Long Beard's Blog

04 Dec 2020

The Erial Mint

Coins-United States | Long Beard

The mint in Erial, New Jersey (1939-54) is one of the least known and most mysterious for the striking of U.S. coins. The simple yet small nondescript structure located a short fifteen miles southeast of Camden housed a single large press. On nearby shelves were multiple sets of die pairs engraved to strike the nickel, dime, quarter and half dollar denominations. With difficulties arising in the striking of dimes, quarters and half dollars, perhaps a few dozen or so of each as trial pieces, this small mint still managed to churn out nearly half a million Jefferson nickels in it's short fifteen years of operation. Enjoy!

The Erial Mint ceased production in December of 1954, not for the relative lower production totals comparative to the branch mints, rather that it was created for the striking of counterfeit coinage. So who was the individual that struck such quality copies which entered circulation without detection? More importantly, why the nickel? When looking at the cost of material required to produce these the profit per coin becomes minuscule. In finding an answer to the latter question requires an examination of the time period during which they were struck. Prior to the 1960's a five cent nickel had great buying power. Everyday items could be purchased for not more than three or four. A loaf of bread cost 12 cents, a pound of hamburg 25 and a Coke for only a nickel. Even the all important gasoline which the growing automobile sales provided had not reached 25 cents when the government seized control of the operation. With so many nickels being needed for commerce having them go undetected is relatively clear. To further explain this, imagine in today's world if someone decided to print one or five dollar notes? Who really looks closely at those as compared with the twenty or higher? Not that I condone or am suggesting anyone try something foolish mind you. The fact of the matter is that these were not struck for profit unlike the countless others found in the market place.

In 1936, Francis Leroy Henning had been arrested in Boston, Massachusetts for the counterfeiting of five dollar federal notes. Apparently only serving a short prison sentence, he once again resumed where he left off, although in another state and turning to coinage instead. Largely because that paper hand got him caught the first time yet equally due to the afore mentioned ease. Over time nickels struck bearing the dates 1939, 1944, 1946, 1947 and 1953 were struck in great numbers and entered circulation alongside the genuine with no one the wiser. Although there are no known dates in between those years, along with the capability to produce the other three denominations, there still exists the chance that they were. Which only adds to an ever deepening mystery and speculation. On that subject, a supposed reasoning for the date changes derives from an occasion that he exchange some of his copies for cash at a nearby bank. Upon seeing the coins bearing the same date in such quantity the teller commented to him of the oddity. Whether true or not, another explanation may have arisen from an error made on his part in 1944. Beginning in 1942, with the effort in place to conserve much needed material for the war effort, the composition of the nickel had been changed to 75% copper and 25% silver. With the intent to reclaim these silver nickels following the wars end a large mint mark had been placed above Monticello on the reverse. The first time a nickel had received a mint mark. Despite the error or knowledge, thousands of these continued to be struck and put into circulation. With 1939 and 1944 dated coins being well into the hundreds of thousands, Henning surely must have sensed the feeling of being caught as the date changed in 1946 and again in 1947. If anything he was most certainly aware of the error made to the 1944 dated copies, arriving at the conclusion from a coin club of all places.

With literally thousands of 1944 no mint mark nickels being found in the New Jersey area, collectors from the Camden Coin Club quickly noticed these "rare" varieties and turned to the United States Mint for information. In the early part of December 1954, another collector from Merchantville, New Jersey sent three Jefferson nickels to the Philadelphia Mint for examination. One of each date, 1944, 1946 and 1947. In an accompanying letter he explained the lack of detail, odd color and the all import missing mint mark of the 1944. The mint in turn sent the questionable coins to the Mint Director in Washington, D.C. for confirmation and further examination. By then, bogus Jefferson nickels of varying dates had been arriving by the hundreds and with increasing frequency. With the Secret Service already notified, further analysis proved correct that someone was counterfeiting Jefferson nickels. With a determined composition of 80% copper and 20% nickel with trace amounts of iron, these copies became extremely nerving to not only those in the mint but those within the Treasury as well. A genuine Jefferson nickel is composed of 75% copper and 25% Nickel. Add the fact that based on weight, an average 5.4 grams and more precise 2.1 grams respectively, it was obviously clear how serious the matter had become. Having thousands already in their possession, how many were yet to be discovered? And for how long?

By now Henning had known his days were numbered with word of his bogus 1944 nickels reaching local and nearby newspapers. Information which they obtained from the coin club. Reaffirming his suspicions came with the knocking at his door on December 22, 1954. Although the FBI had routinely checked in on him over the years, the timing of which found him answering the agents questions left no doubt of finally being caught. Again. Explaining to the agent that he was a machinist working on a boiler, the agent writing it down before leaving.

What neither man had known at the moment, by coincidence and mere minutes away, vending machines had been spitting out blank planchets as change when ever a soda was purchased and the Secret Service had been there investigating. In some way there was a connection with Henning, although the name was unknown, arriving at the Child's Plastic Moulded Products Company. Or so the sign out front said. Inside, scattered about on the floor, in various boxes and containers were thousands of nickels along with several other denominations discovered. But no counterfeiter. It became obvious that a fugitive was now on the run. In a hurry to get as far away as possible and quickly, some 200,000 plus dies were dumped near a bridge into nearby Cooper Creek. A similar number would be later dumped into the Shuykill River in Pennsylvania. In the end his flight from justice lasted less than a year, arrested in Cleveland, Ohio on October 27, 1955. But not before spending an additional 100,000 or so nickels.

Henning Nickels are highly collectible and sell routinely well above genuine issues of the same date. Even those in mint state grade. None of which exist in the Henning's as the dies he used were copied from existing genuine nickels using a similar transfer method as that done by the U.S. Mint for it's dies. Of note, only ICG has thus far been found to have certified a Hennings Nickel. Or so they are the only I could find. Most likely for the counterfeit reason and the Collectible Coin Protection Act of 2013. Personally, while I consider counterfeits destructive to the hobby and as such shut down, without sounding contradictory I don't label these as counterfeit in the same sense. Francis Leroy Henning did not create his copies to deceive the collector nor for profit. Unlike so many out there, particularly China.

Let the search begin!

The provided images were sourced from error-ref.com



Level 5

thanks for the blog! I already knew about the counterfeit nickels, but not the story.


Level 6

Really interesting! Thanks for a great blog! ; )


Level 6

Fantastic story.


Level 5

This is one of the few things that I search for in change. It is a fascinating story. There are several identifiers on these.


Level 6

Very interesting, I have never heard of these. That is why I love this site, always learning something new. Thanks for your fascinating blog.


Level 5

Thanks for teaching this old dog something new. Very enjoyable.


Level 6

A good story worth repeating so newcomers can enjoy the history of this action.

You had me at first, a new mint that the US used that I wasn't aware of? I had heard the story of the mintmark-less 1944 nickels, but not this complete story. Thank you!


Level 5

I just realized... they discussed this same topic in this month's issue if the Numismatist! I read their version of his article a few hours ago. I found it very interesting, thanks for the additional information! Which Camden did he make the counterfeits at?


Level 5

Never heard of this mint.... Thanks for sharing! Cheers, NM

I. R. Bama

Level 5

@ Numismaster....It wasn't an official mint, it was a counterfeiter's mint

I. R. Bama

Level 5

ICG.... They're a caution!


Level 5

Quite the story. Could you imagine making nickels for that many years? Thanks the posting. This is a great story.


Level 7

I have never heard of this mint. It was long before my time. I guess some of the counterfeits it made is still in circulation. They always get caught. Today civil war tokens come from middle Europe.. The ASE. Come from China. NGC has been noted for grading Morgan s and putting them in slabs. History repeats it self. If someone can think they can beat the system it's a little harder. More people are taking classes and looking out for these. Thank you for bringing this up. I learned something today.

I. R. Bama

Level 5

This is the best and most interesting account of Mr. Hennings' story that I have ever read. I had always thought he only done Nickels.... Great job on this one!

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