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Mint called copper-nickel cents

This article was originally printed in the latest issue of Numismatic News.
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The U.S. Mint once referred to the nickel alloy cents of 1859-1864 as “slumpy.” What did they mean?

It’s a word long gone from modern dictionaries, but my trusty 75-year  old Webster lists “slumpy” as dialect for marshy or swampy, so the term apparently was a polite way of saying they weren’t satisfied with the copper-nickel coins.

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Please explain the 1828 coin that is listed as “25/50.” Is it a quarter struck on a half dollar, or what?

It is not an overstrike or restrike, it is an engraving mistake. When the die was being made, the engraver accidentally cut the 50-cent denomination into the die, and then corrected it by cutting the correct “25.” However, he left traces of the “50” behind, so when the die was used to strike coins it appears as a “25” over a “50.”

When did the first tokens appear in circulation that were “mules,” or struck from dies not intended to be paired?

The first significant appearance, according to Russ Rulau, was in 1860, apparently because of growing collector demand for rare varieties.


Were clamshells used as money during the Great Depression?

At least one place, Pismo Beach, Fla., did in fact use clam shell script in 1933. It was issued by the Chamber of Commerce and 11 of the city’s merchants.

Did the Federal Government ever seriously consider issuing coins denominated in fractions of a cent in this century?

In 1935 a failed attempt was made by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to get Congress to authorize a one-tenth and a half cent coin to use to pay sales taxes of the era. Some 13 states went ahead and issued sales tax tokens, drawing government criticism, but no legal action.

I’m told there is a Washington medal with a skull and crossbones on it. I can’t believe the pirate symbol would be used on a medal honoring the Father of our Country!

There are several such medals, struck for Washington’s funeral, but the connotation has nothing to do with pirates, who adopted the symbol more as a means of scaring their potential victims. At the time of Washington’s death, the skull and crossbones was a common symbol used to denote death in a society where only a small percentage of the population could read or write.

I’ve seen references to an “incomplete die.” Please explain.

An incomplete die is one on which the design has not been finished. A typical example is the 1806 half dollar upon which the engraver failed to finish the stem of the branch that the eagle is holding in its claws, so the eagle appears to be holding nothing but thin air.


There’s one variety of the 1787 Connecticut coppers that has a date that looks more like 1767 and has arrows at the date. Do they mean the same thing as the arrows on later U.S. coins?

The variety would be described as an “open 8” (which does look like a 6), and it also has arrows at the ends of the legends, apparently as decorations, rather than the use to designate changes in specifications on later U.S. coins.

Didn’t one of the motion picture companies polish up a lot of coins to use to advertise one of their movies?

Not content with their usual reproductions used in films, MGM decided to promote “The Last Hunt” in 1956 by sending out 2,000 letters to foreign distributors with a “shiny” buffalo nickel attached. The publicity firm claimed to have searched a million coins to find 2,000 suitable specimens that were then turned over to a machine shop to be burnished, a process that of course ruined any collector value the pieces might have had.

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