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Coin Clinic: Contemporary v. Modern Fantasy

Why would it have been expected that there would be more demand for the 20-cent coin in western states in 1875 than in the East?

There was a shortage of circulating currency in the West at that time, much of it brought about by the refusal of many people to accept anything but specie. This eliminated the circulation of the cent, 2-cent, 3-cent nickel, and the nickel 5-cent coins as well as paper money. Silver dollar production had ceased two years earlier, while Trade dollars weren’t meant for domestic use.

I know there were politics involved at the time the nickel 5-cent coin was introduced but why would our lawmakers have considered dumping a silver coin in favor of one of base metal other than lobbyists?

Just about all specie coinage disappeared during the American Civil War, some being hoarded while some were melted for its intrinsic value. Congress recognized that 2- and 3-cent base metal composition coins were being accepted in circulation, emboldening them to try the same thing with the 5-cent denomination. 

I recently examined an 1878-S Trade dollar on which the obverse had been re-engraved to show Liberty seated on a toilet. Is there a special message?

Trade dollars of several dates and mint marks have fallen victim to being retooled into ‘potty’ dollars. I have seen these advertised as being a post-Civil War version of the hobo nickel meant to suggest the debacle of the Panic of 1873 and that they may have been retooled during the 1890s due to the popular slogan ‘No Free Trade.’

How can I tell if a Hobo nickel is a contemporary or a modern fantasy?

There is not a simple answer to this question but there are several things to consider that may identify some of the more modern efforts to make these nickels. The earliest Buffalo nickels from which Hobos were carved are typically dated between 1913 and 1919 and ware in at least Very Fine condition. Most modern Hobo nickels use well-worn coins of the 1920s or nickels of the 1930s as their host coin. Also, watch for coins on which any cleaning appears to be old rather than reasonably recent.

Is there anyone who authenticates early Hobo nickels so I will know I didn’t buy a modern copy?

The Original Hobo Nickel Society offers authentication services. Their web site is

Would you explain the criteria for a Full Steps designation on a Jefferson nickel?

The coin must first grade at least Mint State 60 to receive this designation. The coin must further show either five or six distinctly defined steps at the facing entrance to Monticello on the reverse. Cuts and marks on the steps disqualify a coin from being described as Full Steps.

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