Originally published March 2013 - Henning Counterfeit Nickel and Alaskan Jade
Lost Treasure: The Henning Counterfeit Nickel
The "Henning" nickel is probably the most famous example of counterfeit coins in US history. Produced by Francis LeRoy Henning of Erial, NJ in the early 1950s, the 1944 Henning nickel is also one of the easiest to spot.
During the Second World War, nickel was needed to produce armor plate. So, from 1942 to 1945, five-cent pieces were made in an alloy of copper, silver and manganese. To distinguish new nickels from old nickels when it came time to melt them, each Mint that produced these wartime nickels placed an identifying mark above the dome of Monticello, a large letter "P" stood for Philadelphia, "D" for Denver, and "S" for San Francisco. The letters are a glaring omission from the counterfeit nickels.
Henning purchased his blanks from the same source as the mint but they were made from copper, nickel and iron, with no trace of silver. Even so, they cost Henning three and half cents apiece to make. Add the cost of the press, the cost of engraving, and labor to produce each coin and you can quickly see why this is such an entertaining story. Henning actually lost money on this counterfeiting venture. Still, nearly 100,000 of the phony nickels made it into circulation before federal agents followed the trail to a clandestine "mint" in New Jersey.
By the time they had caught on, Henning had left town, but not before he dumped 200,000 counterfeit nickels into Cooper Creek, and another 200,000 into the Schuylkill river. Only about 40,000 of the coins were seized and actually melted down and coined into legal nickels. Henning was arrested in Cleveland, Ohio, in October 1955, tried, and convicted. He was sentenced to three years in jail and fined $5,000 but when the judge learned of Henning's newest project -- a plan to counterfeit $5 bills, he tacked on another three years.
It was clumsy of Henning to choose to counterfeit a year with such a prominent mint mark and then to omit the mint mark from his counterfeit. Had Henning made an extra half-million 1940-dated nickels, they would probably still be circulating unrecognizable to this day.
In addition to the notorious 1944 no-mintmark nickel, Henning produced five other nickel reverse dies dated 1939, 1946, 1947, and 1953. The sixth date is still a mystery. Some dates suspected for the last die are 1943, 1945 and 1951.
You can spot some of the other dates by a hole in the R of Pluribus though not all of the dies had this hole. Other tells are worn, rough surfaces with an occasional tiny raised dot or pimple. US Mint nickels won't have these. Some don't have full rims and if you're still not sure, weigh your nickel. Nickels weigh about 5 grams with slight variation. Henning nickels are slightly heavier at 5.5 grams.
Today Henning nickels are worth $20 to $30 a piece if you can find someone willing to sell theirs. If not, you can always go looking yourself, with so many unrecovered coins you may just find one or two!
Featured Gemstone: Alaskan Jade
The term jade is applied to two different metamorphic rocks that are made up of different silicate minerals: jadeite and nephrite. Alaskan Jade falls into the nephrite class of jade and is the softer of the two jades which makes it easy to carve.
Original Alaskans found nuggets of jade in the Kobuk River and used the gem to make tools, weapons, and jewelry. Today, Alaskan jade used in jewelry making is usually a rich, dark green.
Alaskan jade can also be found in parts of California and in British Columbia. In fact, although Alaskan jade is Alaska's state gem, British Columbia supplies most of the world's nephrite jade. Since Alaska is home to the majestic Jade Mountain, a mountain in Alaska's Seward Peninsula, made entirely of dark green jade, I'm willing to overlook that Alaska's state gemstone is not entirely unique to Alaska.