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Ever Seen A "Soviet Dime"?

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 Posted 06/17/2012  9:08 pm Show Profile   Bookmark this topic Add MercuryDime to your friends list Get a Link to this Message

*** Moved by Staff to a more appropriate forum. ***

Within the Mercury dime series, two pieces stand out as perhaps the most interesting counterfeits to have surfaced. These are the so-called "Soviet" counterfeits dated 1923-D and 1930-D, two date/mint combinations never coined by the United States Mint. Therein lies their mystery and charm.

Like many coin collectors growing up during the 1960s, the author scanned each day's pocket change carefully for Mercury dimes needed to fill his Whitman folder. In between discoveries, much time was spent in going through the Red Book,1 memorizing mintage figures and daydreaming of the wonderful early date dimes which never seemed to materialize. Among the more puzzling entries was a footnote informing the reader that dimes dated 1923-D and 1930-D were counterfeit. No further information was given, and one was left wondering when and where such coins had been found. As with most dates before 1940, these too eluded the author in his search for Mercury dimes.

The story of these mystery coins actually begins during the 1930s, but this account will start with the first knowledge of them by American collectors. A small notice was published in The Numismatist in June of 1940, the earliest reference to these strange coins: "D. F. Townsend, of Fort Dodge, Iowa, reports that a friend of his has a 1930-D dime in his collection in very fine condition. The mint reports show no coinage for the dimes at the Denver Mint in 1930. Can any readers give some information on this issue?" Obviously no one could, as nothing further appeared in the literature at that time, and the matter was quickly forgotten for the next few years.

A 1949 letter to Editor Lee F. Hewitt of The Numismatic Scrapbook Magazine began with a reference to a previously published letter in which another reader reported finding a 1933-D dime, a piece which no doubt was altered from 1938-D or some such thing. (Collectors of that time possessed little knowledge of how coins were made, and people were always reporting fanciful items of no real merit). What makes this follow-up letter interesting is that it contains the first published reference to a coin which would become the source of more than a little controversy over the next fifteen years:

...I have a 1923-D dime and it certainly appears to be genuine. I had it to a couple dealers and they weighed it and said if it is counterfeit it is a wonderful job.

I wrote to the Denver Mint and asked them if there were possibly some minted for that year and they said that none had been minted. However the date and the D seem so perfect that I wonder.

I found it while going through some coins about two years ago. After seeing that item in your magazine I thot [sic] this little bit of information might interest you.

E. B. Hurley, Phoenix, Ariz.2

Like many items published in Hewitt's monthly journal, this letter was printed without comment or investigation and was soon forgotten by most readers. It was not until two years later that a second dime of similar character was reported by A. H. Leatherman of Doylestown, Pennsylvania:

A local Mercury dime collector complained to me that the dime board she had did not provide spaces for all the dimes. I told her if she had a dime for which no space was provided I wanted to see the dime, -- not the board. Sure enough, she did have such a dime. It was a 1930 Denver Mint, out of circulation, of course. The Mint record says none were coined and I never saw any before. I gave it a searching examination and can find nothing wrong with it except the motto on the obverse is distinctly double struck. I showed it to several of my dealer friends in New York and Phila. and they are equally mystified by such a monstrosity. I am convinced it must be a phony of some kind but none of us can detect what is wrong with it. I wonder, has anyone else seen anything like that at any time? 3

The answer to Mr. Leatherman's inquiry was, of course, yes. It had been just two years since the reporting of an almost perfect 1923-D dime and eleven years since the first announcement of a 1930-D. Evidently, no connection was made at the time. These two accounts are eerily similar in that both persons suspected their dimes were counterfeit, while the local experts were unable to decide just what was wrong with the coins.

Amid the oftseen and quickly forgotten reports of unusual and hitherto unknown coins, claims which were so common to the hobby at that time, the dimes dated 1923-D and 1930-D stood out. In fact, these became the imaginary coins which would not go away. Rumors of their existence continued throughout the 1950s, as specimens turned up in limited numbers nationwide. As of 1959, some 47 examples of the 1923- D dime had been counted.4 All seemed to be quite worn; in fact, nearly all specimens were identically worn. In most instances the degree of wear was also not consistent with other dimes of similar vintage then still in circulation.

By 1963 the subject of these mystery coins could no longer be avoided in print. Responding to an inquiry from a collector in Florida who owned a 1923-D dime, the weekly newspaper Coin World launched an investigation which sought to settle the matter once and for all. As with other owners of 1923-D and 1930-D dimes, the individual who provided his specimen for examination reported that the dealers to whom he'd shown it could not reach a consensus, being about equally divided as to whether it was genuine or counterfeit. Using this example as a test case, Coin World enlisted the services of several recognized authorities in United States coins. The first to render an opinion was Q. David Bowers, well known today as a prominent dealer and the author of countless books and articles on USA coins. In 1963 he was in partnership with James F. Ruddy as Empire Coin Company. His observations were published as follows:

This coin is one of the most famous American counterfeits, a coin which appears several times a year in various places to plague collectors, and usually disappoints its owner after he spends time and effort only to learn that it is a counterfeit.

This piece is not a cast or an electrotype, but is struck from dies. The lettering is thinner and not as well formed as on the originals.

This coin falls into the interesting category of counterfeits in which the counterfeiters were not numismatists, and created coins which had no official counterparts ...5

Two of the most prominent figures in the study of United States coins at that time were Don Taxay and Walter Breen. At the time of the Coin World study, they staffed the Institute of Numismatic Authenticators, a now forgotten commercial venture which was the pioneer in this field. Under the banner of the INA, Breen and Taxay prepared the following joint determination:

The 1923-D dime is nothing more or less than a struck counterfeit, made from skillfully hand-cut dies at some unknown time and place, but thought to have been possibly of Soviet Russia origin like numerous other modern silver struck counterfeits.

The variations found in the 1923-D dime which enable it to be positively identified as not from dies produced from Philadelphia Mint hubs follow...6

The two experts went on to detail the characteristics of a genuine Mercury dime and specified how the corresponding features of the counterfeit 1923-D differed. They then amplified their comments:

After 1916, dime dies were fully hubbed, any differences (other than placement and possible size of Mint marks) being microscopic or nearly so, and originating in clashing, minor shifting, or (as in the case of the overdate) unintentional use of two different hubs on the same working die.

Differences in letter placement or shape can be excluded by knowledge of the minting processes then in use, and their presence on a suspected coin is confirmatory of its non-Mint origin.

When this situation is combined with the presence on the coin of a date-mint mark combination not known to exist on genuine dimes, as in 1923-D and 1930-D, evidence of non- Mint (counterfeit) origin, already conclusive, becomes blatant.

In their summation, Breen and Taxay addressed the background of these counterfeits:

The 1923-D dimes have only been reported since World War II, and all are similarly worn... an extremely suspicious circumstance even for coins reported from circulation, as they have more than the normal amount of wear for dimes of the 1920's. [Author's comments: In fact, they were less worn than most genuine dimes of those years. They were also known as early as 1940, but this fact had been forgotten by 1963.]

In conclusion, the combination of excellent die work and an egregious blunder (of a non-existent date-mint mark combination) points to a foreign origin, very likely the Soviet Union, which has a known record of counterfeiting U. S. silver coins during World War II.

This last remark lies at the heart of what makes these counterfeit dimes so interesting and collectable. The mystery which began for American coin collectors during the late 1940s actually originated in the Stalinist Russia of the 1930s. Although rumors of a Soviet connection had passed in some circles, the collecting fraternity was not apprised of this fact until 1957.

At that time New Netherlands Coin Company in New York City was one of the prestige firms of the hobby, and its house organ Numisma was eagerly awaited by advanced collectors seeking knowledge of United States coins. John J Ford, Jr. was the editor of Numisma, and it was he who penned the following account. His wartime service in the army saw him posted to the American headquarters for the European Theater of Operations, a position in which he would have been privy to the gossip concerning Russian/American relations. His remarks reveal much of the curious history behind the dimes dated 1923-D and 1930-D:

To the best of our knowledge, these are counterfeits made of good silver and struck from excellent false dies -- evidencing better technical facilities than those available to American crime rings. They were made, along with many wornappearing (dateless) Liberty Standing quarters, prior to and during World War II -- and probably to the present day -- in the Soviet Union. Evidence of this practice turned up during the war, but nothing was done because of the probability of antagonizing our "gallant Soviet ally!" The Soviet technical experts evidentially perfected some process of transferring genuine designs from coins to plaster and from plaster to steel dies, the latter presumably by some machine similar to the Contamin portrait-lathe used in Philadelphia and Tower Hill (English) mints for over a century. They also have good silver, heavy presses and collars -- equipment available to no American counterfeiter. The purpose has nothing to do with numismatics. So far as we know these coins were intended (like those made by the Chinese and Italian imitators of American gold coins) to pass as a circulating medium. Silver, or gold, in the form of coins seemingly backed by a stable government, can be spent at a far better rate (i.e. has a higher purchasing power) than its bullion price as ingots. The Soviet imitations have evidently succeeded, as to date all specimens seen are considerably worn. The differences between them and the genuine are microscopic. It is highly likely that other dates have been manufactured and passed unnoticed. Fortunately for us, the quantities passed in this country have apparently been too small to disturb the economy.7

To the opinions of the above-quoted authorities, the author has only a few comments to add. The first of these is that much of the wear evident in these counterfeit dimes seems to have originated with the host coins from which the transfer dies were evidently made. In other words, two different coins (hence the mismatched date/mintmark combination), both moderately worn, were employed in the generating of counterfeit dies. The author does not agree with Breen and Taxay that the dies were hand cut. The similarity of these coins to genuine pieces is simply too great to allow for this possibility.

The weight of the 1923-D dime illustrated is 2.41 grams, less than a tenth of a gram under normal. This observation, when combined with the fact that the dime was obviously coined of fine silver, establishes that it was not the work of conventional counterfeiters. The net profit would simply have been too small for a circulating counterfeit, and there was little chance of establishing this coin as a numismatic rarity. There remains no reason to doubt that the Soviet connection was a valid one, and this makes for a very interesting and collectable tie-in for a set of Mercury dimes.

Dimes dated 1930-D are far more scarce than examples of 1923-D, and a specimen could not be located for inclusion in this book. It's assumed that its characteristics are similar to those of the more abundant 1923-D. Curiously, more than 40 years after they were widely publicized in Coin World, these infamous counterfeits are largely unknown to the current generation of hobbyists. They still appear in the Red Book as a footnote, but specimens of either date are now rarely seen in the marketplace or in the numismatic press. It's likely that their fame fell victim to the passing of Mercury dimes from circulation.

Really a fascinating story, especially that they were struck in fine silver. I wonder if they were .900? Anyone have any stories on them or have one?
Valued Member
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 Posted 06/17/2012  9:12 pm  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add MercuryDime to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
Woops, seems to be the wrong section, I'm sorry, could an admin please move it?
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 Posted 06/17/2012  9:43 pm  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add SteveCaruso to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
I don't have one in my collection, but I certainly want one. :-)
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 Posted 06/17/2012  11:28 pm  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add macmercury to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
I think the chances of finding a 1942/41 (D or P) is better than finding a Soviet Mercury dime.

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 Posted 06/18/2012  12:27 am  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add CaptainFwiffo to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
I definitely want one. It seems likely there are other (non-fictitious) dates, and they could be out there waiting. To me, the dime pictured is not convincing (many problems, the most obvious of which is the height of the rims given the apparent level of wear of the central devices), so I'd like to see other examples. But how many people are looking out for counterfeit Mercury dimes in that condition (other than key dates)? They could be sitting around in bags of random 90% silver...
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 Posted 06/18/2012  03:57 am  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add Peter THOMAS to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
thankyou for an informative article.
I'm still in the dark as to the purpose of the counterfeiters:
profit ? destabilization ? something else ?
No matter which way you cut it, making dimes, near specification, out of silver, doesn't make much sense.
Better to put their effort into reasonably high-value notes, like the Germans did with British five-pound notes in Operation BERNHARD.
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 Posted 06/18/2012  11:08 am  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add wquinn to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
Pretty interesting story. I've never heard of them before. Thanks for sharing.
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 Posted 06/18/2012  11:17 am  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add pls to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
Fabulous story; thanks for posting it. And like Peter Thomas, I'm in the dark, too, as to why anyone would bother to counterfeit dimes using silver.
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 Posted 06/18/2012  3:13 pm  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add MercuryDime to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
@Peter THOMAS, it would have to be someone with supplies of fine silver, hence the Soviet government, so the goal was likely profit and destabilization. The dimes could be sold to spies [or spread by visiting Soviet dignitaries] at 10 cents each when they would have only had a cost of a few cents to produce. Other than a penny, which wouldn't be worth the bother to counterfeit even then, the dime would require the least metal and the least scrutiny of the design [since it's so small anyway], so would be easy to pass. The chime of the dime would confirm to a merchant that the coin is fine silver, so any shortcomings in design would be ignored.
Edited by MercuryDime
06/18/2012 3:15 pm
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 Posted 06/18/2012  4:47 pm  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add SteveCaruso to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
At that point in history a dime was just about worth a modern dollar in relative buying power. If you merely doubled your money, it was more than worth it.
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 Posted 06/18/2012  7:27 pm  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add MercuryDime to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
Excellent point, as the USD lost over 98 percent of its value between 1913 and 2012
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 Posted 06/18/2012  8:26 pm  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add coppernickeldaddy to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
I've never heard of these; a fascinating story! Something new to be on the lookout for.
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 Posted 06/18/2012  8:56 pm  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add just carl to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
OH, GREAT. Just what we need. Now as soon as Whitman hears about this, they'll add a slot in their Albums for those too. They already have slots in my Albums for all the famous Doubled Die Lincolns, so here is just one more thing for them to add to my Albums.
just carl
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 Posted 06/19/2012  12:37 am  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add donkrx to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
I have one.........

Just kidding lol. But I did go check just to be sure... that would be an awesome find.
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 Posted 06/19/2012  11:30 am  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add Conder101 to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
I've seen the 30-D's before on ebay. Haven't noticed the 23-D but I haven't looked for then. I would say from what has been published here that they haven't made their case that these are of Soviet origin. Their only "evidence" is that they first appeared during WWII.

I'm in the dark, too, as to why anyone would bother to counterfeit dimes using silver.

Simple so they would pass easier. During the late 30's silver got down to 25 cents an oz. So even if you made them full weight and fineness for two and a half dimes you can buy an oz of silver and make thirteen and a half dimes. Sure you could make more by shorting the weight or fineness, but you are also increasing the likelihood of detection and getting caught.
Gary Schmidt
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