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by Timothy D. Ziebarth, Ph.D.
ANA# 3130037


Story of the Bolivia 1942 50 Centavos Struck at the Philadelphia Mint on US Wartime Nickel Planchet

I am an advanced collector of Foreign Coins Minted at United States Mints. Of the approximately 950 issues (not counting varieties) for 41 countries that have been minted by US Mints in Philadelphia, San Francisco, Denver, New Orleans and West Point since 1875 as authorized by the Act of Congress January 29, 1874, I have managed to add to my collection all but 31, 11 of which are modern (post 1964) and 7 of which may not exist, leaving 13 yet to find. Most examples in the collection are high-grade, including several of the finest known.

In 2006, Heritage offered a number of fine and rare examples of these coins in their June 2 Whittier Collection of Latin American Coinage, Auction #410. Included in that auction was Lot# 16308 of 3 raw coins, whose description read:

Republic 50 Centavos 1942 - Three Varieties, KM182a.1, original strike in bronze, nice BU and original strike in silver, choice BU and the only reported example, and KM182a.2, restrike with less distinct strike, nice BU.

Having both bronze issues, the KM182a.1 “original” (meaning Philadelphia) and the KM182a.2 LaPaz minted restrike, in my collection was appealing especially because they appeared to be very high grade. The “original strike in silver, choice BU and the only reported example” was intriguing: Krause lists only one Pattern as “Pn57 1942 — 50 Centavos. Silver. Struck at LaPaz. KM#182a.1”, and I assumed this was perhaps that coin.

I won the Lot, and instructed Heritage to have these coins sent directly to NGC for certification, as many of the already certified coins in the auction were encapsulated with the “Whittier Collection” attribution on the slab label, and I wanted the same labeling on these coins.

When I received the coins from NGC, I was surprised to find that both bronze examples were in fact Philadelphia minted; both had plain edges. (The LaPaz restrike has a reeded edge.) I was even more surprised to see the “silver” example labeled “1942 4.9G Bolivia 50C Struck ON 20C PLANCHET MINT ERROR MS65”.

While I was delighted with the grade of MS65, I was somewhat disappointed that this coin was apparently a Copper-Nickel planchet error, and not the anticipated silver Pattern coin KM-Pn57.

Over the course of the next year, I looked at the coin a number of times and was continually struck by the color; it appeared much more brilliant and “silvery” than any C/N alloy coin I had ever seen. Referring to Greg Mirsky’s wonderful work on mint errors caused by having both Foreign and Domestic coins being made in the same US Mint at approximately the same time (see Mint Error News Magazine, Vol I, Issue II, page 16), and Krause World Coins 2006 Edition, it was apparent that something about NGC’s attribution of this coin was amiss. There was no “20C” (I assumed NGC meant “cent”, “cenavo”, “centesimo” or perhaps “centime”) or any other denomination produced for any Foreign Country within several years of 1942 that had a 4.9 gram C/N planchet.
I took the coin (now NGC slabbed) to the CSNS Show in St. Louis in May, 2007 and showed it to a number of error dealers, including Fred Weinberg. I asked each one two questions: 1. had they ever seen a coin like this one, and 2. did the coin appear to be Copper-Nickel alloy, or Silver. The responses to 1. were unanimously “NO”, and to the second question I received about a 50:50 split between C/N and Silver.

At the same show, I presented the coin to Mr. David Lange, Research Director, who was representing NGC at their booth. He agreed something may be amiss; the coin appeared clearly to be struck on an undersized planchet, and that the planchet did not appear to be Copper-Nickel. Mr. Lange suggested I contact NGC directly and have them re-look at the coin.

On the flight back to Denver, I was still mulling over the problem when that proverbial “light bulb” went on. I had looked extensively at what other Foreign planchets may have been floating around the Philadelphia mint in 1942 (and for years before that, as an old planchet may have been lost in the machinery for years), but I had NOT looked at what US coins may have been on-site at the time. A quick look at the Redbook told me all I needed to know: of course we were minting 5 cent coins containing the “War” alloy of 56% copper, 35% Silver and 9% Manganese. Precisely a 5 gram planchet with a “not C/N and not Silver” appearance! The Bolivia 1942 50 centavo coin was specified to be minted with a 5.5 gram, 24.3 mm diameter planchet whereas the US War nickel used a 5.0 gram planchet with a 21.1 mm diameter.

Working directly with Ken Krah, Vice-President of NGC, via Email, I was invited to send him the coin directly. I described the issue to him, and my suspicion that in fact the con was struck on a War Nickel planchet, and requested that NGC perform non-destructive analysis of the coin to perhaps solve the mystery. This they promptly did, with the Semi-Quantitative X-Ray analysis by Ledoux & Company of Teaneck, NJ coming back as:

Copper: 57.5%
Silver: 36.3%
Rhodium: 5.7%
Iron: 0.4%

Although the reported content of Rhodium and Iron might be disconcerting, being a Chemist and having managed an independent testing laboratory myself in the 1970’s, I knew that this type of analysis was a) truly semi-quantitative (a few % error was not unusual without a known equivalent alloy as a reference), and b) mis-assignment of minor elements is common due to overlapping emissions from major elements. The key results were, or course, that the alloy was principally Copper and Silver, and not Copper and Nickel, in the proper proportions for the US Wartime 5 cent issues. To put a final “nail in the coffin”, I may elect to ask Ledoux to re-inspect their X-Ray results to see if in fact the Rhodium/Iron identification could have been misconstrued from and actual Manganese component, or I may send them an actual US War Nickel to see if the same mis-assignment for these two minor compositional elements is made.

Nonetheless, NGC agreed with this overall conclusion, and re-encapsulated the coin with its proud new attribution as:


It stands as the only, and therefore finest known example, of error. This unique coin now hold a prominent place in my collection. I learned that tracking down a proper attribution for an error coin can be stimulating, fun and rewarding, that it takes dogged perseverance, but that sometimes even the experts need help from private collectors. It’s truly a grand experience, pleasure and privilege when even an avid collector can actually act and feel like a numismatist. Error collecting presents this opportunity at almost every turn!

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