Jack Daws stepped up to a newsstand in Los Angeles International Airport with a handful of change, including a counterfeit penny made of 18-karat gold that Mr. Daws, a Seattle artist, had fashioned. He carefully put the counterfeit penny, dated 1970, down on the counter, counted out enough change to pay $11.90 for a Hustler magazine and left.

He got a cup of coffee and sat down on a seat with the newsstand in sight, and watched for an hour wondering if any of the travelers had walked off with his golden penny and where it would end up at the end of the day.

Most counterfeiting takes something that is nearly worthless and turns it into something perceived to have value. Mr. Daws did just the opposite. He took value — approximately $100 worth of gold — and turned it into something perceived as nearly worthless, one cent. “It’s there, but if people don’t realize it, it’s the same as not being there,” he said. Of the 11 copper-plated gold pennies he made as part of his series, only this one was sent into the wider world.

He never expected to see it again, but he wondered where the penny ended up: stuck in a giant penny jar, melted down with other coins back at the United States Mint, lost in a street gutter. Meanwhile, one of his other counterfeit pennies sold for $1,000 to a collector through the Greg Kucera gallery.

Then, Mr. Daws woke up one morning in October and listened to a voicemail left by a Brooklyn graphic designer named Jessica Reed.

“I think I found your gold penny,” the message said.

How the golden penny traveled, through how many hands or cash registers, over the two years, may never be known. But now the journey has reached its endpoint.

Late this summer, when Ms. Reed was paying for groceries at the C-Town supermarket in Greenpoint, she noticed the penny because the gold color had started to peek through. A fan of unusual coins, she slipped it back into her change purse and tucked it into the recesses of her mind.

Then recently, while doing research about a 1924 Mercury-head dime, she remembered the penny and typed “gold penny” into Google, which returned information on science experiments to give a penny a gold color. She added “1970” and found an item about how Mr. Daws had put a 18-karat gold penny, dated 1970 with no mint mark, into circulation. It was heavier and smaller than a real penny.

In disbelief, she weighed the penny on a digital scale. It came in at three grams, one gram more than similar pennies from 1970. And it was slightly smaller than a normal penny, owing to the shrinking after the casting process.

She traced Mr. Daws’s phone number through the gallery and left him the message. When he called back, he knew it had to be his penny as soon as she described it to him.

Ms. Reed will keep the coin. She is thinking of having it framed. It’s was a curious way to display a sculpture, she said. “I can’t imagine being an artist who does something like this,” she said. “It’s the opposite of having your stuff shown in a gallery. It could be tossed.”