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Rare penny up for auction could fetch more than $1 million

This image shows famous 1792 Silver Center Cent one first batch coins struck inside PhiladelphiMint. Bidding for coup for auctiThursday

This image shows the famous 1792 Silver Center Cent, one of the first batch of coins struck inside the Philadelphia Mint. Bidding for the coin, up for auction on Thursday, April 19, as part of Heritage Auctions’ Central State Numismatic Society Auction, is already at more than $1 million. | Photo courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

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Updated: May 19, 2012 8:13AM

Granted, the penny used to buy more than it does now.

Only this penny, one of America’s first, is already worth a million bucks to some online bidders.

Meet “Miss Liberty” 1792, three quarters copper with a tiny silver center. Minted in the United States’ earliest years, the experimental coin features a portrait of “Miss Liberty” and the inscription, “Liberty Parent of Science and Industry” on the front, and a wreath with the words “United States of America One Cent,” on the back.

Taking her home Thursday evening will cost at least $1.2 million, according to the online auction site selling her, Heritage Auctions.

That’s because she’s one of only 14 known surviving silver-center cent pieces, according to the auction house.

The coin was passed down over the last 220 years through fewer than a dozen owners, said Jim Halperin, cofounder of Heritage Auctions and a full-time coin dealer since age 16.

“I held it in the holder. I’ve never touched the metal,” he said. “It’s gorgeous.”

The consignor, he said, wants to remain anonymous.

Miss Liberty’s center is silver because the 1792 Mint Act defining U.S. coins would have made a penny minted from a cent’s worth of copper too large and heavy, he said.

“There was no way for it to have a penny’s worth of copper in it and still be useful,” Halperin said.

The mint’s chief coiner suggested the silver plug, he said. Then Congress changed the rules and pennies began to be minted from solid copper, he said, though early American pennies would have been larger than today’s quarter.

The auction, held in Schaumburg at 7 p.m. Thursday evening at the Renaissance Convention Center, coincides with the annual convention of the Central States Numismatic Society, a group that celebrates and studies coins, paper money, tokens and medals. Another of these coins sold in the last year sold for $2.8 million, he said.

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