World War II was a time when most had very little, and rationing became a large part of everyday life. With metal being in short supply and copper being in high demand by the government for bullet casings, the United States Mint also felt the pressure to accommodate the needs of the time. This supply and demand dilemma opened the door for experimentation with materials, and nothing was off limits. The United States Mint made penny prototypes from nylon, rubber, various other metals, plastic, and finally, tempered glass.
One tempered glass penny prototype in particular survived these experimental years, miraculously finding its way out of The Mint and into the hands of a World War II-era coin collector and author, Roger W. Burdette. For years, the collector held onto the glass penny, never disclosing the price he paid for the coin nor referencing said coin's actual value. Burdette only offered historical facts surrounding the amber-hued glass penny and stated that he believes it to be the only tempered glass penny still intact.
While the coin was estimated to sell at $30,000, this 1942 experiment ultimately sold for a whopping $70,500. The buyer, who wishes to remain anonymous, outbid a Heritage Auctions attendee via an online bid, making him or her the proud new owner of the only known surviving glass penny.
Though the hopeful alternative to the zinc-coated steel penny was a flop, the tempered glass penny is a lasting testament to the dedication of the United States and its people – a piece of history which will hopefully be preserved and cherished so that the generations to come will have a chance to witness and admire this unique piece of American history.
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