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The Guardian

A million good lucks: California family finds over 1m copper pennies

By Diana Ramirez-Simon,

The trove has a face value of at least $10,000, but could be worth more than $1m. Photograph: Image Source/Getty Images

Cleaning out a house for renovation can oftentimes produce some unsavory surprises, but a family in Los Angeles got lucky – a million times over – with one of their finds.

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John Reyes, a realtor in the Inland Empire area, was helping his wife, Elizabeth, clean out her father’s 1900s-era home last year when they discovered more than 1m copper pennies in a cramped crawlspace in the basement, according to KTLA news . The trove has a face value of at least $10,000, but could be worth more than $1m.

The family thinks the home belonging to Reyes’s father-in-law, Fritz, was once used as a bed and breakfast. Fritz and his brother, both German immigrants, lived in the home for decades until Fritz died and his brother moved away.

Since then, the family has been cleaning out the home with plans to restore it for the next generation.

“They kept everything,” Reyes told KTLA, adding that the home was filled with items of varying levels of importance.

The family’s renovating adventure found them rummaging through the very back corner of the basement where they discovered loose pennies held together by disintegrating paper rolls, the Los Angeles Times reported . Further inspection turned up dozens of bank bags filled with the copper coins.

“There are banks [named] on the bags I haven’t even heard of or don’t exist any more,” Reyes said. Dozens of boxes and a few crates, all filled with pennies, followed.

Pennies were initially made of pure copper; the US Mint switched to zinc-covered steel for 1943 because copper was needed for the second world war. By 1982, pennies were primarily zinc, with only 2.5% copper.

Fritz most probably started collecting pennies once the US began switching over from copper to zinc, Reyes told the LA Times.

“You have German immigrants who came over very young and these were two great men who thought you should own things that are stored in value,” Reyes said. “They don’t believe in much besides the value of precious metals.”

After confirming that the pennies were the copper version, the family did some rough calculations and estimate that the horde has a $1m valuation. But what to do with them?

Reyes spoke with the manager of his local bank, who was in disbelief.

“I showed her a photo and she was like, ‘I’ve been working with Wells Fargo for forever and I’ve never seen anything like this. You can’t cash these in. There’s a chance you may have valuable pennies,’” he said.

He searched TikTok for penny hunters and eventually posted the coins – the family would prefer to sell the find as a whole – for sale on the resale website OfferUp, asking for $25,000, but have only received offers from people asking for a fraction of the collection.

For now, the family have hauled the pennies out of the basement crawl space and transported them by truck to Ontario, California, closer to Reyes’s home, and are awaiting more offers on the coins.

The local bank have urged the family to go through the collection and search for any rarities.

Reyes begrudgingly agreed. “You see all these stories of people finding pennies worth $2m,” he told KTLA. With more than 1m chances, it’s highly likely the family will get lucky.

• This article was amended on 13 June 2023 to clarify the changing metal composition of pennies over the years.

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