Back in the 1950’s this might have been the question that the Secret Service ended up asking Francis L. Henning in one of their very first interrogation/interviews. I mean really, when we think of profitable counterfeit operations the images of some dank basement with a complex printer setup coaxing out sheet after sheet of crisp new twenties or better comes to mind, right? Does anyone think that coining minor coinage would result in any kind of profit for the person counterfeiting coins for daily use. So, why in the heck would anyone, anyone at all, go ahead and spend thousands of dollars to produce counterfeit nickels.
Yeah, I didn’t stutter. Henning set up a little factory all on his own in New Jersey in 1954 and started pumping out his own nickels. But this guy spent thousands of dollars setting up a 250,000 thousand pound press, making his own dies, and making buckets and buckets of nickels. It is estimated that he made upwards of half a million nickels before he was finally caught. He would then take his nickels and swap them out for bills at the local banks and stores, while pretending to be a vending machine operator. But what would possess someone to spend all that time and effort to realize a teeny-tiny profit. Surely, he could have made more money honestly. Heck, when he was captured he was making seven hundred a month working as a mechanical engineer in Cleveland, OH. I suppose you can never really understand what makes people sometimes do crazy things, but you can share the history of it. There is one other thing, he was caught by coin collectors.
You see, back in World War II both nickel and copper which make up the modern nickel were in great demand as war materials. So the government switched to an alloy of silver and manganese with a bit less copper in the mix. However, the government wanted to ensure if they needed to ever pull the coins from circulation they would have an easy time recalling the coins. They ended up deciding the easiest way to do this was to stick a giant mint mark over Monticello on the reverse of the nickel, showing it to be of silver composition, this lasted from 1942-1945. Well, when Henning started counterfeiting nickels, he mated the obverse of a 1944 nickel with the reverse of a post WWII nickel, so it was missing the giant mint mark. This caused a banker who was also a coin collector to note the mistake and contact the authorities. It went downhill for Henning from then on. However, the nickels are still out there, some in collections, some probably floating unnoticed in daily transactions. Even though they are illegal to buy or trade according to the Secret Service they can still be had on ebay from time to time for around forty to fifty dollars.
A quick note on counterfeit versus forgery. If the coin or bill in question is produced for everyday use, i.e. to fool the shopkeeper or the waitress it is a counterfeit. If the coin or bill is produced to fool the collector, auctioneer, etc. then the coin is a forgery. So the term counterfeit applies to this collectible coin, because it is being collected as a contemporary counterfeit on purpose