Collecting Encased Coins

An Encased Cents or Encased Coin is a coin, most often a cent, that has been forcibly inserted into a prepared hole machined into a ring or encasement of metal that has then been stamped with an advertising or souvenir message. Encased coins fall into a category of altered coins that some collectors avidly collect (others being elongated coins, love tokens, hobo nickels).

Encased coins are often nicknamed “lucky pennies,” since many of the cents are inserted into encasements that bear messages and Western symbols of luck. The legend I BRING GOOD LUCK is frequently encountered on encased coins, as are such traditional good luck symbols as the horseshoe and four-leaf clover.

Encased coins have been in existence for a little longer than a century, arising about the time the 19th century “turned” into the 20th century. They are probably not quite as old as elongated coins, which arose in the 1890s.

Bryan G. Ryker, who wrote a 1995 book about a prominent issuer of elongated cents after the end of World War II, notes that encased coins arose “after the invention of aluminum.”

Aluminum was the perfect metal for encasing coins since it was inexpensive, strong and could be formed easily in a coining press,” Ryker writes in Frederick Earl Fankhauser: “The Penny Man,” His Life and Work With Encased Coins. Fankhauser sold encased coins for 18 years, beginning in 1948.

Encased coins spread as an inexpensive form of advertising in the early years of the 20th century, just as merchant store cards were popular with businesses in the 19th century. Encased coins also served (and continue to serve) as souvenirs of events, places and social organizations, including coin clubs.

World War II temporarily ended the production of encased coins, Ryker writes, as private minters supported conservation of metal for the war effort. Production and marketing of encased coins resumed after the end of the war.

Encased coins were sold to businesses in a way that would be considered unusual in today’s Internet merchant age, but was common in an era of the Fuller Brush man and other door-to-door salesmen. Ryker writes that traveling salesmen sold encased coins advertised in catalogs of “various advertising novelties.” According to Ryker, the manufacturers of encased coins bought space in the advertising novelty catalogs. Business owners ordered the encased coins from the traveling salesmen, who then “ordered the custom-made pieces directly from the manufacturer.”

Many of the encased coins sold to merchants were touted as the souvenir no one would throw away (it is money, after all). Many encased coins bear such legends as KEEP ME AND NEVER GO BROKE.

Businesses could choose from an assortment of stock dies carried by the manufacturers or order custom pieces, including pieces bearing advertising and promotional information. Two of the pieces illustrating this article were issued by a Buick auto dealership and a promoter of gaming tokens; both bear custom legends.

Undoubtedly, custom encased coins cost more than those produced using stock dies. It is not unusual to find pieces that bear a custom message on one side of the encasement and a stock message on the other; such pieces would be cheaper than those with custom messages on both sides.

While most traveling salesmen sold a range of advertising novelties, Fankhauser specialized in encased coins exclusively. During his 18 years as a salesman of the pieces, he would sell more than 670 different encased coins, becoming the most prolific U.S. seller, according to Ryker.

Encased coins fell out of favor as advertising pieces in the 1960s, Ryker writes. Other inexpensive advertising novelties arose, including the Bic pen, he notes.

Still, private minters produce encased coins for businesses and social organizations in the 21st century. Coin World receives a number of new encased coins each year from coin clubs, dealers and others using them for promotional and souvenir purposes.

During Fankhauser’s time, the insertion of the coin into its encasement and the stamping of the legends and design elements on the case occurred at the same time, in a manual process. According to Ryker, “Each encased coin had to be made by hand, one at a time.”

A coining press bore obverse and reverse dies, as well as a collar. The dies formed the designs on the encasement, while the collar restrained the metal of the encasement during striking. The dies and collars served the same functions as the same parts on a standard coining presses.

For the simplest form (a round ring), a blank ring of aluminum with a central hole was dropped onto the anvil (lower) die and a coin positioned within the hole, which was slightly larger in diameter than the coin. The press operator aligned the coin manually, striving to keep the coin from being out of rotation with the designs of the ring. With both elements in place, the press would be cycled.

As they struck the encasement-coin combination, the dies formed the design elements on the encasement. At the same time, the metal of the encasement flowed outward until it came up against the collar. The metal surrounding the hole flowed inward, against the coin, locking the two pieces together.

The act of striking an encased coin distorts the original coin. The edge of the coin becomes concave. On most pieces, design elements of the coin may become weakened, flattened or otherwise distorted. All of the coins within the encasements used to illustrate this article show distortion or damage from being forced into the encasement.

Worse damage can occur when the coin is not perfectly seated within the hole, or the alignment between dies, coin and encasement is not perfect. With these examples, the dies can strike the coin, which they are designed not to do when operating properly. On some such pieces, design elements intended for the encasement are struck into the coin, further damaging and distorting the coin. That happened on the reverse of a 1913 Lincoln cent illustrated with this article.

Sometimes, coins that were part of an encasement become separated from their encasement and are spent as money. Some people encountering these pieces notice that they look different and, if they are not familiar with the distortion resulting from the production of an encased coin, wonder whether they have found a rare error coin.

Coin authenticators and others can easily identify these coins by their concave edge, flattened design elements and other distortion. Coin World’s “Collectors’ Clearinghouse” and “Readers Ask” columns have received hundreds of coins that were once removed from their encasements. Trained staff members quickly recognize them.

Collectors can collect encased coins in many ways. One fun way would be to acquire different denominations and design types of the coins within the encasements. A collector could also collect encased coins bearing coins from as many different countries as possible. Ryker’s catalog of the Fankhauser encased coins lists original coins from various countries, including the United States, Canada, Panama and Belgium. Denominations include cents (of the United States and Canada), U.S. 5-cent and 10-cent coins, Panamanian 1-centesimo coins and Belgian 2-franc coins. As shown here, both Indian Head and Lincoln cents are found among encased coins. Morgan and Peace dollar encased coins are known.

Another way to collect would focus on the different shapes of pieces (one could collect different shapes or encasements of just one shape). The round 32-millimeter encasement is the most common. Horseshoe-shaped pieces exist as well. Pieces of other shapes exist, such as the early 20th century piece shown with this article that is shaped like a chamber pot (produced when those useful pots were still common household items). Collectors might want to collect by state or city. Collectors might well find multiple pieces issued within their communities, adding to their appeal. Topical collections are also popular.

Topical collections can focus on specific businesses: auto dealers, and one can even focus on dealers in different makes (Buicks, Fords); banks; coin dealers; restaurants; gas and service stations; grocery stores; telephone companies; and many more types of businesses.

Collectors can also build topical collections around pieces issued by clubs, including many issued by coin clubs at the local, state, regional and national levels.

Collectors wanting a challenging collection might try to select encased coins containing as many different dates of Lincoln cent as possible. It is probably possible to find cents of dozens of different dates and Mint marks if one searches long enough. Where will collectors find encased coins?

Dealers in exonumia will likely carry them. Coin dealers may have some on hand as well. Flea market dealers might be another good source. On the Internet, go to eBay and type in the words “encased coin”; a recent search revealed several auctions for these pieces.

Generally, the older the piece, the more valuable and expensive (one containing a Lincoln, Wheat cent is more desirable than one containing a Lincoln cent with Lincoln Memorial reverse, and an encased coin with an Indian Head cent is more desirable still). Pieces containing a higher-denomination coin like a Morgan dollar will bring much higher prices than the typical piece containing a Lincoln cent.

You may even find encased coins bearing a key-date or semi key-date coin; while those pieces will likely carry a premium, remember that the coin itself is damaged, and if removed from the encasement, would have a much lower value than an undamaged example.

Encased coins are altered coins. However, that does not make them undesirable. That makes them collectible, and fun.