US Coins

Waffle-canceled experimental coins from alloy testing enter marketplace

Cancelled experimental 5-cent piece was originally struck on a blank of the same copper-plated zinc composition as the Lincoln cent.

Images courtesy of United States Mint.

Three waffle-canceled Martha Washington experimental pieces produced by the U.S. Mint while researching proposed alternative alloys for the copper-nickel 5-cent coin, to get costs below face value, are in numismatic hands.

 The U.S. Mint has been conducting research at the Philadelphia Mint for more than a decade looking for alternative compositions and has submitted biennial reports to Congress on its findings.

Under provisions of the Coin Modernization, Oversight, and Continuity Act of 2010, reports were submitted to Congress in 2012, 2014, 2016, 2018 and 2020.

Dealer acquires coins

The three canceled experimental pieces that error coin dealer Jon Sullivan from Sullivan Numismatics in Land O Lakes Florida, recently acquired were authenticated and encapsulated by Numismatic Guaranty Co. and are pedigreed to the 2013 research year. Sullivan said the pieces he acquired from another dealer apparently came from a large coin sorting facility in the eastern United States.

Struck on planchets of different alloys, the experimental pieces were originally struck with what the Mint refers to as nonsense dies, bearing a portrait of first lady Martha Washington with registration numbers and letters in the place of a date on the obverse, and on the reverse, a rendering that combines elements of Monticello and Mount Vernon, with registration numbers below the structure.

Nonsense dies are dies not intended for final production for circulation but to test composition and wear. The Mint often uses nonsense dies to avoid using regular dies to strike experimental coins in alternative compositions, such as the 1974 Lincoln aluminum cents.

These experimental pieces are not intended to enter the marketplace either, but clearly, they do on occasion.

Details of coins

According to Sullivan, two of the experimental pieces he recently acquired are unique and one is from a pair of examples known in collector hands.
➤ 5-cent type of Judd 2210 (United States Pattern Pieces by J. Hewitt Judd, edited by Q. David Bowers), unique, 60.5% nickel, 32.5% copper, 6.8% iron, Mirror Proof surfaces, with slightly dark nickel appearance
➤ 5-cent type of Judd 2221, copper-plated zinc, one of two examples known on blanks from Jarden Zinc Products in Greeneville, Tennessee, the sole provider to the U.S. Mint of ready-to-strike copper-plated zinc cent planchets. Piece has copper surfaces with intermittent breaks showing the underlying zinc core.
➤ 5-cent type of Judd 2210, 77% copper, 20% nickel 3% manganese; 4.87 grams, unique; silvery nickel with a matte-like surface.

The Philadelphia Mint uses machinery from the Dutch firm Kusters Engineering to cancel test pieces and coins deemed unsuitable for release. The machinery uses a series of equally spaced knives to deform a coin into a shape resembling a rippled potato chip.

Canceled coins are then shipped to contracted vendors who also supply coinage strip for blanking, so the metal from the canceled coins can be reclaimed for reuse in making coinage strip.

Experimental pieces are not retained for archival purposes. Such pieces, as well as any error coins and other pieces not suitable for release into circulation, are relegated to “condemned boxes” for eventual cancellation using the Kusters Engineering equipment.

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