Did you ever put a cent on a railroad track? When the train came along it was squashed and squeezed into an interesting shape.
I only ever did it once because when I was a kid it was still a time of penny candy and I valued the potential candy purchase more highly than the squashed cent.
True, there was a sense we weren’t supposed to be doing it.
Defacing money was illegal, or so we thought, and getting away with it was a bit of a thrill.
What we didn’t know then was we only had half the story. Defacing money is illegal if you intend to commit fraud. But if you are looking for a souvenir, you are home free.
I was reminded of my childhood when I received a letter in the mail. It really is a bona fide letter, not an email.
The envelope looks like it had been stored for 50 years before it got mailed to me. That caught my eye.
There was no return address on it. That also caught my eye.
I wondered what I had done wrong in the eyes of the writer who didn’t want me to know who he was.
The letter inside did indeed turn out to be anonymous, but it wasn’t a criticism. It was an inquiry with two specific questions.
The intention of the writer, I assume, is that I publish an answer for every reader, and not write a letter of reply.
First question: Is defacing half of a U.S. coin or colorizing over a coin legal?
Yes it is.
That is why you have elongated coins that are avidly collected. It is why you see so many offers of colorized coins.
Now I am assuming since the letter was mailed in the United States that we are simply dealing with U.S. law and not the proliferation of world coins that are colorized.
Second question: A coin is layered in 23-karat gold. What constitutes layering? How much gold does a layered coin possess in grams (Kennedy half dollar layered in gold, for example)?
There are 31.103 grams in a troy ounce of pure gold. One gram is about 3.22 percent of an ounce. At today’s $1,289.50 price for an ounce of gold. that would make a gram worth $41.46.
But even if you do not know the definition of layered gold, I’ll bet you instinctively know that the quantity is much less than a gram
Layering is basically another term for plating though it sounds so much richer.
The quantity of gold in layering or plating is so tiny that we are talking tiny fractions of a single gram.
The gold involved adds color to the product but virtually no value, because it is a very thin layer.
A half dollar that is layered in gold is basically worth a half dollar plus whatever souvenir value you want to attach to it
The added gold costs the creator a few cents per coin, but the process to recover it costs more than what is obtained.
My high school chemistry teacher would have loved this question. He was very good at using his slide rule and figuring out quantities that involved a decimal point, a lot of zeroes and another numeral or two.
I'll just say teensy-weensy. That would make my teacher cringe. But he is not around so I feel like I am getting away with something slightly naughty.
Buzz blogger Dave Harper has twice won the Numismatic Literary Guild Award for Best Blog and is editor of the weekly newspaper "Numismatic News."
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