US Coins

1857 half cent struck from counterfeit dies

Readers Ask column from Feb. 29, 2016, issue of Coin World:

I obtained a coin at a flea market this past summer — an 1857 half cent that was cleaned by someone. The coin was in a 2-by-2 flip. I took the coin out and was rubbing it off. The coin looked funny on the obverse. I put it under a microscope and found a numeral 2 and CENTS. I do not know how this could have happened back then. Could you help me? 

David Collins / via email

First, any possible connection to a 2-cent piece in 1857 would be a wildly unusual occurrence to say the least, since 2-cent coins weren’t struck until 1864, seven years after the last production of Coronet half cents at the Philadelphia Mint.

The 2 CENTS that appears upside down but right reading on the obverse across Liberty’s face under her eye is raised, not incuse. There also appear to be some clash marks below CENT on the reverse.

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If this piece resulted from a “sandwich” alteration — one coin placed between two others and squeezed — then the extra inscriptions would be incused and reversed, which they are not.

I forwarded the images received at Coin World to numismatist John Roberts, an authenticator and variety attributer at ANACS, for his evaluation. 

Roberts concluded from his examination that the half cent dies used to strike this purported 1857 Coronet half cent are counterfeit. The entire reported mintage of 35,180 genuine 1857 half cents struck at the Philadelphia Mint for general circulation was produced by a single die pair, differing from the dies that produced this piece. 

He noted, “They’re not copied from a genuine coin, so the clashing may be simple clashing against the opposite fake die.” Roberts said. “I would think the 2 cent piece that was underneath is also fake based on the low quality of the half cent dies.”

Roberts recommends comparing the date on this 1857-dated piece to the date on a known genuine 1857 half cent, as illustrated above by images from the Heritage Auctions archives.

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