My Bizarre Altered Coin Story by Sellathon

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I thought I'd share an experience I had when I was about 13 or 14 - when I got to see an ex-con convert a 1910 V-nickel into a 1913 V-nickel.

In Georgetown, Kentucky there is (or was) a very popular flea market, and several coin dealers used to display there. This was just as I was really getting into coins, so when I saw a white 2x2 coin holder that said "$10,000.00 or best offer", it certainly caught my eye.

Yep, it was a 1913 V-nickel. Sort of.

Being young and naive and, well, dumb, I called my Dad over and explained how if he could loan me $10,000, I was sure I could double our money instantly. I explained that there were only 5 of these in the world, and this guy was seriously underselling it!

Fortunately, my dad was not as gullible as I was, nor in the habit of carrying $10,000 on his person, so he struck up a conversation with the dealer, who was surprisingly forthcoming. As it turned out, the coin had started its life as a 1910 V-nickel, but the 0 had been altered to look like a 3.

That's been a long time, but I swear, it was perfect. At least to the naked eye. Nowadays, of course, you'd use UV and other tools to check for surface disturbance, but back then it looked bloody perfect.

Apparently, this dealer was taking 1910 V-nickels to a friend of his in the local prison, who was then manipulating the "0" to resemble a "3". The prisoner was charging the dealer $10 each for this service.

Before leaving the flea market, the dealer said I could buy the coin for $20 if I wanted. (Down from $10,000... not bad!)

After several more trips to the flea market, I gained the dealer's trust, and he told me that his coin-altering friend was out of jail, and if I wanted to see how it was done, to come by his booth/tent thing on a certain day.

It was amazing. Using hand tools only (I only remember a vice, a plastic hammer, some files, and a few little chisels), he deftly turned that 0 into a 3 in a couple of hours. I don't think this effort was as good as the one I'd seen earlier, but I do remember him telling me that while in prison he would spend up to a week on each coin (mostly because of the lack of easy access to tools).

(As I write this, I don't know how to explain the fact that neither I nor my Dad ever made any effort to turn these guys in to the authorities. I can't speak for my dad, but personally, I was so overcome with curiosity that I don't think it ever occurred to me.)

Fast forward 15 years. I'm friends with Joe Nickell. He's the senior research fellow of CSICOP and author of lots of books about frauds and hoaxes and investigations. Look up Joe Nickell on Amazon.com. He's an amazing guy, and the closest thing there is to a real-life Sherlock Holmes.

When I tell Joe about this coin-altering incident, he's fascinated and demands that I try to set up another meeting with this ex-con forger guy. I finally find the dealer, this time at a flea market in Louisville. He doesn't remember me, but he definitely remembered his coin-altering friend.

The guy had been killed a few years earlier! Not sure about the details, but apparently he'd tried to con the wrong guy. The dealer said that his forger friend had figured out that it was much more lucrative to falsify lesser coins. Apparently you can make more money by faking a few key dates and mintmarks than trying to sell 1804 silver dollars, etc. at Kentucky flea markets!

I suppose that's the end of the story, but sometimes I wonder how many coins out there - the pride of many people's collections - were actually made by a guy with a file and lots of free time.

Wayne Yeager - CEO Sellathon, Inc.

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