If it's true that imprisoned forger Mark Hofmann is the creator of a rare Lincoln penny, "it would be a bombshell" for the coin-collecting industry, said the past president of the American Numismatic Association.
This would be the first time Hofmann would be positively connected to counterfeit coins, says H. Robert Campbell, owner of All About Coins in Sugarhouse. Whether there are other, undetected Hofmann coins owned by collectors is uncertain, Campbell said.
Earlier this week it was reported that Hofmann admitted, in a letter to a family member, that he forged a 1959-D Lincoln penny that will be auctioned later this month for an estimated value of "$25,000-up," according to the Beverly Hills coin dealer that is auctioning the item. The penny was declared authentic earlier this spring by the U.S. Secret Service Counterfeit Division.
Hofmann's former prison guard, Charles Larsen, said Hofmann also admitted to him that he made counterfeit coins using an electroplating process. Larsen, who also happens to be interested in coins he makes replicas of old Mormon gold pieces and has written a book about coin forgery now owns the machine Hofmann used to make coins.
"It would be very possible to use this equipment to make the 1959 penny," he says. "I also think it's the kind of thing that would appeal to him. It's creative. It's something that other people hadn't been doing. It's very much like his nature."
Campbell said he examined that coin three years ago and believes it is counterfeit. And, he said, the U.S. Secret Service specialist who authenticated the coin is not experienced enough to make that determination.
"He's the number one person in the world at detecting (paper) currency," Campbell said. But the Secret Service only gets a handful of coins a year to verify, he said. In addition, the Secret Service specialist's "hands were tied," Campbell said.
"The government's rule is that 'if you can't prove it's fake, it's real.' We have a more suspicious attitude," he says. Numismatists will only determine a coin is real if it's compared against another coin of the same type. No other coin of this type has ever surfaced, he says.
The coin is a 1959 Lincoln penny whose reverse side is bordered by wheat stalks. In 1959, the reverse side of Lincoln pennies displayed the Lincoln Memorial, so a reverse that shows wheat stalks would be a big Mint boo-boo. If the Mint made one such accidental wheat penny, "others would have shown up" by now, Campbell says.He believes the penny is counterfeit, Campbell says, because of the "extreme die polish" on it. Also, although it obviously had not been circulated much (there was not enough wear on its high points) it was not shiny enough for a penny out of circulation. It also contained characteristics of a "spark erosion" die process, he says.