Ken Potter's Educational Series

5 Size "Libertas Americana"
Metallurgical Trial Piece Surfaces

by Ken Potter - NLG
All Photos by Ken Potter except where otherwise noted
Originally Published by Krause Publications
Updated and Revised July 31, 1998 to include new information

Ken Potter 1998

Obverse Of The 5c Size Libertas Americana Token

A possibly unique, 12-sided 5 size "Libertas Americana" metallurgical trial token has been discovered in a "junk box" by a Michigan collector. It was reported by Michigan dealer, Greg Mellon, who was given the piece by the finder, Joe Zaffern, for research. The discovery follows closely on the heels of the resurfacing a 1 size piece purchased by Jesse Patrick at the January 1995 FUN Convention in Orlando Florida, as revealed in stories in Numismatic News and Coin World in 1995. Both pieces exhibit a virtually identical obverse motif; a bust of Liberty with flowing hair, facing left. It was obviously patterned after Augustin Dupre's (1782) Libertas Americana medal, sans the Liberty cap and pole.

Both of the tokens share similar reverse designs with a wreath encircling nonsensical legends and the number: "2358".

Obverse & Reverse Of The 5c Size Libertas Americana Token

Information that was supplied in the Numismatic News and Coin World articles, (and in an ANA Numismatist article in 1980), indicated that the "Patrick Specimen" was a product of the unsuccessful, Philadelphia Mint/General Motors collaboration to produce a giant, "10-thousand coins a minute" "Roller Press", which did utilize at least one set of token die designs prepared by former U.S. Mint Chief Sculptor-Engraver Frank Gasparro (other sets of dies featuring a Lincoln Head have very recently been confirmed to have been produced within G.M.). The "Gasparro dies" feature a "Young Lady's Head" obverse that is paired with a reverse that is very similar to the reverses found on the "Libertas Americana" tokens. Since the reverses were similar, the connection of the "Libertas Americana" token to the "Roller Press" project, was natural.

GM Lady's Head Token Designed By Gasparro

However, more recent research has revealed that Gasparro, most probably borrowed the reverse design from earlier emissions that may have been produced by John Sinnock.

The first piece of evidence that debunks the G.M. Roller Press as being the source of the "Patrick specimen" is the fact that the newest 5 size variety was first revealed by Albert Kramer (where he presented it as a "mystery token" in need of attribution), in the May 1962 issue of Numismatic Scrapbook Magazine (NSM). Kramer's report precedes the beginnings of the G.M. Roller Press project by at least two years.

More recent evidence published in a 1995 Coin World article by Eric P. Larson, indicated that the Libertas Americana tokens could not have been struck by the Roller Press dies; sources inside of G.M. during the project, indicated that steel planchets (which both token varieties are comprised of), would have immediately shattered the dies because they were designed to strike bronze, a relatively soft alloy. I was also advised by an official that worked on the G.M. project that only bronze was fed into the roller press dies.

So at this point, Albert Kramer's question of, "What is it?", needs to be modified to, "What are they?"! Fortunately we now have some clues that may help to unravel the mystery of what these emissions truly represent and when and where they were produced.

But before presenting these clues, lets take a look at the physical specifications of the tokens and a few other interesting facts.

1c Size Libertas Americana Token
Photos courtesy of Jesse Patrick

The 1 size specimen is described by Patrick as having a plain smooth edge, being approximately the same diameter, thickness and weight of a U.S. zinc coated steel cent; the token being 2.8 grams in weight, 19 mm in diameter and struck in an apparently homogeneous and highly magnetic steel alloy with a specific gravity of 7.657. (For comparison, a 1943 "steel cent" weighs 2.7 grams and has a specific gravity of 7.80, is 19.05 mm in diameter and is composed of zinc plated steel.) It is struck in "coin alignment" (though its reverse is rotated approximately 200 clockwise). It should also be noted that the "Patrick Specimen" is the identical piece reported upon in David Schenkman and Joseph Levine's, Exonumia Notebook column in the May 1980 issue of the American Numismatic Association's, The Numismatist (pg. 1070). As such, the 1-size variety may be unique.

While the physical specifications of the 5-size "Kramer specimen" were not given in his NSM report, photographic evidence suggests that the "Mellon specimen" is probably the same variety. If it is the same piece, it may be unique. If not, then we can assume that at least two specimens existed in 1962. The current status of the "Kramer specimen" is unknown.

The "Mellon specimen" is 12-sided (though it does look somewhat round when viewed straight on), and is of the approximate size and specifications of a Canadian war-time "steel" 5 piece. The token, (being difficult to obtain an exact measurement of, due to variances on its edge), is approximately 20.775 mm in diameter (taken from top to bottom, i.e., 12:00 to 6:00), is struck on a probable cupro-nickel plated steel planchet with a specific gravity of 7.9. Its edges are rough and granular, and in some areas recessed, with the planchet being comprised of three bonded layers similar to our current "sandwich metal" clad coins. The planchet is highly magnetic, exhibits a shell that is extremely similar if not identical in color to our current clad coinage (and homogeneous cupro-nickel 5 piece), and shows a dark core with obvious traces of surface-rust that is indicative of steel. It is struck in "coin alignment" with its reverse rotated 200o counter-clockwise. Its obverse appears to exhibit more basined fields than the 1-size variety.

Canada 1945 5c and U.S. 1943-S 1c

The physical specifications of the 5-size variety are very similar to the Canadian, "Torch and V Design" war-time 5 issues produced in 1944 and 1945 in response to World War II, and the "Beaver Design" from 1951 through 1954 in response to the Korean War. These 12-sided pieces are 21.3 mm (opposite corners) and 20.0 mm (opposite sides) in diameter, an average of 4.470 grams in weight and are comprised of a steel core with a .0127 mm plating of nickel and .0003 mm plating of chromium.

With the technical specifications out of the way, we must now consider when, where and why these tokens may have been made.

The fact is, we have no positive proof of exactly what they represent or who made them. However, we can almost assume with certainty that the dies were produced by the U.S. Philadelphia Mint. Clearly, Gasparro would not have patterned his G.M. "Roller Press -Young Lady's Head" reverse die design, complete with nonsensical legends and the exact four-digit number found on the "Libertas Americana" tokens, if they had no connection to the U.S. Mint. It is probable that Gasparro patterned his die from designs available in-house. Of course, one may ask, if Gasparro copied the reverse, why didn't he also copy the obverse of the "Libertas Americana" token for his G.M. dies. But it must be pointed out that the "Young Lady's Head" design used by G.M. was created to closely mimic the metal flow of a Lincoln cent design; the bust occupied the same general location, her hair in a "bun" represented Lincoln's beard and nonsensical legends took the place of the date, Mintmark, Liberty and In God We Trust.

In regards to the obverse of the Libertas Americana pieces, Andrew W. Pollock III, author of United States Patterns and Related Issues, points out that it is virtually identical to the motif used on John Sinnock's, U.S. Assay Commission medal of 1945, except that the Assay Commission medal exhibits a Liberty cap and pole and the relief is higher and in greater detail as would be expected on a medal. Pollock noted that either the tokens or the Assay Commission medal could have come first but that it is very possible that one was patterned after the other.

In attempting to fit these tokens into a time-frame, it is impossible to overlook the fact that their similarities to alternative compositions and other specifications, adopted by the U.S. and Canada, strongly suggest that they may be metallurgical trial strikings produced by the U.S. Mint (or outside facilities), to find substitute materials for the 1c and 5c coin. That neither of the adopted war-time compositions for these denominations proved to be ideal, points to the fact that experimentation may have continued but was quickly abandoned when the final phase of the war came to an end in 1945.

The similarity between the 5-size token and the 12-sided Canadian war-time 5 piece suggests that the concept may have been borrowed from Canada anytime during the later part of World War II or the Korean War.

There is no evidence that the U.S. Mint ever considered or experimented with any changes in the composition of the 1 or 5 pieces, as a response to the Korean War, but the possibility should not be overlooked. Since Canada did make the change back to its WW-II steel 5 composition, the U.S. may have also at least considered some changes long enough to have produced a few trials.

1942 U.S. Liberty Head Test Strike Zinc Coated Steel
Photos courtesy of Bowers & Merena

Lending some credibility to this possibility is the fact that the 1 size token is struck with dies differing from the well known experimental "Liberty Head" type dies of 1942. Those dies were released to nine private firms and were used inside of the U.S. Mint. The design included a modified Colombian 2-centavos obverse with Liberty facing right and altered legends, paired with a reverse design selected from a Washington medalet designed by Anthony C. Paquet in 1861, again with altered legends. The "Liberty Head" dies became an embarrassment to the Mint when the October 1946 issue of The Numismatic Review published a photograph of such a piece. The Mint was lambasted "for not only using part of the official Colombian design, but also for having in circulation pieces bearing what appears to be an official issue of a 'United States Mint'". This led Mint Director Nellie Taylor Ross to draft new regulations in 1947 stating "no official coinage dies, domestic or foreign" were to be used for striking trial pieces except under rigid security, that "no special coinage die bearing the inscription, insignia or device, in hole or part, of the United States or foreign government, bearing a resemblance thereto, is to be used for striking experimental or trial pieces".

Since the "Liberty Head" dies did not become an embarrassment to the Mint until 1946 it would seem logical that the design would have continued in use for any further trials beyond 1942 up through 1945. If experimentation was conducted with alternative metals during the Korean War, new dies with designs conforming to the regulations issued in 1947 would have been required and the Libertas Americana dies would have fulfilled that requirement.

While this article hasn’t presented any conclusive evidence as to the exact nature of the tokens or era in which they were produced - there is enough evidence to presume the dies were produced inside the U.S. Mint for experimental purposes and that the two token varieties known thus far represent probable metallurgical trial strikes.

The door is open for other viewpoints or new information that may be forthcoming.

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