Coin Urban Legends
by Stan Klein
Urban Legends are fictional stories that somehow become believed as fact by a segment of the population. Below are some fascinating stories that may or may not be true:
In 2001, soon after the release of the North Carolina quarter, it was reported that the coin was being recalled by the U.S. Mint because the word "IN" was left out of the legend "FIRST FLIGHT." The coin shows a nice representation of the Wright Bros airplane being launched from Kitty Hawk. The story mixes up the State's License plate legend "First In Flight" with the legend on the coin which is showing the first flight. Urban Legend? Of course.
When the Roosevelt Dime first was released in 1946, a story developed that the initials on Roosevelt's bust, J.S., was those of Soviet Premier, Josef Stalin. Communists at the Mint were responsible. The rumor was completely spurious, of course: the letters 'JS' stood for the initials of the coin's designer, John Sinnock. A similar rumor appeared when the John F. Kennedy half dollar appeared in 1964. The monogram of designer Gilroy Roberts, appears on the truncation of the profile, and looks to the rumor mongers as if it was a hammer and sickle. Again, the Communists had infiltrated the Mint and were subverting the Nation's coinage.
In 1947 a story appeared that the Ford Motor Company would give you a free car if you presented a dealership with a 1943 copper cent. Dealerships nationwide were besieged with potential winners who presented 1943 steel cents. This story was repeated in the 1950's, though with the addition of a 1922 Dime. (I'll give you a Toyota, or a visit by Chrome Land Security if you show up at my office with a 1922 Dime). I don't know who started this Urban Legend but I'm sure the Ford Company enjoyed the opportunity to sell Fords to obviously gullible people.
In 2000, a story appeared that under pressure from the organization "The Million Mothers March Against Guns", President Clinton recalled all examples of the Massachusetts State Quarter because of the coin's depiction of a Revolutionary War Minute Man holding a rifle. This symbol also appears on the State Seal of Massachusetts. Can we recall Massachusetts also? The best part of this story is the following postscript:
"We have also learned that Sen. Charles Schumer (D. N.Y.) suffered personal humiliation and was injured as a result of the release of the Massachusetts commemorative quarter. Sen. Schumer was recently elevated to the Senate from the House of Representatives chiefly because of his unyielding stance for reasonable gun control legislation. Sen. Schumer was drinking in an upscale Georgetown watering hole with Sen. Ted Kennedy (D. Mass.). According to police reports, Senator Kennedy was idly flipping a quarter, which just happened to be the newest release. The quarter landed unnoticed in Senator Schumer's glass. As Sen. Schumer lifted the glass to take a sip, he spied there in the bottom an image of a man with a gun. The Senator was so frightened by this he dropped the glass and dove under the table. Sen. Kennedy seeing this, and believing Sen. Schumer had a waitress down there, dove on top of him causing minor injuries. "
Can a U.S. Cent kill? This legend says that a penny dropped from the Empire State Building would strike a pedestrian and go right through his head killing him instantly. I don't know of any assassins or terrorists that have tried this method of mayhem but it sounds plausible. Imagine dropping the contents of your penny jar from the observation deck. How many lawyers could you eliminate? Fortunately, for the lawyers, the laws of physics disagree with this assessment, and the shape of the penny and the low velocity at impact, about 280 feet per second, would just be a reminder that the person at the observation deck hates you.
This last legend here is still a source of confusion to most people: "U.S. law specifies that a creditor does not have to accept more than 100 pennies towards the payment of a debt or obligation." Actually the lowly cent is legal tender for all Federal obligations; as it is written: Title 31, Subtitle IV, Chapter 51, Subchapter I, Section 5103 (Legal Tender) of the United States Code states: "United States coins and currency (including Federal Reserve notes and circulating notes of Federal Reserve banks and National banks) are legal tender for all debts, public charges, taxes, and dues. Foreign gold or silver coins are not legal tender for debts". I guess you can actually pay your taxes with cents, but the cost of the Moving Van……
There seems to be no end to Urban Legends. I think that people, numismatists included, should check their facts before they act. (Want to buy some rare North Carolina Quarters?).