Altered Coins, for Commercial Purposes

The first category of coin alterations are those meant for commercial purposes.  Most typically, these fall into two main areas: items made of precious metals that have had a portion of the coin material removed, or those much more unusual alterations meant to fool someone in a commercial transaction.

The first category includes "sweating", filing, clipping and shaving, all practices that remove a small portion of a coin's metal.  This reserved portion is kept by the alterer and eventually the material is melted down and sold to gain the commercial value therein.  This is a time honored practice, which probably started not long after coins were created in the most familar form we know today (a cast or struck metallic disk with a definite design).  Largely reserved for coins made of gold or silver, this is essentially obsolete today, but coins so modified still exist and a re a danger to the dealer and collector, in that obviously their true value is impaired.  This is most often seen in hand-struck coinage from the medieval period on through the 18th Century, although true "sweating" (dropping coins into a cloth bag and shaking them to war off a minescule amount of metal content onto the inside of the bag surface) was largely done in the time of ancient coinage.

This practice of filing/shaving became so much of a problem in Great Britain that a majority of all the gold Sovereigns in circulation were seriously underweight, and the Bank of England would only honor them at the bullion value, not the nominal face.  These practices are the reason that edge designs such as the reeded edge used today on most world coinage was developed.

The second category, commercial alterations, are fewer in number.  The most famous was the case of the gold plated 1883 No Cent Nickels, passed as $5 gold coins.  There is some doubt as to how wide a practice this actually was, but it did occur.  Another situation is the "coin on a string", where older coin operated machinery was fooled by a coin with an attached string was dropped into the feed slot to release the mechanism, then removed.  Neither of these types of alterations are much of a threat to collectors today, althought the "racketeer nickel" story continues to live on and is an occassional favorite of some advertisers and television marketers.