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Coin Clinic: First Washington quarters rationed

By Richard Giedroyc

Was there any public interest in the 1932 Washington quarters when they were released?

The public announcement of the coins as commemoratives set off a buying boom. When they were issued on Aug 1, 1932, the banks found it necessary to ration the coins, selling just one to a customer. This occurred despite the gloom of the Great Depression.

Can you tell me if our subsidiary silver coins were struck to a metric standard?

One of the peculiarities of our coinage is the fact that the five smaller denominations of silver  – the half dime, dime, 20-cent piece, quarter and half dollar all were put on a metric standard, even if the weights were not originally given or specified that way. For example, the 90 percent silver half dime weighed 1.24 grams beginning in 1853. From 1853 the dime weighed 2.49 grams (twice as much) until 1872 when it was raised to 2.5 grams. The 20 cent piece weighed twice as much, or 5.0 grams (the same weight as the non-silver nickel). The quarter weighed 6.25 grams, or 2.5 times the weight of the dime, and the half dollar weighed 12.5 grams, again twice the weight of the quarter, or five times the weight of a dime. The Morgan and Peace dollars weighed 26.73 grams rather than the 25 grams they should have weighed, a throwback to the competition with the Mexican 8 reales (peso) as a trade coin.

Get both the Riga Zoo Coin and the Standard Catalog of World Coins, 2001-Date paperback edition in this exclusive collection.

Get both the Riga Zoo Coin and the Standard Catalog of World Coins, 2001-Date paperback edition in this exclusive collection.

Do we have any coins with the same design on different metals or alloys?

For starters, there’s the 1982 cent that was struck in two varieties on brass and copper-plated zinc. The Ike dollars were made on copper-nickel clad and 40 percent silver clad. The Ike reverse was also used on the Anthony dollars, which were copper-nickel clad, but with different thickness clad layers than the Ikes. Also there is the 1922 Grant silver half and gold dollar, which used the same design.

Isn’t there an ounce of silver in the old silver dollars?

This is a common misconception, aided and abetted by the 1986 introduction of the one-ounce silver American Eagle with a face value of $1. Actually, the Morgan and Peace dollars contained 371.25 grains of silver, or 0.7736 troy ounce of the precious metal.

Is there any interest in the pointed and blunt-tail “9” 1964 dimes?

The two varieties were heavily promoted at the time, but they were never a major item and now go unnoticed. Although at the time they were assumed to be abrasion varieties, they were later determined to have come from different master dies. Eventually they may join other similar die changes, such as the 1864 and 1886 Indian Head cents as recognized varieties, but for now they are pretty much a dead issue.

What do you know about the Silly Head or Booby Head cents?

The engraving department at the U.S. Mint in the late 1700s and early 1800s was not particularly noted for artistic talent. The results were numerous nicknamed dies, ranging down the scale through the “Blowsy Barmaid” to the “Drunken Die Cutter.” Two of those nicknames for Miss Liberty were the Silly and Booby Heads, which are varieties of the 1839 cent. You need a photo to tell which is which.

I was told that not all of my S-mint Ikes are silver. How do I tell them apart?

San Francisco struck both 40 percent silver and copper-nickel-clad S-mint Ike dollars. The simplest and most positive test is weighing the coins. A 40 percent silver Ike dollar weighs 379.5 grains, while a copper-nickel Ike weighs 350.0 grains. It is important to check the weight as a number of silver-plated fakes have turned up.

Does the 1793 Chain cent have a reeded edge?

Only in part. The official description of the edge is “Four equal sections, two reeded, two with vine, leaves and blossoms. The alternate reeding and design was put on with an edge die.

Is it true that the Panama-Pacific $50 coin contained face value in gold when it was struck?

In 1915, gold was officially pegged at $20.67183 per troy ounce. The $50 contained $49.991664 in gold, or a fraction of a cent below full face value.

I have a gold coin with all the U.S. Presidents on it. Do you have any idea of the value?

The piece you have is not a coin. Rather, it is a privately issued medal, struck on gold-plated bronze. The issue price was less than $7.

Are there any proofs of the early commemorative half dollars?

Walter Breen was quoted as saying that there are a dozen 1892 and two dozen 1893 proofs known of the Columbian half. From 1917 to 1936 there were none officially listed, with limited exceptions, but specimens are known. The largest group are the reported 50 proofs of the Hawaiian half dollar.

Why did James Earle Fraser put the buffalo on a mound on the 1913 nickel?

As a youth he had seen a Native American ceremony intended to bring back the buffalo. The ceremony was performed on a mound of earth and made a lasting impression on the sculptor. Unfortunately, the mound was not suited to a coin design and it had to be changed during the first year of issue.

There’ s an 1837-dated token that carries the slogan, “Millions for Defense.” What’s the connection?

The piece is a Hard Times token. The full quote is “Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute.” The slogan referred to the North African Barbary Coast pirates who were attacking U.S. ships and holding their crews for ransom.

How could both Dahlonega and Denver use the same “D” mintmark?

The secret was timing. Dahlonega, which struck only gold, used the “D” between 1838 and 1861. Denver didn’t begin using it until 1906.

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News Express.
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