PITTSFIELD (CBS) – A rare 1943 Bronze Lincoln cent coin acquired in Pittsfield, Massachusetts could fetch a pretty penny at auction. The World War II collector’s item is “one of the most valuable coins in American history,” according to Heritage Auctions.

The auction house says Don Lutes Jr., who died last year, discovered the coin among change he received from his high school cafeteria in 1947. This is the first time it’s gone up for sale, and the bidding stood at $130,000 Wednesday afternoon.

(Image credit: Heritage Auctions)

Why is this penny so valuable? Heritage says it was created due to an accident at the U.S. Mint. All cents were supported to be made with zinc-coated steel in order to conserve copper for the war effort. But some bronze blanks caught in the machine and mixed in with the “steelies.”

“The coin became so famous that it was once falsely reported that Henry Ford would give a new car to anyone who could provide him with a 1943 ‘copper’ cent,” Heritage says. “Stories appearing in newspapers, comic books, and magazines sparked a nationwide search for these reported rarities by schoolchildren, bank tellers, and citizens from all walks of life.”

It’s estimated that there are only 10 to 15 surviving error coins. Heritage believes it could sell for $170,000 or more at auction in Orlando.

(Image credit: Heritage Auctions)

“This is the most famous error coin in American numismatics and that’s what makes this so exciting: No one really knows what it’s going to sell for,” Sarah Miller, a numismatics director at Heritage, said in a statement.

The auction runs until Jan. 14.

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