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'Questionable' position?

New Year’s Eve makes me think of all the years I have spent at this desk at Numismatic News.

Some things change. Others never do.

For example, the other day I received a telephone call from a collector in Florida who still avidly searches through cents to see what he can find.

He said he had one that was a copper 1943.

That would be big news if it were true.

Cents in 1943 were made of zinc-coated steel to conserve copper during World War II.

In my career, nobody who has contacted me has actually found one.

If the cent is plated, a magnet will attract the steel core.

If the coin is an altered 1948, a quick comparison with an actual 1943 steel cent will reveal the extra space between the “4” and the “3.” and the “3” itself on an altered coin will look pretty bad when compared to the digit on the steel cent.

In this case, it was an altered 1948.

I have to admit, though, that it has been many years since anyone even has reported an altered 1948 to me.

Then there was an email to me in response to our weekly poll question about the potential value of a 1913 Liberty Head nickel.

The sender didn’t have a 1913 Liberty Head nickel. He had a Buffalo.

He asked for an estimate of its value.

I told him a Philadelphia coin would retail for $8 in good condition. Denver or San Francisco coins would be more.

That prompted two further exchanges.

He said he couldn’t find a mintmark, but did see an “F.”

I replied, “The “F” is the initial of the designer, James Earle Fraser. If there is a mintmark, it is on the tails side under “Five Cents.”

He responded, “the FIVE CENTS shows clearly, but there is nothing under it. What does that mean?”

I emailed my answer: “It means it is from Philadelphia. That mint did not use a mintmark at the time.”

If there had been a mintmark, it would have opened the door to further emails about mound type and plain type coins, but fortunately, that didn’t have to come up since Philadelphia 1913 Buffalo coins are valued so similarly in lower grades.

Quickly another email popped into my inbox:

“Thanks again. You clearly know your stuff. Would you be interested in buying the nickel?” he asked.

My final reply?

“Thanks for the offer, but I must decline. If you have a child or a young relative to give it to, it might make his or her day.

“Happy New Year.”

That’s my cue to wish everyone a happy new year.

It will certainly be a happy one for me as long as people have questions like these for me to answer.

Buzz blogger Dave Harper is editor of the weekly newspaper "Numismatic News."