I can't begin to count the number of times a non-collector has asked me about a "rare" two-headed (or two-tailed) coin they (or Uncle Tom or Aunt Sue) found in circulation.
Unfortunately, their visions of thousand dollar bills or trips to Hawaii are quickly shattered by the bad news I'm forced to deliver. Their "one-of-a-kind" find is actually an alteration made from two coins with the final product known as a "magician's coin." They can be purchased as a novelty item in "magic shops" or from ads in places like comic books for about $4-$6 depending on the denomination involved.
Usually the owners protest, suggesting that their coin is "different" - they studied the edge closely and there is no seam to suggest that two coins had their reverses (or obverses) filed down and glued together.
However, "magicians coins" are not made that way, and unless one knows what to look for, are very difficult to detect. The place to look is not on the edge, but on the inside of the design rim on either side of the coin. This is because one side is comprised of a lathed out or hollowed out coin shell and the other side is made from a coin lathed around its circumference and reduced in thickness to fit snugly inside the shell. The resulting coin is virtually undetectable to the average observer, most of whom ignore the peculiar thud (rather than the familiar ring) the coin emits when dropped on a hard surface.
Today, I was directed to one of these alterations made from two half dollars, that at the point of this writing, has seen 23 bidders and has been bid up in excess of $50 in an online auction. Nowhere does the seller advise bidders that the coin is an alteration and I have to assume that most, if not all bidders, believe it to be a genuine Minting error.
For the record, the Mint grinds "flats" of different sizes into the head of the shanks of dies that prevents the obverse and reverse dies to be set interchangeably - thus two obverses or reverses can not be paired together as a unit to strike coins.
If there was ever a doubt as to the origin or how the "magicians coins" are made I quote information that was sent to me in December of 1991 by one of the distributors of two- headed coins, BR Numismatics of Flushing Michigan.
Company spokesman, Bradley C. Regan describes his productions as follows, "My Lucky Quarter Novelty Tokens are each handmade and fitted together, each one is machined out of two individual new quarters. The first half is hollowed out to a thickness of .031" and an inside diameter of .875." The second half has the outside diameter machined to .874" and is then machined to a thickness of .031." Each half is then deburred with a hone and bonded together with a drop of instant metal adhesive. I then put the Lucky Quarters in special packaging for resale.
"These Lucky Quarter Novelty Tokens are not a US Mint made product, needless to say, and are not sold as such. According to the US Treasury Department of Secret Service, these Lucky Quarters are legal to sell as long as it is done without fraudulent intent or if the coins are not used fraudulently."
For more information on either of the clubs, or on how to get a variety listed in the Variety Coin Register, send a self-addressed stamped long envelope to Ken Potter, P.O. Box 760232, Lathrup Village, MI 48076-0232. He may be contacted via e-mail at: [email protected]. An Educational Image Gallery may be accessed on his website at: http://www.uscents.com/potter/
Ken Potter is the official attributor and lister of world doubled dies for the Combined Organizations of Numismatic Error Collectors of America and for the National Collector's Association of Die Doubling. He privately lists U.S. doubled dies and other collectable variety types on both U.S. and world coins in the Variety Coin Register.