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At the beginning of the 20th century merchants began putting coins, mainly cents, in specially made aluminum holders that contained advertising for their business. Encased coins first started appearing in 1901 at the Pan-American Exposition held in Buffalo, New York. The outer ring was pressed around the coin to secure it in place. The ring or encasement holder that contains the coin came in a variety of styles and shapes. Circular was the most common, with advertisement for a business or event stamped into the metal holder. During World War II, metal shortages developed and the number of encasements dropped. In the 1950s they were revived, but popularity as an advertising novelty waned. Today, a few individuals, coin clubs, and fraternal organizations still order them as souvenirs for their members.
There are many varieties of encased coins and that is what makes them so interesting to collect. This article provides a brief introduction to collecting encased coins and gives prices ranges you can expect to pay.
What Is an Encased Coin?
An encased coin is made from a coin that is mounted in a holder or encasement, usually made of aluminum. Encased coins are normally used as good luck charms, with a slogan like “Keep Me and Never Go Broke” and good luck symbols, such as horseshoes, four leaf clovers, or the like on the obverse (front side). The reverse (back side) normally has some type of advertising from a business that sponsored their issuance. They were normally given out by businesses to keep the name of the business on the minds of the customer. In the coin collecting world, the encased coin is a type of token, or a substitute for money.
Different Types of Holders for Encased Coins
For over a century people have been inserting coins into all forms of holders for various reasons. In a typical encased coin, the obverse has the coin surrounded by a holder that has some form of good luck slogan such as “Keep Me and Never Go Broke” or “Good Luck, Keep Me & Prosper.” Along with a slogan, the obverse usually has some form of good luck symbol, such as a four-leaf clover, horseshoe, wishbone, or a rabbit’s foot. Since the encased coins were sold to businesses as advertising, on the reverse side there is information about the business: name, address, advertising slogan, and for modern examples, a phone number or website. The tokens come in a variety of sizes and designs, with round being the most common. Additional shapes include a wishbone, bell, chamber pot, bear, badge, and even some that look like the state of Wisconsin. The material used for the holder varies, but aluminum is the most common, and a variety of other materials used include gilt brass, nickel, copper, plastic, celluloid, and cardboard.
Encased Coins in Circular Holders
There are a wide variety of shapes for encased coins, but by far circular is the most common. Typically, they are made of aluminum or from a washer and vary in size from 32mm to 50mm (about two inches) in diameter.
Denominations of the Coins in the Holders
Encased coins are usually associated with cents, but this is not always the case; nickels, dimes, quarters, half dollars, and silver dollars have been found to be encased. The higher denominations such as half dollars and dollars are much rarer than the lower denomination coins. There are many encased coins that have been issued from countries outside the United States, particularly Canada.
Ways to Collect Encased Coins
Collectors build collections of encased coins based on a variety of themes. Some collectors may only collect encased coins from a particular region or state while others may focus on a certain type of business, such as automobile dealers or banks. Some will collect the pennies by date and try to build a penny collection with all encased cents. Some will want encased coins from other countries or with encasements made from unusual materials. Every collector has his or her own method of collecting — that is what makes it fun and interesting.
Neutron Irradiated Dimes
One of the more unusual types of encased coins is the irradiated dimes from the 1950s and 1960s. As part of a public relations campaign, Oak Ridge Institute for Nuclear Studies (ORINS) would irradiate dimes with neutron radiation, which would make them slightly radioactive for a short period of time. The coins were then encapsulated in an aluminum or plastic holder and returned to the owner as a souvenir. It has been estimated that up to one million dimes were irradiated over the twenty years of operation of the reactor. The genuine irradiated dimes were all silver as the program ended in 1965. Irradiated dimes in their original holders typically sell in the range of $25.00 to $50.00.
What Are Encased Coins Worth?
Prices for encased coins vary widely. The more common recent examples sell for a few dollars each and the rarer ones can sell for hundreds of dollars. Four factors play into the price of encased coins. First is the age of the item; the older the coin and the encasement the higher the price. Expect to pay greater than $20.00 for well circulated encased Indian Head Cents from the early 1900s. Common examples from the 1950s and 1960s bring as little as $5.00 each. The second factor is the type of advertisement on the encasement. Advertisements for bars and car dealerships tend to bring higher prices than encased coins with ads for banks or other routine establishments. The third factor is the condition or grade of the encasement and coin, which is especially true for older items. Since many of these were carried in pockets or purses, they saw the wear and tear normally associated with a circulated coin. Older encased coins, pre-World War II, in high grades will command a substantial premium over the same encased coin that has considerable wear. The last factor that affects the price is the type and shape of the encasement. Most are circular and therefore this type doesn't normally command a premium price. An encased coin with an unusual design or sharp artistry will bring a higher price than a more common piece. Also, holders that don’t specify the name and/or location of the business are generally worth less; these are called “Mavericks” by collectors. If you can’t determine where the token is from or the type of business, it makes it less valuable to the collecting community since many collect encased coins from their state or a particular type of business.
Beware of Altered Encased Coins
The older encased coins, prior to World War II, could have been made with valuable coins, resulting in some of the high value coins being switched for lower value coins over the years. Some things to look for that are potential signs that the coin has been switched are: (1) the coin is rotated relative to the lettering on the holder; (2) the coin has a greater amount of wear than the holder; in other words, for a 1901 Pan-American Expo token which should have a 1901 cent, you would not expect the cent to show heavy wear and the holder to look brand new; (3) the coin is titled or not lying flat relative to the holder; (4) there is damage in the area where the holder and the coin meet; (5) when held up to the light, there is some light that comes through the crack; and (6) the date of the coin and the apparent date of the holder don’t seem to match. These are just some things to look for so that you don’t buy an altered encased coin.
Good luck and have fun collecting encased coins!
- Jaeger, Katherine, A Guide Book of United States Tokens and Medals, Whitman Publishing, 2008.
- Alpert, Stephen P. and Elman, Lawrence E., Tokens and Medals - A Guide to the Identification and Values of United States Exonumia, 1992.
- Encased Coins website. Accessed May 19, 2021. http://www.encasedcoins.info/index.html
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2021 Doug West
Doug West (author) from Missouri on May 25, 2021:
Thanks for the comment. Encased coins aren't extremely common. They are left-over advertising pieces from the last century and are relatively inexpensive and interesting to collect.
Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on May 25, 2021:
That's really interesting. I've never seen encased coins before.