US Coins

Monday Morning Brief for Aug. 7, 2023: Hobby Protection Act

This replica 1,000-unit Nova Constellatio pattern is an unmarked copy of the unique original struck in silver and is of minimal value, not worth anywhere close to $1,500. The Hobby Protection Act of 1973 would regulate such imitations.

Coin World image archives.

A lot was happening legislatively concerning coin collecting 50 years ago. Congress was considering various measures that drew collector support: the authorization of special coin designs celebrating the upcoming national Bicentennial; lifting barriers to gold ownership imposed during the Great Depression; and requiring producers of imitation numismatic and political items to mark their wares as copies.

What became the Hobby Protection Act of 1973 was sorely needed. The marketplace  was filled with copies of Colonial- and Confederation-era coins, tokens, paper money, and more, and almost none of these items were identified as being imitations. That was a problem.

Coin World’s daily mail was filled with inquiries from readers asking whether their 1787 Brasher doubloon, Massachusetts coppers, and New Jersey coppers were the real thing. Almost invariably, they were modern copies — cast, crude, “pot metal” pieces of no collector value — of coins, tokens, and notes not produced by the Bureau of the Mint.

Illicit copies of Mint coinage existed, of course. They were counterfeits, and anti-counterfeiting laws were in place to regulate those numismatic imitations. No such legal protection was afforded to copies of non-federal coinage and notes, and it was not unknown for the unscrupulous to offer these fakes as the real thing.

These fakes existed in the hundreds of thousands if not millions of pieces. I remember as a new staff member in 1976 and 1977, serving in the Collectors’ Clearinghouse department, answering inquiries every week regarding such items, readers wanting to know if they owned one of the great rarities listed in the front section of the “Red Book,” where those pieces are cataloged before the sections for the federal half cents and large cents.

The Hobby Protection Act was aimed at these imitation issues and was strongly supported by the hobby leadership. The act did not make the issuance of such materials illegal, but it did require each piece to be marked with the word COPY. While passage of the act later in 1973 did not end production of imitation numismatic items, their numbers seem to have dropped, though unmarked  pre-1973 pieces continued to haunt the marketplace for years. Passage of the act was a major victory for the collecting community and remains in effect today.


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