Numismatic Coin Club World Internet Numismatic Society


The Henning Nickel
Jack Topping, WINS #975

Of many different forgeries and counterfeits in the world, whether it be designer clothes, famous artwork, or rare coins and currencies, some stand out as impressive feats of imitation, while others exist with the intent to defraud. Among those who chose deception as one of their professions, an individual by the name of Francis LeRoy Henning from Erial, New Jersey aspired to do both: create a counterfeit of a popular, circulating coin indistinguishable from the real thing, and maybe make some money in the process.

Francis LeRoy Henning created what numismatists now call the "Henning Nickel", aptly named after himself and the variety of coin he illegally produced, the Jefferson Nickel, during the 1950's. What Henning thought was an ingenious plan to create counterfeit nickels turned out, in the end, to be a complete failure. Henning ultimately failed because he chose to counterfeit and mass produce the 1944 nickel, a date famous among collectors of Jefferson nickels. Due to wartime needs, the United States famously replaced the nickel's composition in 1944 from nickel to a specific composition of "35% silver, 9% manganese, and 56% copper", according to This created a new subsection of the Jefferson nickel series, fittingly titled "wartime nickels", which were (and still are) sought after for their silver content.

The reason Henning did not fool the masses with his fake nickels was due to the fact there was no silver content in the planchets. His composition, which included real nickel, raised suspicion to the legitimacy of some of the 1944 nickels in circulation. The icing of the cake, however, was the omission of the Philadelphia mintmark on the reverse of his counterfeits. Normally, the "P" mintmark would be observed below the phrase "E PLURIBUS UNUM", which was the motto of the United States at the time of minting. According to, Henning left that area blank, validating the Federal government's suspicion that a skilled counterfeiter was on the loose, and needed to be stopped.

According to, Henning applied different dates other than 1944 to his counterfeit dies, including 1939, 1946, 1947, and 1953. It is widely believed that had Henning avoided the mishaps of his 1944 counterfeit, the other nickels he produced would have been virtually indistinguishable from genuine ones made by the United States Mint. Henning was arrested in Cleveland in 1955 after escaping from New Jersey and served time in prison for the counterfeits. While Henning did make hundreds of thousands of counterfeit nickels, he never gained any substantial wealth from the endeavor.

As a native of New Jersey myself, there is a strange sense of identity connected to these counterfeit nickels simply because they are from my home state. Despite the criminality involved of creating counterfeit money, Henning became a very small, yet interesting, part of New Jersey history. An interesting anecdote from stated that "he dumped 200,000 counterfeit nickels into Cooper Creek, and another 200,000 into the Schuylkill river. Only about 40,000 of the coins were seized and actually melted down and coined into legal nickels."

Looking closely at what said in their article reveals that in the later part of his crime spree, Henning was destroying evidence by dumping large volumes of coins into the various bodies of water around southern New Jersey. It implies that Henning not only knew he could not get away with a Federal offense, but did not want to see his creation completely seized by the Federal government. It is very possible that some of his fake nickels are sitting at the bottom of those two bodies of water. In addition to that, there may be some still in circulation, giving enthusiasts of Jefferson nickels and collectors of known and popular counterfeits a solid chance at coming across a Henning nickel in the wild.

In short, the Henning nickel has created a reputation for itself as one of the more interesting, yet odd counterfeits to have been produced on a large scale. The intricate craftsmanship of Francis Henning's nickels were precise enough to fool the general public, but not enough to fool dedicated collectors and the United States government. Luckily, Henning's contributions to our hobby, although through nefarious means, gives collectors and numismatic historians alike a chance to analyze the story, and the creation, of one of New Jersey's most famous counterfeits.

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