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It’s the right color

Mark Twain was right. History might not repeat, but it does rhyme.

A good example of this can be found in cents.

Numismatic News in recent weeks has reported on the discovery of the first 1974-D aluminum cent, its consignment to auction and the Mint’s demand for it to be returned.

These headlines get people thinking about their cents.

Unfortunately, some do not know the difference between aluminum and zinc nor the fact that aluminum cents were never in circulation while copper-coated zinc cents have been in regular use since 1982.

In the more than three decades since, some coins have been struck without the copper coating, giving the piece a silvery appearance.

These have a small collector value, $10 or $20, but enterprising individuals can also strip the copper plating off cents and in a sense manufacture their own silver-colored cents of any date since 1982.

I have had an uptick in inquiries about aluminum cents that in reality are simply zinc.

How does this rhyme?

Well in my early days on staff here the memories were of the steel cents of 1943, which noncollectors called silver cents.

You could coat copper cents with mercury and give them a silver color. Copper cents could be electroplated with silver color. My high school chemistry teacher even related to us how he had done this, though we did not do so.

As a result, there were any number of those silver colored cents out there of years other than 1943 confusing the public and questions about them would reach me.

Memories of Word War II have diminished dramatically so the only time I have inquiries relating to that period is when the rare error copper 1943 cents come up for auction, but that is a different bit of history and a different rhyme.

Buzz blogger Dave Harper is winner of the 2013 Numismatic Literary Guild Award for Best Blog and is editor of the weekly newspaper “Numismatic News.”

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