In 1954, collectors in the New Jersey/ New York area began reporting 1944 nickels turning up in circulation. They were missing the “P” mint mark on the back and did not get made from the wartime 35% silver composition. Referred to as the “Henning” nickel, these counterfeits arrived through Francis Leroy Henning of Erial, New Jersey. They caught the attention of the FBI in 1954. It is estimated that more than 100,000 of these were put into circulation in 1954-55. However, they were quickly spotted as he neglected to include the large “P” mintmark for Philadelphia above Monticello on the reverse. Also, the coins weighed 5.4 grams compared to 5-5.1 grams for authentic coins.
The legend is that Henning dumped 200,000 to 400,000 American coins in creeks and rivers in New Jersey when the Feds sought him. The counterfeits are made of 80% nickel with some steel and other elements. One of the mysteries associated with the issue is why did he make them. Considering that given the materials and work involved, it was not economically beneficial. In fact, he probably lost money on them. Henning was also purported to have produced counterfeits dated 1939, 1946, 1947, and 1953. He had a previous arrest for counterfeiting $5 bills. When caught, Henning was sentenced to 3 years in jail and fined $5,000.00 for his counterfeit American coins.
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