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1980 saw altered Buffalo nickels

This article was originally printed in the latest issue of Numismatic News.
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Wasn’t there a flurry of altered Buffalo nickels back in 1980 that had mintmarks embossed on them?

A quantity of Buffalo nickels, most dated between 1913 and 1926, were altered in this fashion. The work was done by drilling a small hole in the edge of the coin. An embossing tool was then inserted in the hole, which was used to force the surface metal up to form either a “D” or an “S.” Once the fakes were publicized, the source dried up, but not before at least one 1909-S VDB cent was similarly faked. Some of the coins may have gone into collections, so the coin edge should always be closely checked for signs of tampering.

I have a thin coin that is smaller than normal. The diameter is less, and the design seems to be reduced to match.

Smaller and thinner usually means the coin has been reduced with acid. There are hundreds of cents of all dates that have been altered with acid, but these pieces usually are thinner than a normal cent and have a generally fuzzy surface appearance. The key point in identification is that the design is essentially complete even on a paper thin coin. This would not happen with a genuine thin planchet strike, which would show missing or weak detail because of a lack of metal to fill the dies.


Enameled coins have been a popular collectible in other countries. How about U.S. coins?

The topic came up during the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. An enterprising American jeweler on a trip abroad spotted the enameled coins and took a quantity of the Columbian commemorative halves with him to London and had them reworked. When he brought them back to the states, they readily sold for $5 to $10. However, when an attempt was made to get 100,000 of the surplus halves from the Treasury, the Secret Service stepped in and announced that any enameled coins would be seized.

A friend of mine has an early Washington quarter with a crude swastika punched into it. Any idea as to the source?

Back in the early days of World War II, before the U.S. got involved, the Treasury Department became aware of a small number of these coins that were found in circulation, apparently the work of a Nazi sympathizer. The perpetrator was considered to be a “screwball,” who was defacing the coins with a screwdriver and a hammer.

I have a quarter that has no reeding. What caused this?

If the coin has a larger than normal diameter with “stretched” letters around the rim, it is probably a broadstrike – struck without the collar – and worth a premium. If it is normal size or slightly smaller, it probably has been altered by hammering or grinding the reeding off the coin. If it has been altered by hammering the rim, you can usually find traces of the reeding using a magnifier. Heavy slot machine use also wears reeding off.

I have a coin with extra incuse designs on both sides. How could that happen?

You have a “sandwich” alteration. It was produced by sandwiching a coin between two others, then hammering the pile, producing a coin that has incused, reversed images of the two outside coins in the pile. These are often mistaken for a double strike.


What’s the story on the reeded 1937 U.S. cents and nickels?

Three-hundred sets of the coins were reeded, possibly by a Mint employee. The reeding was done after the coins were struck and probably outside the Mint. The work was not authorized by the Mint. It constitutes an alteration of the coins. Ira Reed had the coins reeded and brought them to the 1941 American Numismatic Association convention where they were sold. In 1960 a pair of the coins sold at auction for $87.50, but they have since been discredited as Mint products.


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