The practice of counterfeiting money is as old as money itself.
Archaeologists have discovered counterfeit examples of coins produced in Lydia, a Roman province said to be the locale of the first metallic coinage, dating back to the 7th century BC.
Today, we tend to think of counterfeiters as individuals who mass produce paper money, usually in large denominations – $20 or higher.
But until relatively recently, nearly all counterfeit money came in coin form. This was because until relatively recently nearly all money came in coin form, and was known as “hard money” because it contained a commodity such as gold or silver which gave it intrinsic value.
A short 1884 article in the New York Times highlighted just how valuable even small coins – albeit those made of silver – were 130 years ago.
MARLBOROUGH, N.Y. – Counterfeit silver dollars, quarters and ten-cent pieces are being circulated in a number of the Hudson River counties. The quarter dollars and dimes are said to be very good imitations of genuine money. It is said that ticket agents on the line of the Hudson River Railroad have been told to scrutinize carefully all silver offered in payment for tickets. It is believed that the counterfeits were first put in circulation about three weeks ago.
Today it seems difficult to imagine someone going to the difficulty of attempting to counterfeit a dime, never mind working hard enough at it to do it well.
The Canadian penny is showing it’s not going down without a fight.
Nearly two months after the Royal Canadian Mint stopped distributing the one-cent piece, the coin continues to circulate, causing some confusion north of the border.
That’s because when government officials announced the mint would end the penny’s run after more than 150 years, many people thought the cent would no longer be used.
But that’s not quite the case, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.
“Businesses don’t have to turn over the pennies they collect to the bank and they can decide if they want to keep using Canada’s smallest currency, even though it’s not being produced,” the CBC reported.
Pennies still remain legal tender in Canada, it added.
Face value, the small copper coin that went under the auctioneer’s hammer Tuesday represented the smallest denomination of currency the United States ever produced – just half a cent.
But in one of the more astonishing bits of numismatic lore, the 1796 Liberty Cap half cent sold for nearly $300,000 – nearly $360,000 with auctioneer’s premium – meaning the coin increased in value 71,600,000-fold over the 210-plus years since it was minted in Philadelphia during George Washington’s presidency.
The rare half cent, sold at a small provincial auction in southwest England, went to an American bidder from the Numismatic Financial Corp. of Winter Springs, Fla., according to CBS News.
The final price, perhaps not surprisingly, is one of the highest ever paid for a half cent.
The coin bears a liberty head design on one side, with a pole and liberty cap in the background. The reverse features an open wreath of olive stems tied with a ribbon.
Half cents were minted by the US from 1793 until 1857.
The story of the coin sold Tuesday is both fascinating and perplexing.
The two existing United States mints produce coins at a staggering rate. Since 1999, more than 180 billion pennies, dimes, quarters, half dollars and dollar pieces have been turned out by the Philadelphia and Denver mints.
In the year 2000 alone, the Philadelphia mint alone coined more than 1.8 billion 10-cent pieces. That’s five dimes for every man, woman and child in the US just in that year alone.
Alas, mints didn’t always produce coins in such prodigious amounts.
Take, for example, the Carson City, Nev., mint, which in 1873 struck just 12,400 Seated Liberty dimes of a variety collectors designate as “without arrows,” for its lack of arrows on the obverse, on either side of the date.
All were produced in a single day.
Just one example of that brief run is known to exist, and it was auctioned for $1.84 million in Philadelphia late last week.
Included in a massive hoard of coins discovered in Bath, England, five years ago is one silver piece that dates back to before the birth of Christ, researchers recently learned.
A Roman coin dating from 32 BC is the oldest found so far from among the approximately 22,000 pieces unearthed in a stone-lined box by archaeologists working in Bath in 2007, according to the BBC.
That makes it more than 200 years older than any of the other coins already examined from among the so-called Beau Street Hoard, according to Stephen Clews, manager of the Roman Baths.
The silver coins are believed to date from 274 AD and have been described as the fifth-largest hoard ever found in the United Kingdom, according to the BBC.
The coins were fused together and sent to the British Museum, according to media outlet. Conservators are expected to take at least a year to work through them.
The coins were discovered about 150 yards from the Roman Baths, the BBC added.
The previous oldest coin found in the hoard was from about 190 AD but that figure has had to be revised considerably with the discovery of the coin dating back to the time of Marc Antony, Clews said.
After more than 150 years of production, Canada will withdraw the penny from circulation, beginning later this year, the government announced earlier this week.
“The penny is a currency without any currency in Canada,” Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said.
Ottawa said the penny retained only one-twentieth of its original purchasing power. It costs 1.6 Canadian cents to produce each one-cent coin and eliminating the penny will save around $11 million a year.
“Some Canadians consider the penny more of a nuisance than a useful coin. We often store them in jars, throw them away in water fountains or refuse them as change,” the government said in a budget document.
Other nations that have either ceased to produce or have removed low denomination coins include Australia, Brazil, Finland, Israel, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and Great Britain, Reuters reported.
“There are 30 billion pennies in circulation and every year they are minting more. It was just one of those no-brainer slam dunks. It’s a place where we can save money,” said opposition legislator Pat Martin, a longtime advocate of abolishing the penny. “Of the 30 billion pennies, I think half of them are under my bed in a big jar.”
The Royal Canadian Mint will stop distributing penny coins to financial institutions later this year. As the coin slowly disappears, prices for cash transactions will be rounded up or down to the closest five cents, according to the wire service.
Non-cash payments such as checks, credit and debit cards will continue to be settled to the cent, Reuters added.
An example of the first official US coin minted by the federal government on its own equipment and premises sold last month for a staggering $1.38 million.
Not bad, considering it represents a markup of nearly 140 million times over it original face value.
Heritage Auctions sold the 1793 Chain cent in January, likely the most money ever paid for a one-cent piece.
The 219-year-old coin is one of a relatively small number of Chain cents that survive, and one of the best examples, being classified in near-mint condition.
Called the Eliasberg specimen, the Chain cent auctioned by Heritage carries a provenance that dates back to 1864.
Heritage described it as having “a bold strike with excellent definition of the motifs, including the fine strands of Liberty’s hair. The rim is bold and the centering is excellent. Every aspect of this superlative Chain cent is remarkable. The rich olive and mahogany-brown surfaces are highly lustrous and virtually flawless.”
It’s standard now, but for nearly 90 years the motto “In God We Trust” was nowhere to be found on US money.
It was only at the height the War Between the States, when the issue between North and South was far from settled, that Lincoln’s Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase went before Congress to request a law placing the motto on the newly authorized two-cent piece.
The law passed on April 22, 1864, and about 20 million of the now all-but-forgotten copper pieces were struck that year.
It’s not entirely clear why the two-cent piece – which was only minted through 1873 – even came into existence.
It’s likely that part of the reason had to do with the fact that as the war continued, production of gold and silver coinage by the US mint had virtually ceased, severely restricting circulating coinage.
In addition, hoarding had taken not only the gold and silver coins out of circulation, but copper coins, as well, according to numismatist Paul Green.
It’s possible the two-cent piece was seen as a way to help alleviate this problem.
However, the idea of a two-cent piece dates back several decades before the Civil War, according to David Bowers, former president of the American Numismatic Association.
Recently I stumbled across the news that’s it’s illegal to melt down nickels and pennies. In fact, it’s been a crime for half a decade now.
Had this law been in place back when I spent my summers working at the family steel business, I’d have been counted among the nation’s scofflaws.
More than the occasional lunch break was whiled away taking a cutting torch to various metal objects, including many a penny, watching as the heat turned coins first red, then yellow, then white.
Soon they would bubble and boil, ball up and, if I did it long enough, disappear completely. All that would be left was usually a smudge of yellow where the penny had been.
However, when the US Mint implemented regulations in December 2006 prohibiting the melting of pennies and nickels, it wasn’t to keep bored youth from cheap entertainment. Instead, it was purportedly to prevent individuals from melting the coins en masse in order to realize their copper value.
In addition, the Mint’s rules also prohibited the unlicensed exportation of the coins, with the exception that travelers can take up to $5 in pennies and nickels out of the country.
To show that the Mint meant business, penalties of up to a fine of $10,000, five years’ imprisonment, or both, were mandated.
An example of one of the most enigmatic coins ever struck in the United States was sold this week for more than $7 million.
An exceedingly rare 1787 gold Brasher Doubloon was purchased for $7.395 million, one of the highest prices ever paid for a coin.
Blanchard and Co., the New Orleans-based coin and precious metals company that brokered the deal, said the doubloon was purchased by a Wall Street investment firm, but the identities of the buyer and seller were not disclosed, according to The Associated Press.
The Brasher Doubloon has a strange and perplexing history. It was minted by Ephraim Brasher, a goldsmith and neighbor of George Washington while Washington lived in New York.
It’s unclear if the coin, considered the first American-made gold coin denominated in dollars, was made by Brasher as a public service, or if he minted the pieces to distribute to New York state legislators, in a bid to secure a contract to strike copper coins.