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V18 2015 INDEX       E-SYLUM ARCHIVE

The E-Sylum: Volume 18, Number 16, April 19, 2015, Article 19

HENNING COUNTERFEIT NICKELS SOUGHT IN RIVER

Here's a story from today's Asbury Park Press about efforts to locate examples of the famous Henning counterfeit nickels in a New Jersey river. -Editor

Henning nickel Francis LeRoy Henning of Erial may not be a household name to most folks in New Jersey, but to treasure hunters and coin collectors, Henning's name is notorious for counterfeiting what coin enthusiasts call "The 1944 Henning Nickel."

In the early 1950s, Henning, a counterfeiter by trade, set out to fake Jefferson nickels from the World War II era (1942-45). Nickel alloy at that time was more important for the government to make armor plates for the war effort, so the official 5 cent piece was minted with a combination of copper, silver and manganese. An identifying mark of either "P" (Philly), "S" (San Francisco) or "D" (Denver) was printed on the tail side of the coin.

Henning claimed to cut the dies for his coins directly from real coins using a machine he invented, but this has been disputed by coin collectors. Henning forgot one important impression: the mint mark of the state of origin on the back of his coins. The coin also had another minting flaw; there was a small indentation in the "R" in the word "Pluribus." His coins were minted with monel metal, a mixture of copper, nickel and iron. (Monel metal is mostly copper, around 80 percent).

It has been estimated that Henning produced almost a half-million of these nickels in 1954, and nearly 100,000 of them went into circulation before the Camden County Coin Collectors Club noticed the missing mint mark and tipped of the Secret Service early in 1955, who traced the operation back to Henning's home in Erial.

Weird NJ met with treasure hunter Neil Schwartz at a secret location along the Cooper River in Cherry Hill. Neil has been doing research for the last few years as to where Francis LeRoy Henning dumped an estimated 200,000 or more counterfeit nickels in the river before he was caught by the feds in 1955.

Neil, who is the webmaster for WestJerseyDetecting.com is a "Dirt Fisher," a term used for treasure hunters and coin collectors. The site started out as an extension of his hobby and he would post photos of his treasure and coin finds for like-minded enthusiasts. Neil showed us the approximate location where he believes Henning dumped his coinage, and plans on recovering those that he can find.

I heard about Henning and the nickels in 2005 through various forums, and found out Henning lived just around the corner from here in Erial. He was a machine shop operator. I've viewed photos of the river that were taken in 1950, and with floods and erosion over the years, the river has changed a bit. I managed to track down two eyewitnesses who were kids at the time who showed me where the Secret Service was digging and dredging the river. They didn't know each other, but they basically both told me the same location. They said at the time the Secret Service was pulling up bucketfuls of nickels.

The schoolchildren from the local school were coming down and grabbing them. It got to the point where the Secret Service had to go to the school and tell the children about how counterfeiting is illegal and they would have to turn in whatever they found. The spot is close to a road, which makes sense because Henning was trying to dump a heavy load in a hurry.

To read the complete article, see:
Weird NJ: Treasure Hunting for Plug Nickels (www.app.com/story/news/local/new-jersey/weird-nj/2015/04/19/weird-nj-henning-nickels/26026741/)



Wayne Homren, Editor

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