Sometime in late 1902, a rumor began to circulate that a worker at the mint, while making the 1902 pennies, had accidentally dropped a bar of gold into the copper. As a result, the 1902 pennies were worth more than a penny. The treasury would supposedly pay up to 18 cents for each penny. So people began frantically hoarding and stockpiling the 1902 pennies.
Despite frequent denials by the treasury, the rumor persisted as late as the 1960s.
There are different theories about how the rumor began. The article below attributed it to a Brooklyn school superintendent. Another theory, offered over at coinbooks.org
, said that it started as a joke told by a fish dealer named Alvah W. Haff:
The rumor was said to have been started by Alvah W. Haff, a fish dealer of the Fulton fish market. Being a fish dealer, Mr. Haff had to always be ready to give change and when the Amityville bank accumulated too much small change, it notified Mr, Haff, who would take the change off of the bank's hands.
On January 29, 1903, Mr. Haff bought 3,000 copper pennies from the bank. Someone who witnessed the transaction commented on the strange occurrence, and Mr. Haff jokingly explained that he was going to take the coins and get the gold out of them.
The story spread like wild fire and people began hoarding 1902 pennies.
The Formoso New Era - Dec 11, 1903
The Spokane Spokesman-Review - July 12, 1961