This year marks experiments by the mint using a "generic" set of dies featuring Martha Washington.
The purpose of the experiment was the elimination of silver from our coinage. Many alloys including copper-nickel, zirconium and nickel-silicon were tested. The approved ones were cupro-nickel clad for the dime and quarter and silver-clad for the half dollar. 3 samples of each were saved by the Mint in 2 blue lucite blocks.
The silver-clad on the half dollar was replaced with the cupro-nickel clad composition in 1971.
The Martha Washington dies have since become the Mint's all-purpose test dies. Because they have bogus inscriptions and portraits, these dies are often given to outside contractors to perform metallurgical tests for the Mint.
There are now examples of the dime, quarter and half dollar struck on cupro-nickel clad planchets known in private hands. Incredibly, one example of the half dollar is known struck on a quarter planchet.
The 2 quarters known in collectors hands were struck from different dies, the illustrated piece and the ones in the Smithsonian have Grove's initials under the truncation of Martha Washington and also have the lettering and date closer to the rims while the other lacks the initials and has the lettering and date away from the rims similar to the later pieces known struck on 1999 Sacagawea dollar planchets and is therefore believed to be later dies.
Because of the way the Mint uses and distributes these dies, it is not known whether the pieces in collector's hands were struck inside or outside the mint, nor is it known when, ie. what year, they were struck.
Photos courtesy of Mike Byers and the National Numismatic Collection of the Smithsonian Institution.
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