US Coins

Waffle-canceled Martha Washington test piece surfaces

What appears to be a waffle-canceled copper-plated 5-cent test piece from the U.S. Mint’s research into alloy alternatives for circulating U.S. coins surfaced Aug. 14 in Philadelphia on the bourse of the American Numismatic Association World’s Fair of Money.

Jon Sullivan from Sullivan Numismatics in Charleston, South Carolina, said that a Pennsylvania man, who searches through thousands of coins in bags obtained from several sources, sold him the test piece along with some error coins. The other pieces purchased included an undated Jefferson, Wartime 5-cent coin, bearing the S Mint mark of the San Francisco Mint above Monticello on the reverse, but struck on a silver dime planchet.

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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. The 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 into making coinage strip.

A normal Jefferson 5-cent coin is composed of 75 percent copper and 25 percent nickel, measures 21.2 millimeters in diameter and weighs 5 grams. The test piece, copper in color, weighs 4 grams. It was originally struck with Mount Vernon and Martha Washington dies, referred to as nonsense dies, used in alloy-testing strikes. 

Copper-plated zinc is one of the alloys tested at the Philadelphia Mint under provisions of the Coin Modernization, Oversight and Continuity Act of 2010, Public Law 11-302. The Mint is still conducting research and development into finding a suitable alloy replacement to bring the production costs of the 5-cent coin below face value. The Mint is also looking for alloy replacements for the copper-nickel clad dime and the quarter dollar.

At this time, Mint officials have made no decisions about selecting alternative alloys for the various coins. 

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