The Gold and Silver Mine – A South Jersey counterfeiter who aimed low

February 4, 2014 in Cents, Coin Errors, Coins, Counterfeit, Education, Fake Coins, Nickel Coins, Numismatic Crimes, Numismatica, Numismatics, USA Coins

By: Douglas Keefe. (

A weekly column dedicated to “digging out” current information about precious metals, coins and other numismatics.

A recent story in “The Numismatist,” a monthly publication put out by the American Numismatic Association, reminded me of a story about what is probably the most bizarre example of coin counterfeiting.

The counterfeiter, Francis Leroy Henning, a true underachiever, chose the lowly five-cent coin as the item he wished to make. And his intent was not to copy a rare coin that would have a greater numismatic value, but rather one that he would spend as five cents. Why he chose that coin instead of one with a higher denomination is unknown, but in all likelihood, because the higher-denomination coins were made of silver, his investment would be higher if he needed silver to make those coins.

Henning, who lived in Erial, N.J., made dies for five-cent coins with six different dates (1939, 1944, 1946, 1947 and 1953, with a sixth date that was never found) using a mechanical transfer process in his machine shop. He created a single reverse die, and where a mintmark would normally appear was blank, indicating a coin struck at the Philadelphia Mint. His operation took place in the years 1954 and 1955, and because he purportedly had a vending machine route, it was not unusual for him to make large deposits of coins in the bank.

His undoing came about as a result of his lack of knowledge of coins. As I said, the practice at the time was for all mints that struck coins to add a mintmark to the coin. However, coins struck at the Philadelphia Mint did not have any mintmark. The exception to this rule occurred during the war years of 1942-45, when a certain amount of the metals used to strike the five-cent coin were replaced with silver. These coins were so marked by adding a large mintmark on the reverse for each mint, now including the letter “P” for Philadelphia.

Since Mr. Henning used just one die for all his coins, the coin dated 1944 caused his endeavor to be exposed, since that coin didn’t have the required “P” mintmark.  Also, since all of his counterfeits were of the same metallic content as the regular five-cent coin, his 1944 coin didn’t contain the silver that a normal 1944 coin would, and hence had a different appearance.

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